There’s much talk about diversity these days. Funding bodies like the Arts Council want to see it as they want to see inclusivity, well being and public engagement. Broadcasters, theatres and arts organisations want to see it and embrace it, but if we look around us, we’ve still a long way to go.
Look at the outcry when a Jodie Whittaker was cast as the first female Doctor Who. You’d think the world had come to an end for some people. There were petitions galore to stop this outrageous decision becoming a reality. It was political correctness gone mad they said. All this for a fictional character which could easily be any gender, race or age. People asked me would I want to see a John Eyre rather than a Jane Eyre? Well no I wouldn’t want to see a John Eyre. Jane Eyre is gender specific. It depicts in its narrative the limited opportunities open to women in the mid nineteenth century. A male protagonist in this role would therefore make no sense. Someone else asked if I would cast a white actor to play Nelson Mandela? Well, no because Nelson Mandela is a real character. He is not fiction. Let’s be sensible about this.
Casting directors and directors need to be more imaginative. We live in multi ethnic society. We have actors from all walks of life. Let’s reflect our true society and let’s give all talented people opportunities. Why not have a black King Lear? Why not have a female Dr Who? They are fictional characters. As long as we are true to the themes of the play, film, TV programme that’s fine. We can even expand those themes and see what they mean to a wider section of society. Shakespeare’s themes are universal.
Casting with more imagination actually strengthens Shakespeare’s work. The classical roles don’t have to be played by while males from a certain social class. The thing that matters is that we cast good actors. Actors who can transport us. Actors who relish the role. Actors who take us on a journey. Some may say well they can’t be part of that journey as they have always seen Dr Who or Bond in a certain way. Well why not widen horizons and see where that takes us? That what the arts are all about.