Casting for diversity

TV too white? Casting for diversity takes extra time in pre-production, says one expert.


With three new or returning Reality shows hitting screens next week attention has turned once again to Diversity in the genre.

Australian Survivor attracted some comment when it revealed its cast as being “too white,” despite it having a pool of over 15,000 candidates to choose from. The Block is commonly dominated by young attractive Caucasians.

But it’s tricky to judge a book by its cover.

Survivor and The Block feature both gay and senior participants. Zumbo’s Just Desserts also has Asian-Australians whipping up its guilty pleasure dishes.

Steve Cook, who launched online casting service CastaSugar in 2009, says adding Diversity to a casting call-out usually requires more time from casting directors.

“Casting for Reality is easy if you simply advertise the show, and invite anyone to apply. This is the service that is traditionally offered by online casting businesses,” he says.

“It’s a funnel approach – cast wide and filter, then audition to finally determine the actual cast. The casting team / producers have a keen sense of the dynamic required to make compelling television. The time frames and budgets are tight, but appropriate for that model.

“Adding complexity, like Diversity, adds an additional layer, which means the casting team needs more time, or better strategies and methods to complete the process. Maybe for Survivor, this hadn’t been factored into the equation.”

Cook’s online casting service has hosted casting calls for The Farmer Wants a Wife, Big Brother, The Block, Great Australian Spelling Bee, MasterChef Australia, The Bachelor, The Bachelorette, and You Can’t Ask That.

Compared to other genres such as Drama and Comedy, Reality TV usually reflects more Diversity, due its open call approach.

“Reality TV doesn’t generally discriminate in terms of who can apply, unless the show’s called White Male Truckers! There is still a long way to go, however. Reality represents the rest of us. Whether you like it or not, the people you see in reality shows are chosen from amongst us and should fairly represent who we are in colour, culture, socio economic, opinion, belief, sexual orientation, shape -and even different types of truckies,” says Cook.

“We’ve been working to change this approach, and now encourage producers to provide more specific criteria, that we can then target within our database and invite to apply.

“We’re introducing the ability to target some very specific segments like ethnicity and locality / regionality among other useful data points. Of course, we have no control over what Casting Directors / Producers actually want, but services like these make it easier to cast a broader range of faces, cultures and points of view.

“It’s helped get regional contestants on The Block, and more recently provided a participant for the ABC’s You Can’t Ask That.”

But producers have also noted in the past that there are some Reality genres, particularly arts and cuisine-based shows, that attract a broader range of applicants. If there are more Asian and Middle Eastern faces on MasterChef or So You Think You Can Dance than The Block and The Bachelor, is it due to producer choices or a reflection of cultural interests?

Cook is loathe to generalise.

“I think it’s possible that the reason some cultures are seen less in certain formats is more to do with how they’re invited to participate, and the traditional homogeneity of commercial television,” Cook suggests.

“SBS is an important part of Australian TV culture, but maybe it’s let the commercial channels off the hook in terms of catering more broadly to other cultures.

“I’ve had many discussions with producers and casting directors over the years – they’re keen to show Diversity in their shows. I personally believe that producers of popular culture have an absolute responsibility to promote diversity and balance, the job for CastaSugar and our ilk, is to provide the tools to help them achieve this.”

15 Responses

  1. “Diversity” is quickly becoming an annoying word. It seems that everything has to be more diverse than the actual group that it is being drawn from, just to make sure that no group is offended.

  2. I don’t want a cast restricted by arbitrary quotas – I want the best applicants on the screen. If the entire cast were Asian, it wouldn’t matter in the slightest – as long as they were entertaining. As an applicant, I would hate to even have an inkling that I was only cast because of my racial background. That would be highly insulting. Judge people on their merits in every respect – never on their racial makeup. Imagine if the Olympics instigated quotes (“there must be a 40/60 split of people of African descent and people of other descent in every track final!” or a similar quote for swimming). Absolutely absurd!!

  3. ” Whether you like it or not, the people you see in reality shows are chosen from amongst us and should fairly represent who we are in colour, culture, socio economic, opinion, belief, sexual orientation, shape”. The pic generally represents the people in supermarket queues so seems pretty “representative”. Of course there won’t be contestants from certain groups for cultural reasons.

    1. “The pic generally represents the people in supermarket queues ” – what a very odd thing to say. Which supermarket? Where? In some suburbs/towns, everyone in the queue will be brown skinned; in others they could all be Asian; while in others they will all be white and aged over 40.

      The point is there should be an reasonable mix of sex, age, and ethnicity, rather than an immediate reaction of “why are they almost all white?”. I understand that’s not always possible but it seems like on The Block in particular and now Survivor, the ethnic mix is definitely lacking.

      1. I was thinking about this comment in my prenatal class today. I was the only white person there out of 14 people, so yep, can’t really make false assumptions like the one above yours! My area (inner city Sydney) is very diverse and definitely not reflected on Australian TV.

  4. If there is evidence that people of any ethnicity, sexual preference, etc are being not allowed to take part in these shows despite auditioning, then we have a problem. Until then we would surely have to assume that the casting process presents us with the characters that will make the best television and deliver the ratings the networks require.

    If is fairly obvious that shows like Survivor and The Block will attract a certain type of person over others while the cooking shows will easily attract a more diverse contestant base.

  5. People must have to much free time. Goodness gracious let the show air and then make a judgement call on the content. Are we that picky we wont watch due to the array or lack of diversity?

  6. you can only cast those who apply.

    If 10 minority people apply- you can’t just make them part of the cast because they are part of a minority. They have to go though the same testing as everyone else.

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