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Cultivating the cast

When Flip the Script was first conceived, it was just a one-off game between friends. When that first game was so successful afterwards we thought "This could actually be something"; and so began the journey to make Flip the Script a real product. One of the first tasks then, was to create the final list of card values for the game. Genres was fairly simple - just make sure you have every justifiable genre. Themes had its own set of challenges. But the biggest challenge was deciding on who would make the cut in male/female cast decks.

The primary aspect required of the cast list was that they were iconic, or at least recognisable. The first step I took was simply to write down all the actors and actresses that came to mind easily. My memory for names is not the best so that did not fill out all 100 slots for men and women. The next step was using online resources such as imdb to fill up the list with the biggest stars.

That gave me a complete list, but it wasn't very diverse, either in ethnicity or in age. My list was predominantly white, and either in the late twenties/early thirties age range, or in the late forties to late fifties. Perhaps this was the first evidence of some sort of bias. But was that just my own, or was it wider? I felt it was important to maintain a diversity within the deck so that a greater variety of stories could be conceived while playing. With this lack of diversity in mind, I kept going through the online resources, searching out the biggest names that did not match these initial common criteria. I looked for young actors/actresses, who'd played prominent side characters, cross-over stars from the Far East, and others. Eventually I had a list that was a lot more diverse but would still be recognisable. At least, I knew who they were, but my knowledge of actors is better than most. Would they be as recognisable to others?

Once I'd collated my full list, the next step was some "market research". I sent copies of my list to various friends and colleagues, complete with examples of films each actor had been in. Each person sent back a list of who they knew from name alone, who had their memory jogged by the filmography examples, who worked it out after typing their name into google, and finally anyone they still weren't familiar with. The results were fairly predictable in many respects but quite surprising in others. I was not surprised to see that some of the additions that were made in favour of greater diversity were not well known. If they were, they would have made the list before that stage anyway. Some of these, therefore, had to be removed again.

What was a surprise was that across everyone I got feedback from, much fewer actresses were known than actors. Given that I also looked for diversity in my research group I did not think this was a bias on the part of those I asked. Instead I believe that this speaks to a Hollywood bias. We've heard before that women have fewer opportunities, that there are fewer types of roles available to them. Previously, when I've heard these arguments I've felt in my gut that it couldn't be the case. Surely, there were just too many films, too many different stories that the opportunities, the roles had to be there. And yet, here there was definitive evidence that people generally know a lot more male actors than female; and those that were known were of that original common criteria that I had fought so hard to avoid a bias of.

I now have a final list which I think strikes the best possible balance between recognisability, and diversity. But I still ponder on that bias. What is the reason for it? Is it just born out of sexism? What do you think?

#prototype #cast #hollywoodbias #diversity

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