If you havent heard about it by now, the casting call for the NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton has gone viral because it is, as Gawker put it, “racist as hell.”
I cannot dispute that. The societal, social, economic and even labor impacts have been eloquently discussed across the web, especially here so I wont go into that. But I will give you the true life confessions of a D girl.
When I first read the ad, my first reaction was “Huh, I’m an out of shape Brown skin girl. I could get this part!” And if I had read the casting notice without the headline I probably wouldn’t have thought much about the language. Because I am an actress. One of my college lessons was “You’re too fat. You’re too black. You’re too short.” “Know your type” is a mantra. And blatant discrimination is commonplace and encouraged.
So for everyone asking who would even respond to an ad like that, let me break it down for you: LOTS OF PEOPLE! Because you know what’s worse than being a out of shape, dark skinned D girl in a movie? BEING AN OUT OF SHAPE, DARK SKINNED ACTRESS NOT WORKING! Ask almost any actress and they’d tell you they’d rather be a working D than an unemployed A.
Acting is a grueling career. And we cant act our way out of paying our bills or just pretend to eat. We have to work. And sometimes it aint glamorous.
But there’s another side to this issue. I dont know anything about the script, but I bet you as the movie progresses and NWA gets richer and more popular you will see a lot less D girls or C girls. By the time they reach their pinnacle, they will be surrounded by nothing but A and B girls. D girls ride the bus in Compton; A girls drink champagne in Beverly Hills. D girls are faceless images in the background; A girls get paid extra for closeups on their legs, breasts and smiling faces. The bottom line is that A girls get paid more and D girls get paid less.
I love performing. Love it! When I perform I am not a D girl. In fact, I am not a girl at all. I am superhuman. My arms can reach the back row, my eyes scan every face and my energy touches everyone in the room. I am 10’ tall and 6’ wide and growing. But there aren’t a lot of parts for D girls like me to grow in. They rather watch us shrink or not watch us at all. We dont deserve their attention or time or empathy. Save that for the A & B girls.
That’s what makes Gabourey Sidibe so important. She makes us watch, connect, witness. She reminds us that D girls are not just background noise or set pieces.
The D girls’ names will not be in the credits. They will get a few hundred dollars and craft services if they’re lucky. But they are not the problem. They are trying to survive in an industry that has not considered them from its very inception. How many years removed are we from Hattie’s Oscar win? Oh ok…
So to my artist community, I have a challenge for all of us. Let’s purposefully write characters of all shapes, colors, sizes, ages, genders, sexualities, classes, abilities and nationalities. Let’s cast worlds that really look like our worlds. And if your world is really…homogeneous, imagine a world that isn’t and go from there. Let’s stop looking for types and start looking for people.