by Christine Toy Johnson
The news from Hollywood and the television industry lately has focused on the lack of diversity on the air. Variety reported that NBC President Scott Sassa was seeking meaningful diversity by establishing racial role models on TV rather than simply adding different-colored faces. Sassa is quoted as saying, You not only want to see someone that looks like you on TV, you want to see someone that is a role model, someone that you want to be with, someone that you want to be like. Thats what we need to do: Create diversity models for people, role models that are diverse, that make people in these minority groups feel good.
How are Broadway and the theatre in this country different from Hollywood these days? Assuming that we are not speaking of culturally-specific plays nor of ethnic casting in terms of numbers, what role models are being created on stage? Are we reflecting the diverse world we live in and the stories of humanity? Is it possible for actors that are seen playing non-stereotypical, non-traditional roles to be perceived as role models, by audiences of all kinds?
Looking Beyond Labels
I believe that the more people are seen portraying roles that are not defined, but rather enhanced, by their race/age/gender/sexual orientation/presence or absence of disability, the more possibilities exist for seeing into the characters souls. Though it can be argued that many characters are driven by their race/age/gender/sexual orientation/presence or absence of disability, the complexity that is attained by challenging these assumptions can also create great drama. Labels are very conveniently applied to every human being that walks the face of the earth. Perhaps if we encourage looking beyond labels, stereotypes and what is expected, we can stretch tolerance, open minds and encourage seeing each others role-model worthy qualities.
Role Models For All Audiences
Sometimes the story is best told with all labels attached. But if we do not reflect diversity on our stages, we are not only cheating ourselves of the truth in mirroring society, we are cheating ourselves of the opportunity to see the unexpected facets of the storytellers in our plays. Amongst them we may find role models for all audiences.
You are not powerless, as an Actor, in all this. Its not a simple solution, but we also cant be met halfway if we dont do our share of the travelling. Continue to strive for excellence, then flaunt it by auditioning for the unexpected. Challenge your own perceived and preconceived casting limitations by knocking them down. Be your own role model.