Casting calls often look to find specific types of people for specific parts. But the one for "Straight Outta Compton" posted online Wednesday on the official Facebook page of the agency Sande Alessi Casting, was a combination of strange and racially insensitive.
The upcoming film will tell the story of the legendary group N.W.A, and boasts both Ice Cube and Dr. Dre as producers. The casting call for the movie stratified what casting agents were looking for across four categories: A Girls, B Girls, C Girls and D Girls. Maybe it was merely a way of listing, but it read like a way of ranking.
For the A Girls, the agency was seeking "the hottest of the hottest," and women that were "black, white, asian, hispanic, mid eastern, or mixed race too."
The next level read like this:
B GIRLS: These are fine girls, long natural hair, really nice bodies.
C GIRLS: These are African American girls, medium to light skinned with a weave.
Then there was this:
D GIRLS: These are African American girls. Poor, not in good shape. Medium to dark skin tone.
Maybe it wasn't the intention of the agency to explicitly highlight long-engrained stereotypes, but it's hard to deny that's the way this comes across. It perpetuates centuries-old ideas that associate light skin with beauty, wealth and success, and frame darker skin as the lesser. Women with straight hair are in a higher caste than those with weaves, it suggests; women with light skin, higher than those with darker tones.
An accompanying call for males was posted on Thursday (July 17) and featured some similarly curiously worded text:
AFRICAN AMERICAN STREET THUGS: Big, huge guys, very intimidating. These are guys you absolutely would not mess with. Males, age 18-30.
Again, whether or not the intention here is to spell out the unfortunate reality that many people believe that street thugs are strong-looking black males between the ages of 18 and 30, that's what this text can seem to imply, reinforcing stereotypes.
I understand that this film is telling the story of some kids that came straight outta Compton and rose to become rap stars (and more), and that they were surrounded by fellas and ladies that may have physically fit these descriptions. Yet there's something about the explicit stratification and wording here that comes across lazy and coarsely playing into stereotypes.
A little more nuance could go a long way.
The female-seeking posting, which was reported by Gawker, has since been removed, and Sande Alessi Casting -- which was the party responsible for posting the ad, rather than the studio producing the film, Universal Pictures -- reportedly told TMZ on Thursday that its wording was an "innocent mistake."
Still, it's these kind of often unconscious biases -- lighter skin tones suggest higher class; black males with a particular look are "thugs" -- that are at the very heart of MTV's "Look Different" campaign. Acknowledging we have them is the first step; unpacking them and learning from them is next.