clumps now: What is color blind casting?
Maurice-Emmanuel Parent: From my acting experience and how I was cast, the idea is that you can choose the best performer for a role, regardless of race. I mainly engaged with him around Shakespeare. Nobody is going to choose all the Italians to play Romeo and Juliet, even if it is historically accurate, so there will be actors of color. This is how I was chosen as a French prince during the Elizabethan era. The root of colorblind casting is that color doesn’t matter to the performance of either side – it doesn’t matter to the actors, because they’re playing a role, not themselves, and that doesn’t matter. doesn’t matter to the audience in how they engage in the work.
At first glance, this sounds appealing, as it means any actor can be considered for any part. Is it a problem?
What’s problematic is that it assumes people are color blind, which is a mistake. Even though the play isn’t about me being a black man, for the person sitting in the audience, that’s the first thing they’ll notice when the curtain goes up. Because it matters. If color blindness was really a thing, then why even call it “color blind cast”? Why not just call it “casting”?
Colorblind casting can seem arbitrary, or worse, have unintended consequences. If an audience sees an all-white cast and a black person playing the villain, they will react to that. Or I was on the set for a production of Camelot once, and I was the only black person on stage. Many of us would die and come back as other characters, sometimes multiple times. And I always happened to be the character to die first. Like, has anyone thought of that?
What is Color Aware Casting?
I would define it as taking inventory of the bodies you put in roles and just being aware of what that means. What are we conjuring up by putting this person with this particular racial background in this role? There are gradations in what happens next. It could just be a conversation within the production about the story you bring with this breed in this role. When I was playing the prince, for example, having my body in a place of authority was quite meaningful – we didn’t have to rewrite the play. At the other extreme, Jocelyne Bioh is a black playwright who took over Shakespeare Merry Wives of Windsor and place it in an area of Harlem with a large West Indian community, so the cast is completely West Indian and the show is steeped in West Indian culture. They consciously cast the show this way to make a statement about the play or the culture or both.
In our theater group, the artistic collective Front Porchwe made a production of The three Musketeers. We consciously decided to do a predominantly BIPOC [Black, Indigenous, people of color] cast to honor author Alexander Dumas, who was a person of color, although this is not well known. We talked about it in the rehearsal room, but we didn’t necessarily rewrite the script. There were a few culture elements added – we played hip-hop during one of the battles and some of the actresses wore their hair in braids, which wasn’t appropriate at the time, but it made them feel powerful, like soldiers. Color awareness can be a subtle invitation like that. But for the most part, we let the bodies tell the stories and invited the actors to be fully themselves in the language, to imagine themselves in those roles that weren’t written for them.
did you watch Bridgerton? Do you consider him to be color blind or color aware?
I haven’t watched season 2 yet, but I loved season 1. I think [Bridgerton producer] Shonda Rhimes is said to have said that she loves these English dramas, but has never seen anyone like her in them. So she wrote one where we were in it. For me, it’s color sensitive. If the only black man had been the handsome duke courting everyone, then you could be toying with the idea that black men are highly sexualized and always tempt white women. But the cast is very heterogeneous, at all class levels, and everyone is equal in the narration.
If color-conscious molding opens the door to the reinterpretation of a work, who does that reinterpretation? Is it the director, the screenwriter, the actor or is it all in the public eye?
It can be all of the above, but I think it has to start with the director and the producer. They must ask themselves the questions of what the casting conveys. If they don’t have all the answers, they should bring people to the table who will help them find the answers. Then they keep that information in mind when making that piece of art. If you include this awareness in the process of creating art, the audience will get the message you want them to get.
As the performing arts shifts from color-blind casting to color-sensitive casting, are things headed in the right direction?
Certainly, and that goes hand in hand with more writers from different backgrounds, like Shonda Rhimes, creating new work. Or writers creating stories about the queer experience or the gender spectrum or people with disabilities. So people can enter roles as the people they are.