Casting & Representation

A recent activity I did with a Year 12 Media class who are working towards their L3 BTEC qualification raised some interesting bias. The students have created a pre-production for a new Netflix series that they were pitch. They needed to cast their shows, and had unlimited budgets to do so.

To facilitate some brainstorming around this, I gave them a slip of paper to write a brief character bio to find an actor that fits. The class then roamed the room, and made casting suggestions on each slip, folding it over each time so they could not be influenced by the other suggestions. The outcomes of this activities were fascinating. Here are some observations:

  • Of the 42 characters that there were bios written, the gender split was 50-50. (However, the class is 80% female).
  • The bios were prompted to suggest age, gender, appearance, occupation, … No student mentioned anything about class, sexuality, or disability. Gender was treated understand as binary, with no one making any offers about diverse expressions of femininity or masculinity.
  • If the ethnicity was not stated on the sheet, all the suggestions of actors were white.
  • All characters appeared to be middle-class or upper middle-class based on their descriptions. No narratives explored issues around class.
  • While there were a lot of teenage characters, the most common suggestions for these characters were older actors like Zac Efron (30), Michael B Jordan (31), even Ryan Reynolds (41). Students struggled to remember the names of actors under the age of 25.

This was an unscientific study, but as these findings came clear and the dialogue around them developed, I felt as though a lot of reflection and examination of personal bias was going on.

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