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Best Practices for Casting Directors

As more diverse content (finally!) enters the pipeline, casting directors are being called to deliver on-screen talent to match. For so long, a lack of roles and opportunities for women and gender non-conforming people, people of color, people with disabilities, people of advanced age, and larger-bodied people, among others, caused barriers in actors’ ability to advance in their careers.

To meet this sea change, casting directors can engage in new tactics to connect with talent.

Characters dancing in the street in West Side Story
"Hollywood is finally catching up and we’re able to represent the world as it really is."
Cindy Tolan
Casting Director, West Side Story
Headshot of Lauren Ridloff

To cast the historic series Pose, casting director Alexa L. Fogel held a nationwide search that took nearly six months. For Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story remake, Cindy Tolan led an eighteen month search and saw more than 30,000 actors, including three separate casting calls in Puerto Rico. Francine Maisler cast one of Dune’s characters after seeing his Tiny Desk Concert.

As our industry’s culture shifts to become more inclusive, outreach to find talent needs to expand beyond traditional boundaries, and budgets. Audiences are reticent to accept the excuse that production ‘couldn’t find anyone’ of a particular identity that is core to the authentic casting of a role.

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Casting directors have long wanted to be inclusive and I feel like directors have always been open to it but have felt constraints about who they needed to cast in terms of star power. But now the mandate from studios is diversity.
Francine Maisler
Casting Director, DUNE

Writers and directors have also used their platforms to amplify calls to discover diverse new talent. Showrunner Mindy Kaling put out an open casting call for three central roles her Netflix series Never Have I Ever on her Instagram. Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, a first time actor, eventually beat out over 15,000 girls for the lead role. America Ferrera recently took to Instagram to post a casting call for her feature film adaptation of the novel I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter, and reportedly the volume of responses crashed the casting directors email account.

When casting for emerging talent, or outreaching to communities that have been historically excluded from these processes, it’s important to consider how you and your team are creating an environment that is safe, accommodating and welcoming. Best practices for accessibility, diverse gender inclusion, and health and safety should all be employed throughout the casting process to the same degree as during production.


Characters from "Inventing Anna" taking a selfie in a suana

When casting for a role that could be played by an actor of any race/ethnicity, disability, age, or gender/gender identity, make it clear in your casting notice that you want to see actors of all these backgrounds. List them out specifically so that individuals can be sure you are talking about them. For example, when you’re casting roles that are not gender-specific, list something like, “all genders” or “any gender identity” instead of “male” or “female.”

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Although there are efforts in the industry to tell more diverse stories and greenlight programming that better reflects the public, our findings suggest that the most popular programming on cable and television is still dominated by white male characters.
Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media

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