“You have to be more broad in your thinking, which is creating more opportunities for everybody.” – Casting Director Leah Daniels Butler
Casting Director Leah Daniels Butler has had over twenty years of experience seeking diverse faces and talent for television and film work (including projects directed by her brother, Lee Daniels). In 2016, the Casting Society of America awarded her for her work on Empire. In an interview with the New York Post prior to being honored for her work at the GRIOT Gala Oscar Night After Party, Butler spoke about her own awakening when it came to the importance of diverse casting.
Butler says that one of the main reasons behind the push for diversity in casting is the feedback from the audience. She says, “People are just tired of not seeing themselves reflected on television, or not being recognized for their accomplishments, or not being included, or not having a seat at the table for certain things. And that’s not just African-Americans. That’s everybody. Just hearing these conversations over and over again, ‘Why don’t I see Asian people on television?’ or ‘Why don’t I see as many African-Americans on television than I do a certain group of people?’ or ‘Why aren’t there actors with disabilities on television?’ When I go out into the real world, I see that all over. I see people who are deaf. I see people who are blind. I see people that are in wheelchairs.’”
She points to the calls for diversity and inclusion in speeches at the Academy Awards as examples of how those discussions are now out there. She continues, “Everybody is really talking about what needs to change and how they can make a difference. And I’m just glad the conversations are happening … I think now the glass ceiling is broken and people are not going to stand for certain things anymore, whether it’s pay equality, whether its gender equality, whatever the case may be. The lid is blown off the top.”
Butler takes pride in the role that she has played in promoting diversity in casting. She explains, “You realize, within our own community, it’s not as diverse in terms of, like, if there’s a part written for an actor that’s supposed to be in a wheelchair, for instance … Sometimes they’ll hire actors who are not wheelchair users when there are actors [in wheelchairs] who could easily fulfill that role. So that’s kind of where the conversation started. Just how, as casting directors, we could involve actors who had any sort of adversity, whether it was gender bias or color bias or disability bias … And then I realized within myself what I could be doing differently because … I have to start the conversation in order for it to be a trickle-down effect… You have to be more broad in your thinking, which is creating more opportunities for everybody.”