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"You can’t get that part; you’re black."

This is a real statement someone messaged me upon learning I wanted to be Olive for Spelling Bee.

Now, ignoring the clearly racist idea, let’s go over why that doesn’t make sense.

  1. Nothing about Olive’s character describes her as any certain race. She never says anything about “It sure is nice being white/black/asian/hispanic” So, Olive is essentially race-less until casted.
  2. She has no family in the cast. Yes, her mom and dad but those are make-believe versions played by teachers who don’t necessarily look anything like her real parents. In the original show, Olive’s “dad” was black, making that statement inherently invalid.

I find it sad that many people don’t believe in or understand the concept of color blind casting. To me, it doesn’t mean that any character can be any race, it means that if race is not part of the context of the character, they could be any race at all. But so many people feel that all characters should be white unless we’re talking Hairspray or The Wiz or Fela or even Rent where, of all the issues talked about, race is not one of them. And even within that, there are incongruities in the way people think. I’ve heard of Dynamites with natural hair being forced to get perms. I’ve heard of light-skinned black people being told to get tans or put on makeup so they’d look “black enough” for their part. I’ve heard of people thinking it was “strange” that a professional production of Les Mis had a black Val Jean. Was it strange? Or are you just so used to seeing white-washed productions that seeing a cast with a little bit of color seems unusual?

I live in Howard County, MD, so most of the shows I’ve seen here or been in have been essentially all white casts. There are plenty of talented non-white people at my school, but I’m just going to make up a statistic and say my school is probably 95% white. For that reason, there is not much color in our casts. I would very much like to believe that the reason is scarcity, and that it’s not an issue of “looking the part.” But maybe it is.