As a woman in the acting industry, I have to deal with a lot of bullshit.
As most socially conscious people are well aware, sexism is alive and well in the American workplace. In the entertainment industry, they don’t even bother hiding it; they can always use the excuse “well that’s what this role requires.” This character needs to be skinny, or attractive, or ditzy, or submissive. There’s a pervasive attitude of “that’s just the way things are.”
I’ve found that when I bring this issue up, people are often surprised. Some are even skeptical. (Are you sure that’s what you’re experiencing? It can’t be that bad.) So I thought I’d share some real-life excerpts.
The following are all real casting calls that were posted online within the past year. These are all roles that came up on my casting websites (specifically Actors Access and LA Casting) and were listed on my page as “roles fit for me.” I’ve highlighted the parts that are extra sexist for those of you with the attention spans of goldfish, and provided commentary below each post. So behold these real-life absurdities and laugh. Or cry. Or both.
PLAYERS (Dating Coach Assistants )
[ DATING COACH ASSISTANTS ]
2 females – age 21 – 30, to play the assistants to a dating coach for a British reality web series. Must have a big personality, outgoing, funny, opinionated and free-spirited (Not too prudish). You will be helping a dating coach give tips to his students on how to appeal to women.
*Improv skills a must and able to match wit with dry-humored English guys.
*Must be comfortable in bathing suits or suggestive outfits and be game for anything (within reason of course). If you are uptight, this may not be the role for you.
Looking for actress/model types. Be funny, fun, outgoing, and gorgeous!
Commentary: Okay, so I highlighted the whole thing. But this one is just chock-full of BS. But it’s subtle and sneaky, as many of these posts are. Let’s break it down:
- They want 2 women to “assist” the male expert explaining to other men what women want. Good start.
- You have to be funny/smart enough to keep up with the guys.
- You have to wear suggestive outfits and bikinis, and be “game for anything” (???)
- If you are not willing to wear skimpy outfits and are not willing to do “anything,” then you are “too prudish” and “uptight”
CASSIE CRANE / Non-Union / Principal / Female / All Ethnicities / 18-30
Cassie (15) is your traditional high school b*tch. She loves about boys, and plotting supernatural revenge on the girl who stole her boyfriend. You know? The usual. Once her and her bestie Violet Beaumont (15) start messing with a ouija board all hell breaks loose.
Commentary: Girl plotting revenge on another girl for stealing her boyfriend. You know? The usual. Because that’s what girls usually do.
Gorlesque – The Haunted Burlesque
VICTIM / Non-Union / Supporting / Female / All Ethnicities / 21-30
Two victims of the evil doers find themselves trapped in the dungeon. They will be attractive, smaller women and good at looking scared.
Commentary: The character’s name/identifier is “Victim.” I also chuckle at the idea of seeking an actress who is particularly good at “looking scared.”
Alesso Music Video
GORGEOUS CLASSIC LOOKING BLONDE HOLLYWOOD STARLET / SAG-AFTRA / Principal / Female / Caucasian / 18-28
Looking for gorgeous blonde bombshell Hollywood starlet. This takes place in the 80’s. Think a gorgeous young Kim Basinger or a gorgeous blonde with the IT factor. Has a classic beauty look and has great expressions. Can act.
Commentary: I like how this breakdown takes 3 long-winded sentences to explain how this character looks and how beautiful she is, and then “can act” is an afterthought.
[ CECILY ]
Beautiful, sexy, bratty. In the 18-20 range who can play more on the teenager (16/17) side. A milennial, who can be easily disliked by how attractive she is.
Commentary: Women in film should be beautiful, but we’ll hate you for it.
PARALLEL WORLDS: A NEW ROCK MUSIC EXPERIENCE
[ TRACI ]
20s/30s/female. Gina is an edgy, sexy, very talented NYC photographer brought in to coax Johnny Beck, an up and coming artist, into loosening up for a publicity photo shoot. The chemistry is palpable and they end up having a one night stand. For Gina, using her sexuality to get what she wants is all in day’s work.
Commentary: This description was fine until I got to the cringe-worthy final sentence. It perpetuates the idea that career-women all sleep their way to the top.
