In acting, owning a signature “persona” has become the key to success. An actor’s tendency to consistently play one type of character, regardless of the film’s context, is what we refer to as “typecasting.” While it often serves to iconize actors — for example, Al Pacino as the mafia leader and Isabelle Hupert as the high-strung, sexually deprived aunt — it quickly becomes yet another way for the film industry to limit the roles minorities can land in movies.
In the past, women in cinema were almost always cast in the same type of roles: a means to a man’s end, for which emotional depth was frowned upon. Although this still holds true, women to a certain extent have fought to have more leading roles, as well as more control in their portrayal of a character. Besides some minimal reluctance and backlash, the rest of the movie industry seems to have followed this more progressive trend.
A well-known example of this trend is seen with Scarlett Johansson, who has famously fought for better feminist representation in her films.
When she played the iconic character Black Widow, she was often overly sexualized, especially in contrast to her male counterparts. However, when her solo movie Black Widow was made, she became a producer, and there is a clear diversion from the hyper-sexuality displayed in previous portrayals of her character. The focus in this film is more on female solidarity and unity, rather than unnecessarily “male gaze” shots and scenes.
In addition to this, Johansson took on roles in films like Marriage Story and JoJo Rabbit that are more focused on the character’s emotional content, rather than their appearance. While Johansson embodies this sort of “breaking out of the mold” narrative, she isn’t alone. Other women, such as Oscar-winner Viola Davis and the highly criticized but ever-persistent Kristen Stewart, have worked tirelessly to ensure they don’t get stuck in the pre-conceived notion of who their characters should be.
Many people of color in the industry are typecast as stereotypes, while white people are often typecasted to specific characteristics or roles. No matter the quality of an actor, people expect certain types of roles from them due to their race, which can make it harder for these actors and actresses to branch out and achieve the same level of success that others can.
Even though many think that casting people of color in films is good enough, the industry has lots of work to do. In order to reach better representation, people of color have to not only be in films, but they must also have access to a range of character types.
Even though we still have a ways to go, problematic typecasting has become less common in recent years. It’s easy to notice a change in these castings when comparing movies from even just twenty years ago. Based on the change in the industry, when it comes to typecasting, it seems like we will see more diverse characters in the future.