“The statistics are unequivocal: Women and minorities are vastly underrepresented in front of and behind the camera. Here, 27 industry players reveal the stories behind the numbers — their personal experiences of not feeling seen, heard or accepted, and how they pushed forward.
In Hollywood, exclusion goes far beyond #OscarsSoWhite.
(Interviews have been edited and condensed.)
I was 18 and putting myself on tape for a movie I really wanted. I got that phone call: They cast a Latino male in another role in the film; they’re not looking to cast [a Latina]. So I defiantly bleached my hair blond, painted my face white and made the audition tape. I never heard back. I just remember feeling so powerless. What do you do when someone says, “Your color skin is not what we’re looking for”? Let me tell you: Blond does not suit me. I try not to prove my point on audition tapes anymore.
In 1985, I’m sitting in the casting office of a major studio. The head of casting said, “I couldn’t put you in a Shakespeare movie, because they didn’t have black people then.” He literally said that. I told that casting director: “You ever heard of Othello? Shakespeare couldn’t just make up black people. He saw them.” I started carrying around a postcard of Rubens’s “Studies of the Head of a Negro.” The casting director actually was very kind to me. He referred me to my first agent.
Actress, “Twin Peaks,” “Marco Polo”
I never saw people like me on television in the States [after working in Shanghai]. It was very difficult [to get representation in the 1980s]. Someone told me the Bessie Loo Agency represented all the Asians — James Hong was there, Beulah Quo. There were a couple of people playing butlers, maids. [The agent] probably thought I was telling fairy tales when I told him I won best actress in China.
Star, director, producer, “Telenovela”
I didn’t speak Spanish [growing up]. I’m ninth generation. I mean, I’m as American as apple pie. I’m very proud of my heritage. But I remember moving to L.A. and auditioning and not being Latin enough for certain roles. Some white male casting director was dictating what it meant to be Latin. He decided I needed an accent. He decided I should [have] darker-colored skin. The gatekeepers are not usually people of color, so they don’t understand you should be looking for way more colors of the rainbow within that one ethnicity…”