Colourblind casting is the practice of disregarding an actor or actress’ skin colour, ethnicity, body size or even gender during the casting process. The idea behind this practice is that it gives people of all backgrounds an equal chance to win the role they’re auditioning for. It’s also been referred to as nontraditional casting. For some characters, their features aren’t explicitly stated, so the person playing that character doesn’t have to meet so many requirements. For a lot of characters, there are certain requirements that have to be met for the actor or actress to look the part. For example, if you’re going to play Disney’s Elsa, you have to be a white female with blonde hair because, in the film Frozen where the character originated, she’s depicted as being a white female with blonde hair. You would think that any actress auditioning for the role of Elsa would be required to be white and have blonde hair (or be prepared to dye her hair or wear a convincing wig). Colourblind casting says that it doesn’t matter who plays Elsa, so long as she (or even he) can act.
Frozen was mentioned because the Broadway play based on the film has experienced colourblind casting. The film is set in Norway and, as such, all of its leading characters are white. However, for the Broadway stage show, a black actor was hired to play the part of Kristoff, a white character. It’s been openly admitted that colourblind casting was used – in other words, when casting actors and actresses, it wasn’t a requirement for them to be white, even though the characters they would be playing are all white. To give another example, Hermione Granger is played by black actresses in the stage show Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. However, she’s depicted as white on the Harry Potter book covers and is played by white actress Emma Watson in the films.
The main criticism of colourblind casting is that it doesn’t stay true to the original representations of the characters. If a character is originally depicted in a particular way, that character should be depicted in the same way in all media for the sake of consistency. If you have, let’s say, a black woman, she should be represented as a black woman and played only by black women – it wouldn’t work if she was suddenly made white. Likewise, a white man who’s thin should always be so – it wouldn’t work if an overweight actor were to play him.
Colourblind casting can also create confusion. For example, to go back to Frozen, the two main characters are sisters Anna and Elsa. Both are born to white parents, as seen in the movie. However, what if, thanks to colourblind casting, a black actress was hired to play one sister and a white actress was hired to play the other? It would appear that the sisters have a different father or mother, however that’s not the case. With colourblind casting, you could end up with members of the same family being portrayed by people of all sorts of ethnicities and backgrounds – it would simply kill the illusion that these characters are related.
Some think colourblind casting is a good thing because it gives people the chance to play any character – actors and actresses aren’t limited to playing characters they physically resemble. However, a key part of a character is the way they look. For some characters, their looks help define them. Actors and actresses should always look the part because if they don’t, how can they still be playing the same character?