Hollywood opens up to color-blind casting

One Night Stand

Has Hollywood become one big Benetton ad? Consider director Mike Figgis’ recent film One Night Stand: An African American (Wesley Snipes), married to an Asian American (Ming-Na Wen), has an affair with a Caucasian (Nastassja Kinski). And here’s the real shocker — the movie never explains the interracial cast.

Chalk it up to the latest show-business trend: color-blind casting. More movies and TV shows are hiring actors regardless of race — even when a nonwhite actor defies traditional logic. No big deal was made of Jeff Goldblum having a black child (Vanessa Lee Chester) in The Lost World: Jurassic Park, or of Nick Nolte’s Latina daughter (Jennifer Lopez) in U-Turn. Likewise, Whoopi Goldberg, who’s developing a TV drama called Harlem, promises to cast with a color-blind eye. “I’ll go for the actor who best suits the part, without age, sex, or race being a determining factor,” says Goldberg. “That‘s art as it should be.”

Why integrate now? “It has nothing to do with political correctness,” says Allison Jones, the casting director who hired Wen to play the wife of a Caucasian on NBC’s The Single Guy. “A diverse cast makes it more real and more interesting. It just makes sense.”

Especially for the bottom line, as rainbow casting can lead to a pot of gold. Witness ABC’s Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella. The much-hyped TV musical — with Brandy as the belle of the ball, Filipino-American Paolo Montalban as her prince, and Goldberg as his mother — snagged 34.3 million viewers, more than any show that week. Sure, the presence of Whitney Houston had a lot to do with it, but at least the moral of the tale wasn’t lost: Already, Cinderella casting director Valorie Massalas is developing a cable series retelling Greek myths with multicultural ensembles. “There’s nothing like success,” says Cinderella exec producer Craig Zadan. “If [we’d gotten] mediocre ratings, it would’ve set back [color-blind casting] for a long time.”

In other words, Hollywood’s favorite hue is green. Which also means multiethnic casting has limits. Though acting ensembles are increasingly diverse, leads continue to go to white stars. “Hollywood’s not looking for the next Denzel Washington or Samuel L. Jackson,” says Steve Park, an Asian-American comedian who popped up against type as a lovelorn freak in Fargo. “It’s looking for the next Tom Cruise.”

One Night Stand
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