I don’t have an accent. Lots of the people i work with do, but not me. Funny how that works really, how everyone else has an accent, but not you.
Imagine my surprise when looking at a video for a client they said to me ‘we want someone common, not posh like you‘. Crickey; a sudden case of class embarrassment.
When you’re looking to build a piece of e-learning, you have to take conscious decisions on who to cast, decisions that you don’t have to take, or indeed actively don’t take, in ‘real‘ life. If you’re building a team, you’re not going to say ‘we want one white male, one indian female and two chinese men’. You’re not going to select based upon a Barnsley accent or clipped germanic tones. Welcome to the world of casting, where every accident is deliberate and every accent, class distinction and disability not the product of birth or accident, but choice and casting.
Bringing the ‘common‘ touch is harder than it feels. It is rarely a case of just picking ‘common‘ or ‘posh‘, although, sometimes, it really is. Some stereotypes are stereotypes because they are true. Or at least, because the middle ground of the distribution curve is largely inhabited by certain types of people. Not always, but often. Working in media, we often actively seek to portray stereotypical views, in the widest sense of the term.
Realism comes from matching what’s portrayed on the screen with what’s visible in real life.
There is a difference between portraying a scene in a stereotypical way, and perpetuating stereotypes. In the purest sense, a stereotype is just the typical view of a population, but sometimes the population changes and the stereotype remains, forever locked in the past.
It’s a challenge. We recently created a management piece about constructive challenge, where one person was accused of bullying. One of our characters was a black male, over six foot with dreadlocks. The other character was female and much shorter. It caused some concern how we played it out. The script was fine, with the male character just talking about how he had been accused of bullying, but there was an inherent visual domination of the space by him and it created a threatening view. It also adhered to many stereotypes, many cliches and many negative portrayals of race. The script of the meeting itself was calm, simple, a good conversation; we weren’t showing any confrontation, but i was concerned about perpetuating negative images. I don’t know if i was over concerned, or rightly concerned, seeing issues where there were none or missing a crucial issue. We hadn’t cast for this scene – our two characters were playing numerous roles and had been cast largely on the fact that they were available at short notice.
There are other subtle views that it’s easy to portray: managers are posh, factory workers are common, designers are young and so on.
Disability is another challenging area. In a piece with four people in, if you have an actor in a wheelchair, it looks contrived. It’s not like advertising a job, where you take the most suitable person; with casting, for specific pieces and roles, you have to get someone to sign off the cast. Even if you do simply take whoever is the most qualified actor, you can end up inadvertently reinforcing stereotypes or negative imagery. Do you show the disabled actor being helped, or is that patronising? If you show the disabled actor helping someone else, does it look contrived?
Several times we’ve scripted same sex couples into pieces, although, interestingly, nobody has ever even questioned it at a review stage. It’s never been specifically asked for, but it’s never been questioned either, which i find refreshing.
Getting the balance between stereotyping, realism and perpetuating outdated stereotypes is something we are constantly aware of. With regards to race, religion and sexuality, it’s one thing, but with regard to more subtle stereotypes around social class, it’s often easier to fall into obvious traps, or to appear obviously contrived.
Getting these things right contributes to the authenticity of the piece, but it requires constant attention and awareness.