In the face of Hollywood’s deeply entrenched racism, colorblind casting seems like a solution with broad appeal and an actual history of producing great performances. But its downsides go beyond the fact that white actors can end up taking roles for non-white characters, as in Aloha and Pan, or that productions can slot minority actors into secondary roles and get praised for “diversity.” It’s simply counterintuitive to argue that problems related to race can be fixed by ignoring race altogether. In practice, colorblind casting isn’t a form of acceptance or progress: It can just as easily be erasure wrapped up as benevolence.
At the heart of colorblind casting is the belief that race doesn’t affect character. If Hollywood’s history is any indication, race only really matters in mainstream stories when it comes to historical dramas, biopics, and films explicitly about that theme. Given its demographic makeup, the film industry struggles to imagine the experiences of people of color beyond strife and bigotry, with a few notable exceptions. When looking at the fact that acclaimed films like Her only have people of color talking for 46 seconds despite taking place in a futuristic Los Angeles, it’s tempting to look at the casting of actors of color like Isaac as immense progress. But if the cost of this is perpetuating disinterest in stories about people of color then we need start to question if this is progress at all.