The Questionable Format of Modern Casting

By Eli Daniel

Modern casting is described as a “pre-production process that involves choosing actors to fill roles in a particular TV show, movie, commercial, or play,” according to Master Class. Furthermore, casting is one of the most crucial parts of the filmmaking process as the actors’ performance directly affects the impact of the film both economically and socially. The typical common steps to casting are as follows:

  1. Break down the script: This includes creating character descriptions for each role, including age, appearance, and character.
  2. Send out the breakdown: Breakdown is distributed to prospects for roles and posted online to advertise the opportunity.
  3. Provide sides: Potential actors provided small sample size auditions to sell themselves as the correct actor for their potential roles.
  4. Send a callback: This allows the casting team to have a larger sample size of the successful auditions actors.
  5. Screen test: A Filmed audition on camera. The casting team uses screen tests to analyze performance, wardrobe/makeup, and the on-screen chemistry between potential actors. 
  6. Make Selections!

During our class presentations, we were asked to outline our own cast for our respective plays. A majority of the groups used a simplified version of these “steps to casting.” While these steps allow for transparent decisions and often lead to effective casting, numerous roles are misrepresented due to bad casting. In our class, we felt more comfortable casting characters who were well known and had a firm place in modern social culture because it seemed more accessible and comfortable. Unfortunately, even outside of our classroom, this inadequate casting of characters occurs because producers would instead pick the famous or well-known actors over the actor that better fits the role. These actors who are suppressed by the big names are frequently a better fit for the position because of their upbringing/life story, ethnicity, race, or gender. 

The Lone Ranger's Tonto gets a Johnny Depp makeover | Georgia Straight  Vancouver's News & Entertainment Weekly
Johnny Depp as “Tonto”

A clear representation of inadequate casting in the film industry was Johnny Depp’s portrayal of a Native American in a 2013 film produced by George Trendle called “The Lone Ranger.” The film portrays a masked former Texans Ranger who fought outlaws in the American Old West with his Native American friend, Tonto. Depp is cast as Tonto and attempts to portray a character whose true personality and lifestyle are entirely foreign. After the movie was released in an interview with Rolling Stones, Depp said, “I wanted to maybe give some hope to kids on the reservations. They’re living without running water and seeing problems with drugs and booze. But I wanted to be able to show these kids, Fuck that! You’re still warriors, man”. Depp attempts to summarize his role in the movie and how he hopes it will impact the Native American population… and completely fails. His utter lack of knowledge and disregard for Native Americans’ actual situation in the United States undermines the representation of Natives in the film. 

Depp being cast into a role that he was unable to correctly portray is only a small sample size of a more significant problem at hand. The film industry weighs the economic impact of their films over the social implications. Instead of taking the time to find a correlation between a specific character and an actor who understands and fits this character they focus on casting the big-time names and faces that will bring in big money. I acknowledge the economic aspect of the film industry is essential; however, the question is, do the effects films have on those who view them outweigh the economic benefits? It is known that films reach an immense amount of people from all types of backgrounds and impact all who view them. Should the film industry work towards balancing the social and economic impacts they have by substituting inadequately cast roles with those who can realistically portray the characters even if it cost them through financial downside.

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