Hollywood’s got a sexist casting problem—and one actress is cleverly calling it out
Actress Katrina P. Day was sick and tired of the problematic female character descriptions she kept running into when she perused breakdowns—ads seeking actors—for auditions. Things like “Seeking Beautiful Girl, Non-Speaking Role” served as a reminder that women in the entertainment industry are grouped into stereotypes, measured largely on their looks, and cast in disempowering roles. Rather than continue to silently endure these sexist casting breakdowns, she decided to even the score by creating the Tumblr Lady Parts, which highlighted the worst of these descriptions as a “kind of community service” for all actresses. Here’s an example of some of the ads she’s posted on her site. They are real and they are kind of insane.
We were so into Day’s project and what it said about the way women are stereotyped in the media, we decided we needed to get this woman on the horn for a conversation. And so we did. Day was awesome enough to answer some questions about her Tumblr, sexism in the entertainment industry, and what we can do about it.
Hello Giggles: So as an actress you’ve been inundated with casting descriptions for female roles that are sexist, misogynist, and dehumanizing. What specifically made you start your Tumblr? Does it have a superhero-like origin story? Or was there just a straw that broke your actress back?
Katrina P. Day: The genesis of the Tumblr was definitely a straw-breaking-the-beleaguered-actress’s-back situation. My frustration with these casting calls has been building for a couple of years—ever since I graduated from college and belly flopped into the industry. A few weeks ago, I came across a casting call that just read “Seeking: Beautiful girl (non-speaking).” That was the final straw. A perfect, five-word representation of everything I’d been struggling against as an early career actress and feminist. I took to Facebook and posted a half-joking status about starting a Tumblr for all the sexist bulls–— I come across in these casting notices. Immediately, my fellow actresses went nuts for the idea. So, I decided to launch the blog as something of a community service for all of us.
HG: Tell me a little bit about the aesthetics of your blog, there’s a very distinct “Woody Allen Opening Credits” look to the descriptions, I’m curious about how you landed on your visuals.
KPD: I wanted the aesthetic of the blog to be as stark as possible. I could have just used screen shots from various casting websites, but that wouldn’t really be in line with the mission of the blog. We’re not out to shame anyone, after all. We’re just out to laugh at and take the power away from the sexist crap floating around these casting websites.
I drew a lot of inspiration from silent films, when settling on an aesthetic for the blog. I think the reference to silent film does a lot of conceptual heavy lifting. So many clichés about actresses are about as antiquated as these silent films themselves. But for some reason, those dusty old ideas about “dumb actresses” still have a ton of cultural currency. Notions like “A million other girls would kill for your role!” and “That’s showbiz, sweetheart” are still ingrained in the industry. I’ve been borrowing visuals from that era because that’s how out of date some of these casting calls seem to me.
HG: What’s been the response to your blog? Has it led to any conversations between you and writers/directors/casting people/ those involved in writing problematic breakdowns?
So far, the response has been overwhelmingly positive. Actors, writers, and directors in my community have been incredibly supportive of this project. And that makes sense to me, because I truly believe that all of us in the industry want the same thing: for better work to be made. The casting calls I feature on Lady Parts do not represent what anyone would call high-quality characters or projects. I’m certainly not of the opinion that everyone involved in the casting process is the enemy. The best casting directors I’ve worked with would look at any of these posts on Lady Parts and be like, “Yeah, that’s bullsh–.” Better representations of women make for better film, TV, and theater. I think most of us are in favor of better media.
HG: What are some words/phrases you never want to see in a character description ever again?
KPD: Girl Next Door, Dream Girl, Girlfriend/Mother/Mistress of the Male Lead, Perfect Body/Face, Model Type, any use of the word “stereotypical” in scare quotes. Scare quotes are always used like “no offense” or “just saying” in casting calls. Just because you put it is scare quotes, doesn’t mean you’re not perpetuating the problem.
HG: Misogynistic breakdowns are, of course, symptomatic of a misogynistic entertainment industry. So, how do we fix that? How are you hoping the industry will change for women over the course of your acting career?
KPD: Misogyny and sexism in the entertainment industry certainly aren’t new developments. They’re so deeply ingrained and accepted that even calling them out can feel like a huge risk. As an early-career, no-name actress, I was extremely nervous to start this blog, imagining that the rest of the world was going to tell me I was being too sensitive and that I should probably shut up and deal with it.
I think the only way to transform the industry is to refuse to fold to that pressure. We have to stop laughing off the sexism we encounter, stop interacting with projects and characters that are inherently misogynistic, start advocating for ourselves by being selective about the roles we accept. And as female actors, we need to support each other in that effort. We’re trained, as women, to think of each other as “the competition,” and that is especially the case in the acting world. Comparison is so entrenched in the casting process. All the time, I’ll be asked to described myself in terms of other women.“Are you a Mae Whitman Type or an Ellen Page Type?” I just want to be like, “Cut that out, buddy!” Because it’s not only poisonous, it’s also just lazy shorthand. We’ve got to cut that out and work together to shut sexism out of our industry. Because it is our industry as much as anyone else’s. I have just as much of a right to be a part of it as some billionaire film executive.
I hope for equal representation of women in the industry. I hope to see roles for women that are just as flawed, and complicated, and messy as the roles men get to play.
HG: Your Tumblr, of course, focuses on the worst of female casting breakdowns, but have you seen any breakdowns for female roles lately that inspired you/made you feel better about the state of your industry? What did those descriptions look like?
Absolutely! I’ve stumbled upon some of my favorite roles through the same casting websites that host the sexist bulls— I’m calling out on Lady Parts. If the only casting calls I was coming across looked like the ones on my blog, I’d have chosen a different career by now.
This past summer, I had the pleasure of appearing in a play called The Incredible Fox Sisters at the New Ohio Theater in NYC. I stumbled upon the description of my character, Maggie Fox, during a daily perusal of a mainstream casting website, and I remember going wide-eyed the second I saw it. It read: “Maggie Fox: incredibly smart and intuitive, headstrong and unapologetic.” I scrambled to submit for the role, not least of all because for once I’d found a description of a person, rather than just a body.
I wouldn’t have started this blog if I didn’t think there was hope for the industry. I’m very hopeful and very optimistic about what contemporary entertainment is capable of. It’s clearly not too much to ask that excellent roles for women be written, because they’re already being written.
I love being an actor and a writer. I love working on badass, inclusive, adventurous projects. And after receiving so much amazing support for this project, I’m more confident than ever that there is not only room but demand for amazing representations of women in media. And I can’t wait to be a part of that.