UNTITLED HORROR DRAMA
WENDY / Other / Co-Star / Female / African American, Caucasian / 25-45
WENDY is tall, dirty long straight hair, voluptuous, embodies what it is to be sexy, and has no tongue. After being forced to spend years in a bed with her own grandmother and grandfather, as they had their way with her she grew an appetite for sexual stimulation. When her grandfather died her grandmother got rid of her, and Wendy went insane and attempted suicide multiple times. In the facility Wendy has now grown an appetite for all of the orderlies, and does not side her sexual desires for them. It is never enough sex, and she has had with all of them. She fell in love with Frederick, an orderly, and when they fired him she bit off her own tongue out of protest. And now the only gift that she has to give her orderlies is sex and a bad case of herpes.
BRITTANY / Non-Union / “1” / Featured / Female / Caucasian / 18-25
A buxom blond who is beautiful but ditzy.
Wardrobe: Short Shorts and a tight shirt.
Commentary: Why are the blondes always ditzy?
SHANNON / Non-Union / Lead / Female / Asian, Caucasian, East Indian, Hispanic, Middle Eastern, Ethnically Ambiguous, Native American, Pacific Islander / 23-34
sexually hungry. Is trying to keep her lust secret but it is pouring out of her skin. she will have confrontations with her husband when the fat hits the heat. A demanding role
Commentary: Any post that starts with “sexually hungry” and ends with “a demanding role” is sure to be a winner.
THE WOMAN / Non-Union / Principal / Female / All Ethnicities / 25-35
The “manic pixie dream girl”. She is fun and spontaneous and she forces Oscar to think what he really want for his life. More of an idea than a real person.
Commentary: Not even attempting to hide it, this character is an archetype of a woman who exists simply to make the male lead feel things.
Fun Internet Videos!
THE “PERFECT TEN” GIRL NEXT DOOR / Non-Union / Co-Star / Female / All Ethnicities / 18-30
You’re a very attractive, model-type women… a girl next door with sex appeal. You’ve got a great sense of humor and self-esteem, and you don’t take yourself too seriously. And you’ve got a soft spot in your heart for good guys. You’ll have a major crush on “Joe” – our average antihero who – with the help of our advice – has a magical way with attractive women. And you’ll find yourself in all sorts of situations… chasing after Joe on the Venice Boardwalk… eating dinner with him… hanging out in the hot tub… while doing your best to capture his attention in ridiculous ways. Time-permitting, we may also shoot a candid interview/conversation with you about your thoughts on dating, relationships, etc.
Commentary: This one is tricky, in that it’s very subtle. The woman must be very attractive, a model-type, girl-next-door cute but also sexy, a perfect ten. Meanwhile her love interest is an average Joe. This is a trope that pops up all the time, especially in rom-coms; the guy is chased by a girl way out of his league. It’s not really apparent what the problem is, until you try to flip the roles. Imagine a devastatingly handsome man doggedly pursuing an average-looking, slightly chunky girl. It doesn’t make sense because it’s not a story that gets told. (Okay, it’s probably been done at some point, but it’s not a common narrative.) By continuing to make stories that follow this stereotype, we propagate the idea that average men “deserve” a beautiful woman, but by failing to flip the story, the idea is that average women just need to try harder.
FEMALE TOP MODELS / Other / Co-Star / Female / African American, Caucasian, Hispanic, Middle Eastern, Ethnically Ambiguous / 20-30
Extremely Attractive – Female Model
Super high caliber of almost perfect genetics in terms of extremely beautiful looks.
Wardrobe: Casting Off Pictures
Commentary: We don’t have unreasonable beauty standards for women! You just have to have perfect genetics!
[ LISA ]
Early 20’s blonde, cute, bubbly & ditzy. She is a Call Girl and a victim.
Commentary: Seriously, why are the blondes always ditzy? That joke died in the 90s.
[ SEXY CONSUELA ]
She is the Sexy transformation of the older Obese Consuela, who then seduces the rap stars with her flirty eyes and sexy lab dance moves. Move be a good dancer and super sexy.
