Are Race-Based Casting Decisions Discriminatory?

Employment Attorneys Discuss Casting Decisions in LA

If you are casting a movie, television show or a concert tour and want a certain look for your performers, when does that cross into racial discrimination?

A notable recent incident involving Cher’s “Dressed to Kill” tour and a choreographer named Kevin Wilson. Cher was sued by Wilson for racial discrimination. He claimed that Cher chose race over experience when selecting Caucasian dancers over African-American dancers with more expertise.

Another example involves the upcoming film Straight Outta Compton, which has garnered some controversy from their casting notice.  The notice grouped female actors into four stereotypical groups labeled “A Girls,” “B Girls,” “C Girls” and “D Girls.” The last label was reserved for female actresses who were African-American and “poor, not in good shape” with a darker skin-tone than the other groups. The casting for this movie has been called racist and harmful in its stereotyping.

Lastly, the popular television show, The Bachelor, caused some complaints two years ago when it was noticed that all sixteen seasons of the show had sixteen bachelors and of all the hundreds of contestants, only fourteen were non-white.

The First Amendment Often Protects Casting Decisions

These cases are not clear cut. One reason the entertainment, film and television companies have some leeway in casting is because of First Amendment rights. In short, the creative companies claim the specific right of free speech in their artistic process. The entertainment industry is not required to have racially-diverse casts.

No doubt, movie and television companies argue that they need to group people by race in certain casting roles, for example, period dramas. For instance, a mini-series about the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920’s or a movie set in and about Greenland would need certain actors with particular racial characteristics to appear authentic.

Casting decisions can be racially discriminatory, but the First Amendment seems to protect a company’s racially-based casting decisions.  However, for a plaintiff, there may be some reasons to speak with an attorney to see if a company has violated any laws during a race-based casting decision. Some of these may include:

  • If a criminal background check or other such treatment was only given to certain racial groups of people.
  • If several employees were reprimanded for the same offense, but those who were fired appeared to be based off of the color of their skin.

The First Amendment is a powerful defense for any casting company, but that doesn’t make them invulnerable to the law. When any employer in California categorizes people by race and makes employment decisions on that basis, they may be violating state and federal law. The best way to find if discrimination occurs in a casting decision is to call an employment lawyer in Los Angeles.