The premise of colour conscious casting came to many people’s attention through the success of Hamilton, the widely popular musical depicting the tale of US Founding Father Alexander Hamilton through the medium of rap and hip hop. However, it was the make-up of the original Broadway cast that was one of the myriad factors that made it possible for the show to be such a success.
The musical is filled with the well-known historical American figures, such as Thomas Jefferson and George Washington. Instead of casting white actors to portray the white figures, the creative team behind Hamilton made a conscious decision to put race at the forefront of their casting choices and go against the expected. So, a cast of brown and black actors were compiled to represent an entirely white, historical group of characters.
A conscious and calculated effort is needed to ensure a level playing field
Colour conscious casting is not the same as being colour blind in casting choices. Colour blind casting implies that race and ethnicity is irrelevant, that a person’s race does not come into play when applying or auditioning for a role. Despite the baggage that it might entail, a person’s race and ethnicity are integral to one’s identity and experiences and cannot be simply swept aside in the quest for appearing as objective and woke as possible. And often, by placing so much emphasis on removing the influence of race and grouping all as one collective, white becomes the default and people of colour are the exception. Colour blind casting is only a superficial solution to a deeper problem.
Through colour conscious casting, racially homogenous casts are more likely to be avoided and the roles that people of colour play expanded. There is no reason for Hamlet or Hermione or James Bond to be white. If the race of the character is not vital to the plot or character and not specified by the author, there then there is no point for repeated white casting of such characters.
The case against colour conscious casting is similar to the one against Black Lives Matter and feminism. Promoting racial minorities in entertainment, the rights of black people and the rights of women does not mean demoting those other groups in society that are not mentioned. It simply means that certain groups of people are so often not offered the same opportunities that are offered to others, so a conscious and calculated effort is needed to ensure a level playing field and that everyone is being able to get ahead without having to fight insurmountable obstacles.
Whether it should be or not, colour conscious casting is political decision. Often, its political nature is a focus of objection for those who disagree with the premise. However, theatre, much like sport, art or any other form of entertainment, is political. When people protest against the introduction of politics into entertainment, it is more of a request to maintain the status quo, to keep their form of politics strong and dominate. Society informs entertainment and entertainment subsequently reflects society so there is no way to escape the political nature that is inherent to entertainment. Arguing against the inclusion of politics in entertainment is a way of letting the world know you are uncomfortable with the direction of progression and simply want the status quo to remain intact.
There are more pressing issues that representation of stage and screen. But it is an indicator of a wider problem of where the status quo can seriously inhibit the progression of groups of people. A conscious decision from those in power is needed to ensure that those that are so often left out of the room are included and welcomed so the next generation can benefit and emerge.