If you haven’t seen it, I would highly recommend Slate’s recent article on casting and race. If you want the SparkNotes version, here it is: this is a complex issue with no clear answer. What a surprise, right? The process of casting is multi-leveled, resulting in numerous places where the ethnicity of a role can possibly be decided – or implicated, talked around, etc. It is amazingly subjective; the best example of this from the article is:
“If it says ‘sassy best friend,’ then I’ll think, ‘Oh, they don’t know what ethnicity they want, but they want ethnic,” said one Korean-American actress… “Or it’ll say things like ‘tough girl,’ and I’ll think, ‘Oh, they probably want black.’ ” She knows the part is for an Asian girl if it says something like, “shy but really ambitious.”
I think this is the biggest problem, actually. How do we beat these cultural codes that are already established? How can we make ‘tough girl’ not suggest black, or ‘shy’ not suggest Asian? Here is my big question, for those of you reading: do we have to change American society’s cultural hegemony before we can work on greater multiculturalism in film and television? Or can we do the latter, and use that towards the former?