Universal Pictures apologizes for NWA biopic casting call – but is it enough?

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Universal Pictures and Sande Alessi Casting have now both issued limp statements regarding the atrocious casting call for the upcoming NWA biopic.

The casting call presented a hierarchy of black woman beauty that placed light skin and long hair firmly at the top in group A (group B language included “should be light-skinned” and “no weaves”), and at the bottom of the pyramid in group D were dark-skinned black women who are poor and out of shape.

If the casting call had included the term “good hair,” it could have easily been a real life Mean Girls-esque note written by a catty high school girl.  Rigid misconceptions about race, class, gender and European beauty standards abound in the absurd posting.

The casting call went viral after Gawker posted it, and many people expressed disgust and outrage at the simple-mindedness of the wording.  TheGrio’s own Luvvie summed up the criticism: “The fact that this obnoxious casting call notice could ever be written, let alone approved and then posted, shows that we have not come as far as we think we have on the issue of color politics in Hollywood.”

TMZ spoke with a representative from Sande Alessi Casting, who called the posting “an innocent mistake” and said that as far as casting the D group, the poor people could be of any skin tone or body type. But as far as the A, B and C word choice and the whole idea of having a seemingly ranked beauty system, the casting agency reportedly said that it’s “the usual method they use to look for different types of people for any project, and it wasn’t meant to offend anyone.”

That swooshing sound you hear is the point passing right over the heads of Sande Alessi Casting’s staff. Of course the casting agency did not make up the roles that it is hosting auditions for.  They are following the directives of the people behind the film. For its part, Universal Pictures is distancing itself from the debacle.  In a statement, the Hollywood juggernaut said “the filmmakers … did not approve and do not condone the information in this casting notice. We regret and sincerely apologize for being in any way associated with the offensive descriptions it contained.”

It’s a solid apology in that it does not waver in acknowledging that the posting was offensive, but it did not go far enough. It would have been powerful if Universal Pictures or the film’s director F. Gary Gray had issued a statement being explicitly clear about the fact that the beauty of black women comes in many different shades, hair textures/lengths and body types.

To be historically accurate, surely Gray is looking to cast particular types of people. In the late 80s and early 90s, the video girl du jour was someone thin with long wavy hair and a light complexion. (Back then there was no requirement to have an enormous rear end and a cartoonish waist to hip ratio.) That is basically the group A described in the casting call. Nobody is upset that Gray is trying to cast that specific look. The problem is the hierarchal nature of the post and the way it assigns levels of beauty to specific skin tones, hair types and physiques.

Yes, the biopic will need video girls, around the way girls, future wives, groupies, etc. But in order to cast those roles, there is no need to describe one black woman’s aesthetic as less than another’s. According to the logic of the posting’s pyramid of beauty, a woman is either as European-looking as possible and therefore beautiful or a woman has very little (or no) European features and is therefore ugly or at least less attractive.

To add even further insult to injury, the casting call required women to self-assign to one of the groups. Were they planning to recreate the Wannabes vs the Jigaboos face-off from School Daze?

Casting calls are brutal and notoriously racist, sexist and every other “ist,” but this one is special in that it packs so much wrong into such a short post.

Hopefully, Gray, the living members of NWA and other people associated with the film will make a proper statement about this situation.  Simply acknowledging offense is not enough. For once, let’s talk about the beauty of black women in a positive way.  We are not on the low end of some ignorant beauty spectrum.  We create and were born with the aesthetics that others emulate. Talk about that.

Follow Demetria Irwin on Twitter at @Love_Is_Dope and connect with her on Facebook.