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Representation matters…a lot

Diversity isn’t about checking boxes.

You don’t need to cram “one of each” into every commercial.

But over the spectrum of each brand’s work, there should be a range of diversity as well as true representation.


Media shapes how we see each other

Mass media can help people feel seen and see each other in a positive light. That’s an incredible power.

It’s especially important because a lot of us live in bubbles.

We might not think we live in bubbles, but consider this: The American Values Study found that 75% of White Americans only talk about big issues with other White people.

This means most White Americans are getting most of their information about people who aren’t White from ads, entertainment and other media.

So the messages we send are really important. People absorb what we put out there.

This is how we change culture.


Write casting specs that ACTIVELY encourage diversity

We’ve found that writing “open to all races and ethnicities” will often lead to casting directors sending you 90% White talent.

A couple of helpful hints:

Be Clear

Ask to see a range of races and ethnicities. Ask to see specific groups if you want specific groups.

Get Real

For a wider range of looks and body types, ask for real-feeling people rather than model types.

Actors with Disabilities

Note that you’re open to actors with disabilities.

Spanish Speakers

If you’re casting a Spanish-speaking role, ask for native speakers.

Age Diversity

Up your age bracket a smidge—actors don’t always age like the rest of us.


Push casting directors for a diverse talent pool

We can’t cast who we don’t see. And we won’t get what we don’t ask for.

As soon as you get a casting link, give it a skim. If you don’t see enough diversity, ask for more.

This is way more effective than waiting until the end.

That said, if you watch all the talent and still don’t think you have enough diversity on your callback list, ask for more talent.


Get your clients on board

Most clients want us to push for diversity and representation, but it never hurts to have an upfront conversation about why this matters.

Clients can’t cast who they don’t see, so it’s on us to bring diverse options to the table. Even if they don’t always choose diversity, they will get used to seeing those options, and that will help.

Use your directors as allies to help you push for the best talent.

If you have a client who shares your vision, cultivate that relationship and arm them with information so they can help sell this on their side.

It’s okay to respectfully push clients to explain their thinking:

  • What’s keeping this person from reading as “all-American”?
  • What about them isn’t right for the brand?
  • What do you mean by that?
  • What makes them not look like a couple?
  • Let’s think about who our audience is….

Casting Talent

Things to keep in Mind while casting

We don’t need a special ad to cast someone with a disability

We don’t need a special ad to cast someone with a disability

People with disabilities often get cast solely in inspiring roles and commercials. 

What’s missing is everyday representation. 

People with disabilities still buy groceries, order pizza, use credit cards, travel and so on. Show them doing those things just like you would anyone else. 

Remember that not all disabilities look the same. A person in a wheelchair isn’t representative of all people with disabilities. So don’t limit yourself. 

(And please, please, please use actors with disabilities to portray characters with disabilities.)

Let’s be clear about “racially ambiguous”

It has too often been client code for “tan White people” or “as close to White as I can get and still claim diversity.” 

That is not good enough.

If you want mixed or multiracial talent, that’s awesome—put it in your specs. But using mixed talent every single time doesn’t really check the diversity box.

True representation takes a variety of shades and backgrounds.

Watch out for colorism and White standards of beauty

Colorism is the practice of favoring lighter-skinned people of color over those who are darker skinned. 

It is rampant in casting.

So is favoring people of color who more closely align to White standards of beauty. For example, straight silky hair vs kinkier curls or braids on Black talent, an eyelid with a crease vs. one without on Asian people or slimmer features and less prominent curves on everyone.

Don’t limit yourself like this. It’s boring and expected, and you’ll miss out on a lot of good talent.

Cast them for the right reason

We’ve been hearing lately that some clients prefer to only cast interracial couples in order to have one Black, Hispanic/Latino, Asian or Indigenous actor, but no more than that. That’s tokenism. 

While this is, perhaps, marginally better than just ignoring people of color, it’s kinda weird never to cast a non-White, same-race couple. 

Just like there will sometimes be ads with an all-White cast, there will sometimes be spots with an all-Asian, all-Hispanic/Latino, all-Black or all-Indigenous cast.

Of course, we should cast interracial couples. About 17% of all marriages are interracial.

Be open every step of the way.

Sometimes making the work better means throwing out preconceived notions about roles 
and dialogue.

For example, in casting, when someone we weren’t quite imagining in the role sounds weird reading the “as scripted” line, we often just move onto the next person. This happens to all actors but way more often to people of color, and it’s one of the ways we miss out on great talent.

If there’s a promising actor, but the line feels off coming from them, ask, “How would you say it?”

It might not be the way you wrote it—that’s okay. It might be even better. It might change how you see the whole spot.

The best directors and casting people already do this during auditions. But if they don’t, it’s on you.

It will make the work better and the dialogue more authentic.


Request that the casting studio pay attention to lighting as darker skin needs good lighting to read well on video (also important on set).


Media Buy Considerations