A topic that we heavily discussed was the issue of misrepresentations of people in film and television. I wanted to discuss this problem a little bit more. These questions arose from class discussions: Should actors and actresses take on roles that are misrepresentations of people socially, politically, racially, etc. Is it the directors obligation to take a stand or is it the responsibility of the actors?
I have done background work for television and film here in the city and I can say from first hand experience that this is a very difficult issue to resolve. There are always two sides to every argument and so I feel as though the blame can be placed on both the director and the actor.
However, I think that it is the directors (and writers) have the power to change the industry because they are the ones creating the media. Above all, they are the ones who have the say on what goes into a film over any of the actors. The director ultimately has the ability to stray away from the “single story” that is constantly presented on different types of people. The actors are not creating the story. They are just telling it.
Moreover, the actor has the option of denying a request made by a casting director and can also make the decision to not apply for a specific role. The reason I still say that it is the director who really can make the difference is because even if the actor denies an offer for a role, the director can still find someone to fill that spot. The movie industry is so cut throat that people will jump at any opportunity they get. The show will still go on and the same message will again be put into the mainstream media.
In addition, this it is easier said than done to simply not take on a role because of moral beliefs. If an actor does not take on a role because it is demeaning, then that person is missing out on a job opportunity which is especially hard to find within the entertainment business.
This type of work creates a constant struggle between wanting to pursue a passion and sticking to your morals and values. Throughout my experience doing simple work as an “extra,” I can completely see how difficult it could be for someone to turn down a role that they feel is a misrepresentation. When posts are put up for work, you will see requests such as “Need model types,” “Upscale types” “Good looking” “Homely types,” “Hippie types,” “Druggie types,” “Must be size 2,” “Caucasion blonde,” “Portray Uber Lesbians” “Pretty 20 something female” “femme-fatale type,” “African American willing to do nude scene,” or “featured background with large breasts” (These are all real posts I have seen). The lists are always categorizing people and if you do not fit within the bounds of these groups, they will not call you. It is great when they do and so to deny an opportunity because you don’t want to portray a stereotyped person is a hard decision to make but is something I have done.