Casting Lupita Nyong’o
I think it’s time for a come to Jesus. I think we need to sit down and decide what’s important—I mean really important—and what you want the film industry to look like in the 21st century. Because we’re fourteen years into a new millennium and things are evolving, socially, politically and culturally. But the film industry is stagnating—worse, it’s looking more and more out of touch. And recent comments by executives in The Hollywood Reporter highlight the problem.
When discussing the future of newly minted Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o, an anonymous executive points out that still, in 2014, roles for actresses of color equitable to those offered the likes of fellow (white) Oscar winners like Jennifer Lawrence don’t exist. And an agent from TCA Jed Root, Tracy Christian, actually went on the record saying that Lupita will face an extra helping of prejudice because of her darker complexion. This doesn’t even require parsing. We are flat-out saying, in 2014, that there is still not a place at the grown ups’ table for women of color.
This is NOT acceptable.
You have to ask yourselves what you’re really doing here. Who you’re really catering to. You have two audiences, and they are mutually exclusive. This is what you’re afraid of, right? Of polarization, of losing revenue because you’re limiting a film’s audience. And that’s a legitimate conversation to have when you’re talking about an R rating versus PG-13. But we aren’t talking about ratings. We’re talking about a different r-word: Racism.
Because that’s what divides these two audiences. On one side, you have people who don’t give a sh*t about who’s playing what character, just so long as they’re seeing a good movie. On the other side, you have racists, because I don’t know what else to call people who get bent out of shape when a good actor is cast in a role, regardless of color. We’ve seen in recent weeks that if you give a part traditionally depicted as white to an actor of color, some people will get upset. But then if you give a part traditionally depicted as being of color to a white actor, other people will get upset. So who do you care more about upsetting?
Diversity is a commitment. But to take it one step further, tolerance is a choice. At this point, given where we are, as a culture, as people, remaining ignorant and closed off to the full human experience is a choice. When you say that an actress—who is talented, professional and gorgeous—is at a disadvantage because of her complexion, you are saying that you care more about coddling the intolerant and narrow-minded than you do in rewarding talent. Is that really how you want to be known? That portion of the audience that would be alienated by casting Lupita Nyong’o—are they really people you care to humor?
Maybe you will lose a little money, although that notion is probably already old-fashioned—Fox has made a commitment to diversity and they’re not losing sleep. The world around us is a diverse and interesting place, and Hollywood no longer reflects that reality. Hollywood appears to be stuck in 1962. Is that what you want your legacy to be? Do you want to be the people who nurtured an outdated mindset, or do you want to be the leaders who blew the doors off the film industry and started an era of colorblind casting in which film and television truly reflect our era? It’s 2014. It’s time to make a choice.