If you think the catcall is a horrendous sexist relic, wait till you get a load of the casting calls that actress Katrina Day, 24, has to contend with regularly. The NYC-based actor has decided to expose the seedy side of the industry with her Tumblr Some Lady Parts, which posts some of the most sexist casting calls she’s come across as she tries to make her way (next, Day plans to launch an original web series on the site).
Here’s a casting call to savour: “Female jogger [to run] down the street topless… Completely classy and high art.”
Very classy, indeed.
Day talks to FLARE about why she started the blog, how sexist casting calls can translate into real-life danger for young actresses, and what you and I can do to change it.
What is it like to be an actress in Hollywood? I’m actually based in NYC, and spend a lot more time in the theatre scene than anywhere else. I’ve been out of college and working as an actress and writer for a couple of years, and for the most part it’s been wonderful. There’s nowhere else I’d rather be, nothing else I’d rather be doing. But I will say that my conviction to stay the course and pursue an acting career has, more than once, nearly been toppled by the sexism and harassment that are so ingrained in the industry.
How do you feel when you hear actresses declare they aren’t feminists? I find it frustrating to hear anyone declare that they aren’t a feminist, because to me, being a feminist simply means believing that men and women should have equal rights. When someone chooses not to identify as a feminist, I assume it’s because they take issue with the term’s history. There have been so many waves, and factions, and advances within the movement that “feminism” is no longer understood to mean the same thing by everybody.
Describe your frustration level with the state of female roles. The current situation is pretty grim. Women are underrepresented, across the board. As a very early-career actor, this has been incredibly frustrating. Career-wise, I’ve been told that I can’t really be picky about which roles I accept, but how can I afford not to be picky when there are so many thin, degrading, shallow roles to wade through before you find a good one? Being at all selective about which roles to take makes it hard to get any footing in the industry, which is so backwards and defeating.
Was there an incident that made you decide to start the blog? There was one breakdown in particular that made me decide to start the site. It just read, “Seeking: Beautiful Girl (non-speaking).” It was too heartbreaking, so hilariously transparent, that I had to respond.
What do you hope to accomplish? I hope the blog empowers other actors to be more selective and rigorous about which roles they audition for and accept. I also hope it enlightens people outside of the entertainment industry about how bad the situation is for us. Consumers of media have no idea what kind of sexist nonsense goes into these productions as early on as the initial casting calls. Hopefully, this will be illuminating.
What’s the most offensive casting call you’ve ever received? Oh, man. There’s one on the blog right now: “This non-speaking role will require the actor to lay face down on a bed in a pool of fake blood for 2 days.” That might hold the title.
What percentage do these casting calls represent overall? Would you say it’s 50 percent or 80 percent? I’d say it’s closer to an even split. If I only came across casting calls like the ones on my blog, I’d have picked a different job by now.
Do the casting directors or people involved ever seem embarrassed by their calls? The people behind these casting breakdowns seem to not know or else not care that their language is offensive. There are so many double standards entrenched in this industry that people just buy into, no questions asked. The idea that a woman’s appearance should be judged more harshly than a man’s, that it’s fine to ask for full nudity from a female actress but not from a male actor—it’s insane that these notions are still in play, but there you go.
We hear the word ‘f-ckable’ thrown around a lot when it comes to actresses. How prevalent is this kind of thinking in the industry? I think this kind of thinking is hugely prevalent in the industry. I’ve had characters described to me solely in terms of what kind of f-ckable they are (“classically f-ckable,” “f-ckable, but in a wholesome way,” etc). As a female actor, being f-ckable is often the first and only criteria for being cast in something.
What’s a dream casting call for you? For me, it first and foremost needs to describe a person, not just a body. I actually found a dream casting call this summer, for a play I did called The Incredible Fox Sisters. The casting call for my character read “incredibly smart and intuitive, headstrong and unapologetic.” Four whole descriptors that had nothing to do with the size of the character’s chest! Imagine.
What’s the difference between casting calls for women and those for men? I think casting calls for women tend to be more purely physical. I know that breakdowns for men can also be shitty, shallow and underdeveloped. But on top of being all about the T and A, female characters are so often described solely in relation to the male lead. You know—Male Lead’s Girlfriend, Male Lead’s Bitchy Ex, etc.
How do those absurd and offensive casting calls play out in real-life interactions? What’s your most horrendous experience thus far? These offensive casting calls can lead to terribly uncomfortable and dangerous situations in real-life. When you submit to a casting call, you’re agreeing to participate in auditions that are on the terms of whoever is hosting them. And if you eventually take a role that began with a sexist, problematic casting call, you feel as though you’re locked into someone else’s conception of what you should be comfortable with. It can be extremely difficult to advocate for yourself, as a young, early-career female actor, in that situation. You’re supposed to feel grateful to have gotten cast at all, and you’ve probably been told your whole life to “be nice,” “smile and nod,” all that bullshit.
I once ended up in an incredibly unsafe situation because I was afraid to advocate for myself as an actor. The first play I got cast in after graduation was a tiny, unpaid, no-budget thing, but I was so relieved and excited to have been cast that I didn’t care. I should have known from callbacks that something was off. There were about twenty women called back for one female role, and four guys called back for the two male roles. The director was strutting around the whole time, putting his hands on women’s backs, shoulders, even faces. Calling them “sweetie,” “honey,” all these saccharine little pet names. But I was so blinded by my sense of competition and my desire to land a role that I just blocked it out.
And then I got cast.
The rehearsal space was located in a neighbourhood I wasn’t familiar with, and I showed up to rehearsal the first week very shaken after being catcalled ceaselessly on my way there. The director looked me up and down and said, “You’re a sexy woman. You have to get used to that sort of thing.” Right then, I should have known that he had certain expectations of me, certain things he felt entitled to. Later that week, I was told that a rape scene had been added to the play. When I asked if we were going to have a fight choreographer on hand, someone to make sure the stage violence was safe, that director told me, “Nope. We’re just going to get our rape on.”
I quit that production, and didn’t audition for anything for six months. Even after I finally got back in the game after that, I continued to experience sexism and harassment. But for a while, I just decided to bite my tongue and seethe instead of sticking up for myself and my fellow actresses. I’m no longer willing to do that. It’s not enough to say “I’ll just leave the crappy, sexist roles for some other woman to play.” Exploitative, degrading roles shouldn’t be foisted on anyone.
How do we change this state of affairs? What can actresses do? What can female audiences do? The best news for women in all of this is that there are so damn many of us. We make up a huge percentage of the talent pool and the audience of popular culture. We can demand the kind of work we want to take on and see.
Every time we, as actresses, submit for a role, we’re endorsing it. Every time we consume a piece of media, we’re asking for more like it.
The best thing we can all do is to really think about the movies, TV, and theater we choose to interact with. We won’t all agree about which things are worth our time and support, but as long as we’re mindful, I really think things are bound to improve.