Colorblind Casting

Colorblind casting (also known as Non-Traditional casting) is where characters for a performed work (theater, TV, film) are cast without prejudice to race, gender, age, etc.

Most often this is seen when creating a new work. A character is created with a personality, but without defined physical characteristics, such as age, gender or race. This may lead to the inversion of some tropes, but it isn't necessarily done intentionally. In adaptations this may lead to women playing parts traditionally played by men (when the gender of the character is not essential), or people of other races playing characters that may be associated with a different race.

Historically, this was far more the norm of theatre than you would believe. In the Elizabethan Theatre of Christopher Marlowe, William Shakespeare, Ben Jonson and others, it was common for actors to play both male and female parts since women weren't allowed to act on stage in this period. It was only in the Restoration that you had actresses playing female roles. In the 19th Century, with the greater professionalization of the stage, it was common for women to play male roles, for instance Sarah Bernhardt would play Hamlet.

The rise of cinema and its greater realism has also led to this trope being more common and invoked more often on stage. Theatre directors argue that the stage is fundamentally unrealistic as a medium. If an audience is being asked to admit that the proscenium contains scenes from Rome, Greece, Thrace and other exotic settings, why not ask them to accept non-traditional casting which would not be any less realistic. Likewise with the development of international performance art, it is common in opera for singers, musicians and actors to be multi-national and multi-cultural as a result of greater inter-disciplinary and cultural exchanges.

Makeup doesn't come riding to the rescue as often as it once did, but it still turns up as a matter of course for "raceless" roles, such as those of animals or robots. It also provides a lot of leeway for casting actors as the ghosts of other characters, since everyone looks more or less equally pale as a corpse.

Compare to Ability over Appearance where the casting department was looking for a specific race, build, gender, etc. but was swayed to change it by the actor's skill.


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  • The 1973 film version of Jesus Christ Superstar cast Carl Anderson (an African-American) as Judas, a role that could be played by any race and was cast as such.
  • When the Made-for-TV Movie Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella was cast in 1997, the casting was colourblind, leading to a very diverse group of actors. There was a black queen (Whoopi Goldberg), a white king (Victor Garber), and their son was played by a Filipino man (Paolo Montalban). In addition, the role of Cinderella herself was given to a black woman (Brandy). Cinderella's stepmother is white (Bernadette Peters) and her daughters are black (Natalie Desselle-Reid) and white (Veanne Cox).
  • Some people questioned if George Romero had any particular reason for choosing black actor Duane Jones for the lead role in Night of the Living Dead (1968), given that it came out in the wake of the Civil Rights Movement and having a black leading actor was unusual at the time. Romero said that no, Jones just had the best audition.
  • Alien famously had its script written so that all of the characters were only referred to by their family names and with no physical descriptions, allowing the casting of anyone in any role (with the exception of the voice-over artist who played the computer "Mother"). It was only after the roles were cast that the script was tweaked so proper pronouns were used in dialogue.
  • The script of Lethal Weapon never indicated Murtaugh's race. When the casting director suggested Danny Glover, her response to objections over race was "So what?".
  • Later movies in the Fast and Furious series have a lot of diversity. In particular, the central cast of Fast & Furious 6 has only a single white actor, while other actors are black, Samoan, Asian, and even Hebrew.
  • Much Ado About Nothing (1993): Where Don Pedro, prince of Spain, is played by black actor Denzel Washington and his half-brother is played by half-asian Keanu Reeves.

    Live Action TV 
  • Grey's Anatomy is a great example. None of the roles were cast with an eye to race leading to a very racially diverse cast. Miranda Bailey was originally envisioned by the creator as a blond, tall woman. Look who she's played by now! Also Isaiah Washington originally auditioned for the part Patrick Dempsey has made famous. Sandra Oh's character's last name was changed to her more ethnic name only after she was cast in the part.
  • Deception was written with no races given to the characters leading to a cast led by a woman with African, Puerto Rican and Cherokee heritage with an ex who is Black and Cuban. The only change to the script was that Will's last name, originally Sakovitch was changed to Moreno.
  • Power Rangers has dealt with some mild controversy regarding Five-Token Band, but almost all of their characters are up in the air in terms of casting. It isn't perfect, with occasional slips (the Red Samurai Ranger was required to be white, due to already having cast his sister, and an actress was turned down from Power Rangers Megaforce with the only reason they gave was they already had a black actor.) That being said, the show has always taken a small amount of pride in its diversity. In fact, most characters are originally written with no last names, only getting them after the actor had been cast.
  • In Elementary, the normally english male Dr Watson is played by Asian actress Lucy Liu. (Making this Watson a woman was something the showrunners had decided in advance, but she only became Asian when they cast Liu.)
  • In the TV version of Neverwhere, all the characters (except the Black Friars, who are required by the plot to be, well, black) were written and cast without specifying a race or ethnicity, with Paterson Joseph and Tanya Moodie getting cast as major characters. Averted with the casting of Scottish Gary Bakewell as Scottish born Londoner Richard (Continued with the casting of James Mc Avoy as Richard in the BBC radio play version.)
  • In the Fox 2016 adaptation of Grease, a good chunk of the cast (including extras) are now played by actors of color. Specifically, Rizzo, Marty, Doody, Kenickie, Putzie, Blanche, Calhoun, Teen Angel (now split into three, as portrayed by Boyz II Men), Cha-Cha, and Vince Fontaine.

  • Opera has been pretty indifferent to the race of the singers playing the racially diverse characters seen on opera stages for quite a while. If you can sing the role well, no one in the opera community cares if your race matches that of the character. In the old days, this resulted in white women playing every non-white role such as Cio-Cio San (a Japanese girl) or Aida (an Ethiopian princess). But with operatic knowledge having expanded beyond Europe, this means that many women of different races are cast as characters of any race as well. For example, Korean soprano Sumi Jo singing roles like Lucia (a Scottish lady) and Violetta (a French courtesan). Or world famous African-American soprano, Leontyne Price, singing the roles of Leonora (a Spanish woman) Liu (a Chinese woman) and Tatiana (a Russian).
  • This is frequently done in school and community theatre as a limited selection of actors means that it's hard to cast for appearances.
  • Broadway as well. Aside from race-specific shows such as Aida and Miss Saigon, non-white actors have been cast in major roles in virtually every Broadway show in existence, even when it might result in the Black Vikings trope, or create implausible situations such as an Asian child of two white parents, etc. Inverted in The Book of Mormon where there is a very race-specific casting for both the Mormon elders and people of Uganda.
  • Director Peter Brook enjoys doing Culture Chop Suey casting for all his plays and famous productions.
  • Hamilton is often considered an example of this, but it's not quite entirely colorblind: the intention of Lin-Manuel Miranda was to have the cast reflect America as it exists in modern times in all its diversity, so the cast is deliberately devoid of white people (excepting King George III). However, beyond that, it truly is blind in that every character can be played by an actor of any non-white race. He has also expressed an interest in gender-blind casting as well.

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  • In 2016, the movement "Starring John Cho" began as a commentary about poor diversity of leading roles, showing how many prominent films could easily star non-white actors like John Cho.

Alternative Title(s): Colourblind Casting