Should we insist that a percentage of people cast in theatrical productions be of colour?
It has hit the news that actress Mazz Murray has been told she can’t perform a song from the show Dreamgirls at an upcoming concert at the Royal Albert Hall because it is ‘not appropriate’ for a white woman to sing a song traditionally sung by a black woman. Yesterday we saw uproar online with news that Jack Whitehall has been cast to play a gay Disney character when he isn’t gay in real life. Some people are arguing that the opportunity should have been given to a gay man instead.
To me, these claims are ridiculous. If a white woman wants to perform a song from Dreamgirls why shouldn’t she. If she wants to perform a song usually sung by a man, why shouldn’t she and as for a straight male actor being cast to play a gay character, who cares? An actor is trained to play any part and the story we should be focusing on there is ‘isn’t it great that Disney are bringing a gay character to the screen?’
I think the problem with Mazz Murray being told it is ‘inappropriate’ for her to sing a song from Dreamgirls comes from fear of the producers ‘getting it wrong’ and causing upset from the audience. But in fact what they really should be thinking about is the line up of performers for the concert are all white. So rather than telling people what they can and can’t sing, they should perhaps be focusing on creating a line-up that fairly represents the industry.
We will never get to a point in our generation (sadly) where the colour of someones skin is not noticed and so we do need to ensure everyone is fairly represented in theatre and in life.
Take my recent comment on the current London production of Chicago the Musical. When I went to see it recently (before Alexandra Burke joined the cast) I noted that out of the entire cast, including a large ensemble and big onstage band, not one person of colour was present. My problem is, no casting director would ever (I hope) disregard any CV’s that were put in front of them because of the colour of the persons skin and no one would ever strive to create a purely white cast but perhaps that’s just how it turned out. Maybe they were just the best people for the job. But perhaps it shouldn’t just be about who was best at the auditions.
I guess the real question is whether we should start to have a quota (i.e. 10% of all casts need to be of colour) to make representation fair within the industry. We need to ensure the younger generation are growing up to feel like they are being represented fairly within the media. Not having any people of colour in a show isn’t showing young children that they could have that career if they want to. It makes it look like that is just for white people.