Back in the days before multicultural marketing -- before anyone seemed to care about marketing to people other than English-speaking Caucasians -- life in Casting Land was so much easier. Typecasting, a close cousin of stereotyping, was expected, accepted and understood. You could cast the girl next door, the bus driver or the sweet old grandma and everyone could agree on what those characters would look like. They all spoke English without accents and they were all white.
Then, one day, there was color. Not just in terms of TV picture tubes, but in terms of people. Suddenly marketers wanted to capture the attention of a multicultural audience and capture their growing spending power. Suddenly, casting got a bit more complicated. Agencies wanted to include people of color and casting directors had to figure out how to satisfy that need. As a result, a new casting language emerged. Girl next door, for example, had to be qualified with an ethnic or racial descriptor. Now, in addition to Sandra Bullock, it was also conceivable for America's sweetheart to be the commercial equivalent of Jessica Alba, Lucy Liu or Beyoncé.
Then came Hispanic marketing efforts, both in English and Spanish. Now you had to throw in the intricacies of language skills, regional accents, and complex racial and class relationships that go back generations -- no, make that centuries.
What's a casting director to do?
Casting directors seek out ideal job candidates by specifying age and gender requirements along with an occasional physical characteristic such as body type, hair and skin color. In any other profession, these qualifiers would result in major lawsuits. In casting, it's called being discriminating. In other industries, it's called discrimination.
Actors don't complain because they're trained to put up with almost anything. Your average consumer doesn't read casting notices. So why should advertisers and their agencies care about what gets communicated when it comes to finding the right actor for the job? Based on casting notices like these, they clearly don't.
Peter Piper Pizza
Run Usage -- 1 yr buyout
Arizona and Parts of Southwest Reg . & Mexico (NOT IN LA!!)
[Bowling League Guys]
Males ages 32-35*SHOULD BE ETHNICALLY AMBIGUOUS* AND BE FLUENT IN BOTH SPANISH AND ENGLISH WITH NO DETECTABLE ACCENT IN EITHER LANGUAGE. These guys are an interesting looking lot...BUT this is not a collection of freaks or a bunch of people you couldn't pick out of a line-up. SO, they should range from regular types to guys like the ones in 'THE BIG LEBOWSKI' or '40 Year Old Virgin'. Again, we need some normal looking types but we still need a character type or two. Nothing outrageous. ALSO, PLEASE NOTE...An Asian or African/American would work great FOR THE NON-SPEAKING ROLES (4 will speak 2 will not)...
[SPANISH SPEAKING HISTORIAN]
Caucasian OR Hispanic BUT MUST BE FLUENT IN SPANISH! AGES 45-60 Looking like a professor. Can look Hispanic, but be a James Lipton ('Inside the Actor's Studio') type...or Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Scholarly, worldly, well-spoken, well-groomed but possibly subtly disheveled as to reveal a little bit of craziness. "MUST BE FLUENT IN SPANISH*...
NATIONAL NETWORK AND CABLE
NO MIXED ETHNICITIES. WE NEED WOMEN WITH STRONG AZTEC/INCA/MAYAN FEATURES. THIS IS THE REAL DEAL FOLKS. PLEASE NOTE IF YOU KNOW ANYONE WHO FITS THIS SPEC THAT ISN'T AN ACTOR PLEASE CALL ME.
Wardrobe: Tradition garb or casual.
[MEXICAN BABY (INDIGENOUS)]
Lead/Male or Female/Hispanic/1-2
NO MIXED ETHNICITIES. WE NEED BABIES WITH STRONG AZTEC/INCA/MAYAN FEATURES. MUST BE 7-13 MONTHS OLD. PLEASE PUT EXACT AGE ON SUBMISSION. THIS IS THE REAL DEAL FOLKS. PLEASE NOTE IF YOU KNOW ANYONE WHO FITS THIS SPEC THATA ISN'T AN ACTOR PLEASE CALL ME.
Wardrobe: Tradition garb or casual.
[CENTRAL & SOUTH AMERICAN MOM (INDIGENOUS)]
NO MIXED ETHNICITIES. THIS IS THE REAL DEAL FOLKS. PLEASE NOTE IF YOU KNOW ANYONE THAT FITS THIS SPEC THAT ISN'T AN ACTOR PLEASE CALL ME. South America (Bolivian, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru, Suriname, Uruguay, Venezuela) Central America, (Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama) Wardrobe: Tradition garb or casual.
Where do I begin?
Ethnically ambiguous? On the one hand it's completely meaningless. On the other hand, its meaning is perfectly clear -- it's code for a person who is sort of white without being white. A sort of blended person -- two parts white, one part something a bit darker, but not too dark -- Hispanic or maybe even Italian.
Note the decision to invite Asians and African Americans to audition for non-speaking roles only. I guess they're simply not ethnically ambiguous enough. How about the "no detectable accent in either language" criteria? Detectable to whom?
I confess that the absence of storyboards on the Pampers spot makes it difficult to be too judgmental. Maybe they did need moms and babies whose indigenous faces screamed out "Cast me. I'm specifically Incan, Mayan or Aztec." As for "no mixed ethnicity," good luck with that. Will they be checking birth certificates or DNA, perhaps? Has anyone considered the dominance of mixed-race and mixed-ethnic populations in the listed countries? And why are Paraguayans, Chileans, Brazilians and Argentines completely left out? Just curious.
We are supposed to be communications experts. We are supposed have deep and meaningful insights into consumers from all walks of life. Can we work a little harder to clean up the conversation insofar as the language of color and culture is concerned? Unenforceable, thoughtless and misguided casting notices only serve to cast our industry in a negative light.