I previously wrote a piece for The Frisky that briefly detailed the racism I discovered while working on a research thesis on prostitution in New York City. I explained to readers that in the sex work industry, White, Asian and Hispanic women receive higher payments than their Black counterparts and often times, many Black women are blatantly discriminated against. I also stated that the racist reality Black women face in sex work simply offers a glimpse into the world of racism that women of color face daily, in mainstream society. Many rushed to criticize that piece, claiming that such disparities in pay are as a result of “individual preference,” not because of racism, since we are after-all, “post-racial.”
However, as I stated previously, sometimes racism rears its head in such an ugly way that it can no longer be denied. Such an instant arose recently when Sande Alessi, a White female casting director posted this casting call (which has since been removed) or a new upcoming film “Straight Outta Compton.” The ad read:
SAG OR NON UNION CASTING NOTICE FOR FEMALES-ALL ETHNICITIES- from the late 80′s. Shoots on “Straight Outta Compton”. Shoot date TBD. We are pulling photos for the director of featured extras. VERY IMPORTANT – You MUST live in the Los Angeles area (Orange County is fine too) to work on this show. DO NOT SUBMIT if you live out of the area. Nobody is going to be flying into LA to do extra work on this show – and don’t tell me you are willing to fly in.
SAG OR NON UNION FEMALES – PLEASE SEE BELOW FOR SPECIFIC BREAKDOWN. DO NOT EMAIL IN FOR MORE THAN ONE CATEGORY:
A GIRLS: These are the hottest of the hottest. Models. MUST have real hair – no extensions, very classy looking, great bodies. You can be black, white, asian, hispanic, mid eastern, or mixed race too. Age 18-30. Please email a current color photo, your name, Union status, height/weight, age, city in which you live and phone number to: SandeAlessiCasting@gmail.com subject line should read: A GIRLS
B GIRLS: These are fine girls, long natural hair, really nice bodies. Small waists, nice hips. You should be light-skinned. Beyonce is a prototype here. Age 18-30. Please email a current color photo, your name, Union status, height/weight, age, city in which you live and phone number to: SandeAlessiCasting@gmail.com subject line should read: B GIRLS
C GIRLS: These are African American girls, medium to light skinned with a weave. Age 18-30. Please email a current color photo, your name, Union status, height/weight, age, city in which you live and phone number to: SandeAlessiCasting@gmail.com subject line should read: C GIRLS
D GIRLS: These are African American girls. Poor, not in good shape. Medium to dark skin tone. Character types. Age 18-30. Please email a current color photo, your name, Union status, height/weight, age, city in which you live and phone number to: SandeAlessiCasting@gmail.com subject line should read: D GIRLS
The ad offered four groups, A,B,C and D in which women who sought a role in the film should belong. A Girls included “the hottest of the hottest” White, Black, Asian, Hispanic and multi-racial women with “real hair.” B Girls were “light-skinned” and attractive like Beyonce. C Girls were defined by their medium to dark skin and may have a weave. And D Girls had a dark skin tone and were poor or not in good shape.
Whether or not the letter used to label each group of girls amounts to some type of grade or not is of very little importance — though that in and of itself was outrageous and disrespectful. But the fact that this woman fearlessly referred to not just race, but skin tone while making references to beauty and class is what truly represents the type of overt racism that many try to deny exists in our world of “colorblindness.”
Many, particularly White people, are unaware of the fact that casting directors have long preferred to cast a mixed race woman, or a woman with lighter skin for lead roles, which limits the visibility of beautiful, dark-skinned women who are a part of the skin color spectrum we now come to refer to collectively as “Black.” In a recent example, biracial actress Zendaya Coles dropped out of a film about singer Aaliyah after backlash arose from the Black community where fans were angered that a lighter-skinned, mulatto woman was chosen to represent the African-American singer. This backlash comes as a result of Hollywood’s continuous casting trends where lighter-skinned Black or biracial actresses are typically chosen to represent “Blackness” in a variety of important, upscale, glamorous roles, while their darker pigment counterparts are relegated to stereotypical roles (i.e. though Lupita Nyong’o is currently revered in Hollywood, let’s not forget that she was cast as a slave).
Examples as such are a by-product of the type of White supremacy described in my earlier post about prostitution that has placed Black women on the fringes of beauty and access to opportunity/resources unless they look as White as possible. This reality of racism and colorism exists not only in the sex work industry, or in Hollywood, but it permeates every aspect of our culture and mainstream society — a truth that Black women are painfully made aware of on a daily basis. A hierarchy of womanhood has been long established based on race and though darker-skinned Black women are subjected to the most discrimination and misrepresentation, all Black women are undervalued. I am not sure how many examples or posts it will take for White people to no longer deny but to acknowledge and combat that truth.