The findings of this report on casting aren’t a surprise, but the fact that they justify legal action against the Hollywood caste system is. A new study by the UCLA School of Law and UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center finds that Latino, black, Asian American and Native American actors have few acting opportunities available to them. But the study’s law professor author challenges the legality of race-specific casting announcements and suggests that actors may have legal recourse in federal law that prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin. Can you spell C-L-A-S-S A-C-T-I-O-N L-A-W-S-U-I-T? According to UCLA, the findings are based on a 2006 survey of casting announcements, aka
“breakdowns”. The study found that 69%of the roles were reserved for white actors and another 8.5% were open to white actors as well as non-white actors. Actors of color were limited to between .5% and about 8% of the roles, depending on racial background. “Casting directors take into account race and sex in a way that would be blatantly illegal in any other industry,” Robinson said. “Many actors accept this as normal, but depending on the facts of the case, lawsuits can be filed.” He believes that, in many instances, taking race and sex into account for acting roles violates Title VII of the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination. According to Robinson, many casting breakdowns currently restrict, without any strong narrative justification, the sex and race of the actors who may audition. Robinson believes casting is a form of free speech that may be protected under the Constitution’s First Amendment, depending on the circumstances. This extends to race- or gender-based casting when these traits are integral to the storyline. But, Robinson said, there are many exceptions that permit the government to regulate certain speech in certain ways. “I argue that Title VII’s regulation of casting announcements falls into an exception,” he said. He added that he did not believe that complying with Title VII would entail using quotas but rather the consideration of actors of color and women in many more roles.
Now the better news: Robinson recommended banning the use of race/sex classification in casting breakdowns except where the casting of an actor of a specific race or sex is truly integral to the narrative. This would require the entertainment industry to conduct an annual comprehensive review of the info obtained from requests to use race/sex in breakdowns. Robinson also recommended studying positive models the diverse casting practices like the film Sideways and ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy. Robinson’s research is featured in the center’s Latino Policy & Issues Brief. A longer article will publish in January in Berkeley’s California Law Review. The entire brief can be found at .
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