There’s no denying that women have faced sexism in the entertainment industry since its inception, but actresses in particular have it especially tough as a result of ridiculous standards of beauty.
Earlier this month, a video from a project called "Casting Call" went viral. The clip draws attention to the frustratingly sexist way women’s roles are often advertised in casting calls. In the video, which you can watch below, real actresses read the often cringeworthy casting calls that are put out for women’s roles. One actress reads, "The role involves a short, sexual activity but nothing to worry about. LOL!" with another adding, "Please only apply if you are of a slender build and performance space is limited." Give the video a watch:
Women and Hollywood got in touch with the creators of "Casting Call," Julie Asriyan, Laura Bray and Jenna Ciralli, to find out more about the project, and ask what inspired them to dig deep into the issues facing actresses in entertainment.
Can you tell us about the inspiration behind the project?
Julie Asriyan: In our search to find work as actors, Jenna and I would come across some particularly ridiculous, offensive, hilarious and infuriating casting calls which depicted female characters in the most constricted and stereotypical ways. We made it habit when coming across these castings to send them to each other both as comedic relief and catharsis. I came across a great website, Casting Call Woe, run by a female actor in the UK, which listed the best of the worst of casting calls for women from real casting websites. I immediately shared it with Jenna and Laura and almost in one breath we all said this will be the basis of our project together.
Laura Bray: I also got looped in to the sharing of the casting calls, and they were just as entertaining and horrifying to me [as] a writer. I think these casting calls started to light a fire in all of us. It got to a point where something more than sharing and talking about them among ourselves had to happen. It felt like more was required.
Jenna Ciralli: Ultimately we wanted to create a piece that let the breakdowns speak for themselves and target the responsibility we all have in creating material — as well as hold a mirror up to society.
As an actress, can you tell us about the instances when you’ve auditioned for or acted in a role where the casting call was as bad as these? How did that make you feel?
JA : I’ve been pretty selective in the work that I’ve applied for and I’ve never personally auditioned for any casting calls as bad as this. But these castings are undoubtedly out there and I do come across them.
JC: I personally tend to get called in for very specific types of roles. As a businesswoman I play into that and enjoy it. But it leaves me wanting more. For me, it’s about the lack of complexity for women roles across the board.
LB: These casting calls affect me in a different way as a writer. Every one of them that I’ve read and seen, reminds me why I write and that I aspire to tell stories that have strong and dimensional characters. Not just the female characters, but every character.
How did you find these actress? What did your casting call say?
JC: These actresses were already written on our hearts via existing relationships. The ensemble evolved organically and intuitively through our community of artists in NYC.
JA: Yes, we didn’t put out a tradition casting call for this project. The women in the video are all friends and fellow artists. They’re all lovely, diverse and interesting both personally and in their work.
JC: And I am always thinking — how can I involve my community, the people I know?
LB: It was really wonderful to reach out to all of these amazing women and have such united responses of excitement and just outright "yes." They were on board from the start. We feel really lucky to know such creatively driven and talented ladies and to be able to include them in projects.
The video starts out very funny but goes to a place that’s really troubling and sad. Does that reflect how you view this issue?
LB: It reflects the way I deal with the issue, more than view it. It’s that old thing of "if you don’t laugh, you’ll cry." I see the inequality when it comes to the industry. It’s so insane that I do have to laugh at it, but ultimately, always, the sadness creeps in. But I think there’s hope.
JA: It’s laugh ’til you cry-cry ’til you laugh, sort of like Laura said. You cannot help but find the humor in the absurdity of this and at the same time feel anger and sadness. Those emotions are not always separate individual responses. They’re often completely interwoven, complex.
JC: We’re excited to be part of the movement that is happening right now. One that is supporting women in the arts, that is encouraging them to be actors, writers and filmmakers. I laugh it off as much as I can to feel like it has no weight over me. I was alarmed by people’s responses. But the huge reception to the video empowered me to let the issue in. I found myself standing a little taller. The pacing of the video, for us, was an artistic choice and really speaks to Julie’s beautiful editing. People are more apt to feel all the feelings if laughter breaks them open first.
How do you think filmmakers and casting directors can better phrase their casting calls to make them less offensive?
JA: The issue isn’t in phrasing casting calls, explicitly. This was just a specific, concentrated way for us to open up and further a conversation on a much broader issue. It is about being truly conscientious and proactive in creating and producing fully rounded, complex, interesting, saturated female characters and female roles. The responsibility falls on everyone — writers, casting directors, agents, directors, actors and producers. Again, I realize how complicated this is. It’s a business, there is need to cater to the consumer, a certain audience. The arts are also a reflection of the world around us, and portrayal of women in film is in correlation with how women are seen in society. But whoa, that’s a loaded topic. Value — it’s about value. Valuing women’s voices, stories, work, contributions, abilities, lives.
JC: I think it’s a conscious decision on all our parts to lead with the human experience in character creation. Human beings are complex creatures. A character of course can look a certain way — specificity in the visual is crucial to storytelling, especially in film. It’s just valuing imagination over old-school stereotyping. A woman can be compelling in many different ways. It’s also a question of what’s gratuitous vs. what’s really telling the story? And how do we diversify the stories that we tell?
LB: Agreed. I think that the responsibility lies with all of us, as the others mentioned. It’s every player that makes up the team and we all need to be a part of changing society’s view of both gender and race. It’s going to be a slow process that takes patience. But, the action of change is palpable and it inspires me as a female writer. It reminds me that I need to keep making work and put forth more dynamic female characters to add to the ones that are already emerging in the industry. We need to continue to write and make stories that we would want to watch.