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When it comes to diversity in casting, how important is it to specify the race or ethnicity of the character in the audition process? It seems like this should only matter when the ethnicity, race or culture is a defining part of the character, but what about when the casting director is searching for diversity within a single culture, as well? Lexi Underwood, star of Hulu’s Little Fires Everywhere and the feature film If Not Now, When? wants others to be aware of the colorism that exists within Black culture in the entertainment industry.
There’s been some debate over color-blind casting, because some stories like One Night In Miami are set in a specific time and place where race is a strong component, while others (say a good romantic comedy) can be played by any race and the story and characters will remain unchanged. But as Hollywood works to diversify, Lexi Underwood thinks an important group is being overlooked. She told CinemaBlend:
I definitely think with diversity and representation, we've done well at seeing more, but I feel like within the industry, we're also limiting what we can do and be, whether that's the stories that we tell or also the colorism aspect of it. There’s a major colorism issue within the industry when it comes to Black women, understanding that we come in all different shapes and sizes. It's become very normalized to cast people that look like me, light-skinned Black women, in these roles that sometimes should be played by dark-skinned Black women. So I think sometimes it is good to kind of specify what exactly you're looking for when it comes to the roles, because we've just seen the lack of representation when it comes to even just Black people. So you can say, you know, looking for Black actors, but sometimes it's also important to specify what type of Black actor you're looking for.
She makes a great point, because the media tells a lot of people what beauty is and there is so much representation to be spread across a single culture. Kerry Washington starring in Scandal was a dream come true for me as someone who looks like her, especially when her hair was natural. But for the dark-skinned women or those who like wigs and weaves, it was a few years to wait before Viola Davis joined Washington on ABC in How To Get Away With Murder. There are so many different kinds of beauty, and it’s important for all of them to be represented, which is part of what Lexi Underwood’s new film does.
Co-directed by Meagan Good and Tamara Bass, If Not Now, When? is a celebration of Black women of all shapes, sizes, and tones. The film is not about Black culture. It’s a story about love, loss and friendship that happens to have all Black leads. Lexi Underwood raved about the experience of working on this film, and expanded upon what she’s noticed about colorism with the following:
Dark-skinned Black women have been my heroes. My mother is dark-skinned, all my great aunts, my Nana - just growing up, dark-skinned Black women have been so beautiful and have been my beauty standard. So it’s very offensive when people part their lips to speak down on dark-skinned Black women. I take that personally, because they raised me and were the women that loved and accepted me and made me. The thing that I like to put out a lot is just to listen and learn how to defend them, protect them and love them, because it's very easy. It's very, very easy, whether that's within our own industry or within our own culture to speak down and look down on them. I'm a big advocate when it comes to colorism in the industry, because there's a lack of conversation when it comes from light-skin actresses speaking up about it. We're not just this one kind of look or essence, you know? We're not all light with Brown eyes and curly hair. That's not it.
And that’s what it really comes down to: we’re not all the same. There will always be learning and growing to do - about any topic - and it’s beautiful to see Lexi Underwood using her platform to lift up others. You can see Underwood in If Not Now, When? available to rent on Amazon and other retailers and in Little Fires Everywhere streaming on Hulu.