Colorblind Casting (also known as Non-Traditional Casting) is where characters for a performed work (theater, TV, film) are cast without regard 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 related to age, gender, or race, but it isn't necessarily done intentionally. In some 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 common in 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,note since women weren't allowed to act on stage in this period. It was only during 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, such as when Sarah Bernhardt played Hamlet.
The rise of cinema and its greater emphasis on casting 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 real? 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 a desired actor's skill alone.
- 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.
- When Cinderella (1997) was cast, the casting was colorblind, leading to a very diverse group of actors. There was a black queen (Whoopi Goldberg) and 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 both black (Natalie Desselle-Reid) and white (Veanne Cox).
- Some people questioned if George A. 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?"
- Kenneth Branagh makes a habit out of this:
- Much Ado About Nothing (1993): Don Pedro, Prince of Spain, is played by black actor Denzel Washington, and his half-brother is played by half-Asian, half-white Keanu Reeves.
- Thor director Kenneth Branagh invoked this with regard to the casting of Idris Elba as the Norse god Heimdall, saying "If you have a chance to have a great actor in the part, everything else is irrelevant."
- Murder on the Orient Express (2017): The Greek-American Dr. Arbuthnot (the character was a composite of two characters in the book, the Greek Doctor Constantine and American Colonel Arbuthnot) is played by the African-America Leslie Odom Jr.
- Peter Dinklage's dwarfism is never brought up in X-Men: Days of Future Past.
- Word of God says he's secretly jealous of the mutants because he has a realistic mutation that gives him a deformity instead of superpowers.
- Gerry McIntyre plays Judah in the Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat movie. Joseph's only black sibling. Maybe he was adopted.
- 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 tall blonde 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 ethnically appropriate name only after she was cast in the part.
- Still Star-Crossed rather painfully shoehorns this in. It renders several original Romeo and Juliet characters (notably Prince Escalus, Romeo himself, and Rosaline) as blacks, which works well with diversifying the cast, but rather jarringly clashes with the setting of 16th-century Italy. It has met significant controversy for this reason.
- Deception (2013) was written with no races given to the characters. This led 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, the only reason given being that 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 has been cast.
- In Elementary, Dr. Watson, usually a white Englishman, is played by Asian-American 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.)
- Daredevil (2015):
- In season 1, Ben Urich (who is a white man in the comics) is played by African-American Vondie Curtis-Hall, which doesn't have any impact on the plot in the least.
- In season 2, Blake Tower (who in the comics is white) is played by African-American Stephen Rider.
- In season 3, one of the two new FBI Agent series regulars, Ray Nadeem, is Indian-American, and is played by the British Jay Ali. He's the only non-white amongst the main players, and his ethnicity bears a minimal impact on the story.
- 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; this continued with the casting of James McAvoy 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.
- Liv and Maddie has Parker, the youngest son who is clearly Asian though his whole family is Caucasian.
- On Andi Mack, the casting for Andi was colorblind, leading to mixed-race Peyton Elizabeth Lee being cast in the role. This led to her having one Asian and one white parent and for her sister (actually her mother) to be mixed-race as well.
- Galavant: Sid's actor is black, while Isabella's is Indian/Chinese/Jewish. Yet Sid's parents are white, and Isabella's lighter than she is. However, Sid is explicitly adopted, and though the specifics in Isabella's family are not clear yet, her cousin is also Indian. There's also a gag that even she isn't quite clear on her ethnicity, saying it's "hard to pin down".
- Barry: In-Universe, Sally plays Macbeth for their staging of the play.
- In opera, voice and acting ability have always had top priority. Thus, Korean soprano Sumi Jo has sung roles like Lucia (a Scottish lady) in Lucia di Lammermoor, and Violetta (a French courtesan). Likewise, world-famous African-American soprano, Leontyne Price, has sung the roles of Leonora (a Spanish woman), Liu (a Tartar woman) in Turandot, and Tatiana (a Russian) in Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin''.
- Averted notably by Porgy and Bess; all the main characters are African American and will always be portrayed by black singers. George Gershwin got an offer to premiere the opera at the Met (an opportunity every composer fantasizes about), but he absolutely forbade it because it would have starred white actors in blackface.
- Director Peter Brook enjoys doing Culture Chop Suey casting for all his plays and famous productions.
- Possibly one of the most notable examples was when Audra McDonald was cast as Carrie Pipperidge in Carousel, and ended up winning her first of a record-breaking six Tony Awards.
- In the 2018 revival, Joshua Henry was cast as Billy Bigelow, although some are a little uncomfortable about the idea of a black man beating a white woman.
- A rare theatre aversion in The Book of Mormon, where there is race-specific casting for both the Mormon elders and the people of Uganda.
- Played with in Hamilton. The only rule is that King George is the Token White; otherwise, anything goes. As long as the rest of the cast are people of color, their exact origins don't matter.
- Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? became the center of a big controversy in 2017 when the estate of Edward Albee refused to allow a director to cast an African-American as Nick. The Albee estate's argument was that references to his being white in the script, and the taboos against interracial marriage in the period when the play was written (and is putatively still set in), mean the casting has to be race-specific. This led to a backlash from many people, who felt that Death of the Author should apply.
- The 1999 Broadway version of You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown had an Asian-American Linus and an African-American Schroeder. Charles M. Schulz had reservations about it but ultimately gave it his blessing. Since it's a community theatre staple, it undoubtedly has been frequently subject to this trope.
- David Henry Hwang's (famous for M. Butterfly) play Yellowface deals with the protagonist (Hwang himself) accidentally casting a white man for an Asian role, believing he was eurasian.
- The Disney California Adventure stage show Frozen: Live at the Hyperion has performers of various ethnicities portraying characters originally animated as either white or non-human.
- With the exception of Cindy-Lou Who, any of the characters in the Grinchmas show at Universal's Islands of Adventure can be played by people of any race.