Am I Right… that it’s not fair?
Asking you to turn down a job may feel like a huge sacrifice. It may feel insanely unfair. It’s cliche but it’s true: Life isn’t fair. We’ve probably all heard this pretty frequently from a pretty early age. And for some of us, life can be a little *more* unfair than for others. But, yes. There are things that happen in everyone’s life that aren’t fair. And that sucks. No matter who you are.
So let’s think a little bit about the “fairness” of the situation. We’re saying that maybe everyone shouldn’t go to every single audition. Or accept every single callback. Or sign every single contract. We’re saying that everyone should think about how those choices affect their colleagues from underrepresented groups. And Maybe you feel like that’s unfair to ask you to consider turning down opportunities for work.
So imagine this analogy: imagine a big barrel of M&Ms. All those M&Ms are the roles available to white/cis/able-bodied actors (either because the character is specified as white/cis/able-bodied, OR because those characteristics are not specified yet companies have–for the vast majority of theater history–overwhelmingly cast with white/cis/able-bodied actors by default, such as Rodgers & Hammerstein heroes, Lerner & Lowe, Mary Poppins, etc).
Now imagine an 8-ounce glass of M&Ms. Those M&Ms are the characters that are specifically written as people of color, transgender, or people with disabilities.
If a theater does non-traditional, color-blind/color-conscious casting (i.e. giving actors from underrepresented groups roles that normally go to white/cis/able-bodied actors), that’s like taking a handful of those M&Ms from the big barrel and putting it in the glass. It does not appreciably reduce the amount in the big barrel, but it does raise the percentage in the glass significantly. Suddenly there are a much larger number of opportunities for actors from underrepresented groups without making too much of a difference in the number of opportunities for white/cis/able-bodied actors.
BUT if you cast characters written SPECIFICALLY as people of color, people with disabilities or transgender with white/cis/able-bodied actors, that’s like taking a handful of M&Ms from the little glass and putting them in the big barrel. It makes the already smaller number of opportunities for actors from those underrepresented groups even smaller. And yes, it may provide some white/cis/able-bodied actors with more opportunities, but if you compare the number of M&Ms in the barrel vs. the number of M&Ms in the glass, do you still think that it’s the most important argument for the sake of fairness to take M&Ms from the glass and put them in the barrel?
Just because something ‘has always been done’ does not make it fair. Just because we’re asking you to help change the status quo does not mean you’re going to be treated unfairly.
And before you bring up Hamilton and say that we “can’t have it both ways” having actors of color playing real historical figures who were white while also demanding that Eva Peron be played by a Latinx actor, check out some statistics on representation or on hiring biases in theaters across the country. Look at lists of the highest paid actors and see that they are pretty much all cis/white/non-disabled. And also realize that Hamilton isn’t “colorblind” casting. It’s incredibly color conscious. Having people descended of the colonized take on the roles of those who colonized their ancestors is a very intentional and artistic choice to reveal deeper meanings about what it means to be an American. So that color conscious casting is hardly analogous to hiring white actors who are descended of the colonizers to portray people of color who suffered under their ancestors.
Hamilton rant over.
The point is, the playing field isn’t level to begin with. So asking you to give up a job is a sacrifice, yes. But it’s a sacrifice that will help to make our industry more fair overall.
You are a human first. If you see something unfair, if you witness inequality or injustice, do something about it. Whatever you can. Whenever you can. That’s being an ally.
“If you’re not willing to sacrifice investments—both personal and professional— that conflict with the values you promote, you’re not an ally. Wearing safety pins and applying photo filters are not acts of solidarity. They’re merely ways for you to publicly signify your (performative) allyship, rather than do meaningful labor.”
“Equality can feel like oppression. But it’s not. What you’re feeling is just the discomfort of losing a little bit of your privilege.”