Venezuelan-born actor Dylan Marron has made a video series that proves the industry may well have an issue with diversity
Does Hollywood have a problem with representing ethnic minorities in film? Dylan Marron’s videos would suggest so. The actor has compiled clips of every line given to people of colour in blockbuster movies. It doesn’t reflect particularly well on modern cinema, nor does it make for particularly long videos. Noah doesn’t even have one black person in it.
Marron plays Carlos in Welcome To Night Vale, a highly popular podcast, but he’s struggled to land the roles he craves, with agents openly dismissing the idea that he could play the romantic lead. Marron began to investigate the idea of whiteness as default with this video series that lays bare some home truths about how the industry casts.
What inspired you to start this project?
Dylan Marron: A number of things. As a kid, I saw very few reflections of myself in film or television. I’ve wanted to act since I was young but I saw so few people that looked like me that I wasn’t sure if it was possible. But I pushed ahead; I took classes, acted in the school plays and eventually I got noticed. Casting directors would sometimes come to our high school productions and they would call me in for film, television, or theatre auditions. Through these auditions I was set up with a few meetings with agents and they would always tell me that there wasn’t a ton of work out there for my "type" and that I’d never play the romantic lead.
I keep being told the same thing: there isn’t much work out there for my type and I’ll never play the romantic male lead. You can only hear something so many times before you no longer accept it as a reasonable answer. I suppose this video series is a creative outlet for me to investigate (and demonstrate) why so many talented and hard-working actors of colour keep being told how limited their opportunities will be.
Do you sometimes watch films extremely aware of how under-represented people of colour are?
Dylan Marron: It’s sometimes not until the middle of the movie (or even the end) that I realize that people of colour are just background characters or, in the worst cases, non-existent. And I’m someone who is deeply aware of race. I think that’s what makes this so dangerous; that it can so easily be overlooked.
We can be so dazzled by entertainment, spectacle, and great storytelling that we become blinded to what is missing. And when this happens we are subconsciously absorbing these lessons and internalizing them. I think film, especially popular mainstream film, plays a huge role in shaping our identities. We find our reflections in film and begin to construct our identities around it from a very young age. If, like I've been told, I’ll never play the romantic male lead, am I being told that my love story doesn't exist? Or that it shouldn't?
George Gerbner wrote "Representation in the fictional world signifies social existence; absence means symbolic annihilation. I refuse to be erased.
Of all the clips you’ve made, were there any where you surprised at how few lines POC people had?
Dylan Marron: I’m surprised by all of them and none of them. The deeper I dive and the more films I edit, I realise there’s a pattern. People of colour either don't speak or they are relegated to such peripheral roles that are often not even credited with names. "Nurse" "Man In Airport" "Hostess" "Home Friend" "Security Guard".
I’m selecting films whose stories are race-less. (500) Days of Summer is a story about the beauty and pain of romantic infatuation, The Fault in Our Stars is about falling in love while being faced with your own mortality, Frances Ha is about a woman who is still trying to find her identity. None of these films are about whiteness, so why is whiteness the default?
I suppose I’m most surprised by Noah, since it's a biblical film that features absolutely no people of colour. I really love most of these films. The Fault in Our Stars is a devastating and beautiful book and I think the film adaptation was well made. But nowhere in John Green’s novel is any character's race ever specified. It seems that people of colour are only cast in films where the story is about their race. Movies that centre around such universal themes of love, loss, and mortality should be as all-inclusive with their casting.
How many more are you going to do?
Dylan Marron: I’m not sure. I’ll keep making them as long as this continues to be an issue. But I’d much rather be in these stories than demonstrating why I keep being told that it’s unlikely that I'd ever be cast in them. People of colour live stories, too. It’s time we start telling them.