In the latest of YouTube parodies, Tess Paras reworks Lorde’s hit song “Royals” to call out the media and its diversity gap.
“Typecast” starts off with the casting agent mispronouncing Paras’ last name and asking what ethnicity she is. She responds that she is “whatever [he] wants [her] to be” and he decides that she is Chinese. Her eagerness to appease the casting agent as well as his dismissal of her ethnicity shows that as a minority actress, one will only be allowed in if they play by the industry’s rules. The song takes it a step further to say that “we don’t care / we’ll take any job now we swear,” and brings to light that when faced with being unemployed or portraying a stereotype, most actors choose the latter. (Not to shame any actors who do, being able to support yourself financially is just as important as social justice!)
Despite Hollywood’s insistence otherwise, the person hired is not always the best actor for the role, and race is a bigger factor than it should be. Even in the video, the three leading ladies are passed over for (no surprise here) a white girl. Similarly, characters of color are often forced to take a backseat to white protagonists, as seen in everything from television shows like “Big Bang Theory” to Disney’s posse of princesses (I know that Jasmine, Pocahontas, Mulan, and Tiana have had their own movies, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t problematic or given the same merchandising as the other girls). To most people of color, and women in particular, the only available roles are neither crucial nor complex, and are represented as two dimensional and tokenizing. Some of the ones mentioned specifically are “sassy sidekick, bitchy nerd or neighbor / oversexed Asian, urban girls with flavor,” all of which perpetuate negative images of a certain race or culture.
Typecasting makes it difficult for talented actors of color to score major roles, and lends itself to the issue of whitewashing. There are seldom roles written specifically for ethnic minorities, and when actors of color are excluded from auditioning (like in the cases of Katniss and Tiger Lily) or the roles are filled by white actors (think Johnny Depp in “Lone Ranger” and pretty much anyone from the “Avatar: The Last Airbender” movie) minorities are denied jobs and are helpless as to how they are portrayed in media.
By simplifying a group of people into a laundry list of things they could be or should be the media is helping to perpetuate these racial stereotypes. To viewers who have never met someone who is Indian-American, African-American, Hispanic-American, etc. they may take what they see at face value, and assume that every individual is awkward or a criminal or a laborer, because that is what they see consistently. Even positive stereotypes can hurt, in that they set the bar incredibly high, and can alienate those who don’t meet the standards that they’re expected to. Being a minority can be tough, but add the feeling of inadequacy and it’s even worse. By utilizing stereotypes, the media shows that they aren’t interested in understanding a culture or community as a whole, but rather that they want to make judgments based on the few characteristics that they believe to be true.
“Typecast” has opened up an important discussion on the issues that people of color face in the casting and booking industry, and has amassed more than 60,000 views in a few days. The video reminds us that while there isn’t much we can do about being stereotyped, what we can do is to start doing something about it.