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Colorblind casting is the term given to the practice of overlooking an actor’s race while casting a production. The goal of colorblind casting is generally to avoid racial profiling or denying opportunities to a certain group of potentially talented individuals solely for their skin color. Colorblind casting says, “Hey, we don’t see color. We only see you for your talent.” And that’s great. That all being said, I, personally, have a problem with the practice.
Let me clarify. In this day and age, I don’t think races should necessarily be assumed when reading a play. I don’t think Belle in Beauty and the Beast has to be white, simply because that’s how Disney has portrayed her. I think it would be incredibly interesting to have Stella and Stanley in A Streetcar Named Desire to be an interracial couple. Where my problem lies is when colorblind casting interferes with the believability of the story.
I think it is fantastic if a director doesn’t see color. But the audience still does. And personally, I find it a little hard to believe and invest in a father daughter relationship if they are two drastically different races. Biologically, it does not make sense. Like I said, I think it would be perfectly acceptable to have an African-American Belle. But if Belle is black, then Maurice should be as well, because that makes biological sense.
A company that really likes to stretch the limits of colorblind casting is the Trinity Repertory Company in Providence. Trinity Rep is an incredible theatre company that produces beautiful work; however, they are so blind to race that they defy science. It has been a family tradition of mine to attend Trinity’s yearly production of A Christmas Carol, but I had some problems with the most recent one I attended (which I believe was Christmas 2010). Every child in the Cratchett family was a different race. Now, this instance of casting could be argued. Although I know the story and in it, the children are not adopted, I do understand that it could be a directorial choice to cast a multiracial crew of Cratchetts and that adoption is, indeed, a possible scenario.
My real issue came with the portrayal of Jacob Marley, played by a large, red-haired, Caucasian man. In the flashback scenes, Marley was a small African-American boy. This is where I have a problem. There is absolutely no logical way that Marley could have changed races as he aged, and the complete illogicality of the situation took me out of the action and distracted me for the rest of the show. It is instances like this that shape my rather strong opinions on colorblind casting.
I do understand the benefits of casting without focus on race. So many people still make assumptions or deny opportunities because of the color of a person’s skin. And I believe that it shouldn’t be a primary focus of casting a show, unless it interferes with the action. Castings should make biological sense, as well as historical (you can’t do Hairspray with a completely white cast or an African-American Tracy. You just can’t).
The only time when I think it is okay to cross these boundaries is when the director is trying to make a statement about race, when the color of the actors’ skin is the focus of the piece. For example, if a director casts Natalie and Diana from Next to Normal as different races because he or she wants to deconstruct the mother/daughter relationship even further, then I understand the choice. As long as the point of the casting is to make the audience think about the actors’ races. But when the audience thinking about the actors’ races detracts from what is going on in the production, that is where I have the problem. I do think directors and producers, as a whole, should be a bit more open minded. I just want to believe what I see.