Commentary: Every rapper’s dream, an obese woman transforms into someone skinnier, younger, and sexier to perform sexy moves manufactured in a lab. Did we mention she’s sexy?
Victim (Supporting): Female, 18-25
a young victim who becomes the next target for the world’s most notorious serial killer and rapist; open to race, looks, types, merely need an actress comfortable with the requirements; this is all improv, zero budget filmmaking, thinking on the fly, running around with a camera getting the shots; full frontal and full rear explicit nudity and explicit sex scenes are required; leave a note stating that this is not an issue; pays $100/day, plus credit (including a co-writer, and co-producer credit if you wish, on top of actor credit); must have transportation to Cumberland; shoots one to four days beginning asap.
Commentary: Once again her name is Victim, and boy, does this director have a deal for you! He admits that he has no solid plan for how he’s going to shoot this, describing his directing style as “running around with a camera.” Full frontal and rear nudity and explicit sex scenes are not only envisioned but required. And it only pays $100/day (considering most film days run for 10-12 hours, that hashes out to less than minimum wage).
CASSIE / Non-Union / Lead / Female / All Ethnicities / 23-34
She’ a tortured woman. Lot of the film she is in her head contemplating what she should do. You can see her opening up to her brother in law. Strong emotional scenes involved
Rate: $75 for the shoot plus 3 premeire tickets you keep the profit
Media Submission Request: reel or clips
Nudity Situations: There is a scene reminiscent of Dressed To Kill where she is sleep and her husband is simulating making love to her in a heavy handed way; It happens under the covers. No nudity. The husband is grinding on top
Commentary: You have to portray simulated sex (and considering a “sleeping” person cannot give consent, that’s simulated rape) for a mere $75. But don’t worry, they’ll give you 3 complimentary tickets so that you can scalp them for a profit. When was the last time you bought a ticket for a short film?
[ TRACEY ]
18 to 25 years old, Caucasian female.
Tracey, 15, has just caught on to the fact that she’s sexy. In the big city, where there were lots of shops, and lots of girl friends, and lots of boys, she knew how to be cute and how to flirt and how to have fun. Now her mom’s remarried this city lawyer who has decided he wants to be a part time farmer and he’s taken them all out to this big new house in the country. There’s only one other kid in the new neighborhood, a sexy 17 year old cowboy from next door. He seems cool, but she’s starting to think he’s the ultimate “bad boy”. If you’re an actress who thinks young women can be very beautiful and dress sexy (this girl reads a lot of manga) while being compassionate, determined, experimentally flirtatious and ultimately heroic . . . this is the role for you.
Commentary: If you’re an actress who believes a girl can be beautiful/sexy and still have other redeeming qualities, this is the role for you! Also, she’s 15.
MUSIC VIDEO. “ESSENCE OF WATER.” / Non-Union / “Video” / Principal / Female / Asian, Caucasian, East Indian, Hispanic, Middle Eastern / 18-25
This is a music where a portion of the video will be filmed at the beach…IN THE WATER. You DO NOT need to know how to swim. You will NOT be in deep water. Water level will only be below your knees. YOU WILL BE COMPLETELY WET As you will dance / move sexy in the water and sand. Acting as a couple with the musician. You’ll be acting as lovers in certain scenes You are to play a submissive sexy girlfriend who is fun, adorable and is happy being in love….on the beach.
Wardrobe: Bathing suit, sundress, bikini with loose fitting dresses.
Commentary: Moving sexy in a swimsuit, portraying the musician’s submissive girlfriend. Yes, they really did just say submissive.
TL;DR Yes, I know, this is a lot. But I want to demonstrate the sheer volume of casting calls that are openly, unapologetically sexist. The above posts are merely selections from what seems an endless well.
And that’s not even including the roles that are quietly uninteresting. All the roles where the only description is “pretty.” All the “girl next door” roles. All the “sexy model” roles. All the “cute girlfriend” and “loving wife” roles. The roles that are only defined by appearance, or their relation to the male lead.
This is the way things are. But this is not the way things should be. We need complexity. We need diversity. We need characters written by women. We need projects directed by women. We need change.