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Every once in a while I get heat

for posting headshots with descriptions like “Victim” or “Gangster”.

The argument is that these are stereotypes of a minority group (based on their ethnicity, looks or gender) and by showcasing these looks, I am contributing to the industry’s biases against them.

They’ll say I’m sending a clear message to my followers that in order to be working actors, they need to stick to these stereotypes frowned upon by WOKE culture.

Well, there is a lot to unpack in this argument.

Ali Mohd: Army, Fighter, Terrorist / Hipster

Shannon Pedroza: Love Interest / Hipster / Grad Student

Eddie Silva: Hero, Anti-Hero / Guys’ Night Out

I VERY MUCH AGREE that a black man shouldn’t be stereotyped into only playing a ‘Thug’ and that he should also be given the opportunity to play the ‘Love Interest’ and ‘The Professional’ or whatever else best showcases his talent.

I very much agree that procedural dramas maybe too often victimize female characters and don’t victimize nearly the same amount of male characters. That middle eastern actors shouldn’t only be cast as terrorists. The list goes on for Indian actors, Asians and many more groups.

Jovanna Valladares: Urban / Office Girl / Girls’ Night Out / Best Friend

HOWEVER,

One; when it comes to building a career from the bottom up, unknown actors looking for work simply do not have the power to change the industry on that level.

They need to showcase a variety of looks including perhaps some undesirable characters like ‘The Drug Dealer’ because they are auditioning for resume-building roles which are oftentimes simply five lines.

It’s the hard truth, but change in this case doesn’t come from the bottom up, it comes from the top down.

Jenny Caterina: Disney Friend / Troubled Teen

Chad Norheim: Lawyer / BBQ Dad / Hit-man, Fixer, Bouncer

When actors making millions break stereotypes…

…when actors like Viola Davis get cast as leads in series, then opportunities open up for other working actors to beat their stereotypes.

So, if you don’t have a substantial resume yet, and you think you can change Hollywood by refusing to go out on the occasional ‘Nerdy Asian Kid’, because that’s not all that you can represent, you are doing yourself a disservice.

Unless that’s ALL your agent is submitting you for, you should be auditioning for every role you can to get those high-value credits (from high-budget productions) on your resume. Once you build these credits and you’re in a position to make demands say, as a principle actor on a series, you can start taking steps to change stereotypes.

NOTICE I SAID CHANGE, NOT ELIMINATE. The public still wants those characters for entertainment!

Amanda Kennedy: Teacher / Ryan Milord: Techy

Because two; there will always be a need for stereotypes.

There will always be entertainment based on real people or real stories depicting these stereotypes like The Mafia or Gangsters etc. Did you ever watch Moonlight? Wasn’t it groundbreaking and beautiful while exploring these broken stereotypical characters?

If everyone in a minority group takes a hard stance against being depicted in a stereotypical light, how will the industry realistically make content based on real stories? Even for fiction, how will the industry make content that depicts real characters because stereotypes do exist?

MY POINT IS, THE GOAL SHOULDN’T BE TO ELIMINATE THESE ROLES altogether and no one should be offended when I post an image of a ‘Victim’. If it weren’t for those well played victims, we wouldn’t have The Handmaid’s Tale.

Simone Lewis: Upscale Business / Love Interest / Nurse

Kimberly Hummer: Edgy / Love Interest

Joseph Harris: Edty Hero / Blue Collar / Detective

Lastly, I’m not the one who comes up with the looks that are trending! These trends trickle down from writers who write scripts that include stereotypical characters, funded by producers who create shows with those characters, cast by casting directors who put out breakdowns of those characters, submitted by agents who submit headshots of those characters, provided by actors who create headshots of those characters. Get my drift?

IF I REFUSE TO PROVIDE THESE LOOKS FOR YOU based on a moral stance, I too will be doing you a disservice. Helping you with the building blocks of your career is my job. That means, on occasion, I provide you with headshots that may depict stereotypical characters you need to get in the room.🤷🏼‍♀️

Let’s continue this discussion in the comments below. What’s one experience you’ve had being stereotyped in the industry?

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Showing 26 comments
  • Tiauna Jackson
    Reply

    We deal with these stereotypes every day at The Jackson Agency. If writers are writing roles for thugs, gangers, strippers, etc you as the artist have a choice, to either submit for these roles or don’t. Getting on Vanie about it isn’t going to solve the problem. You need to take your issue to the writers room.

    • Vanie Poyey
      Reply

      Yup, like I mention in the article, the first people I name are the writers. But again, some stories can’t avoid these stereotypes as being part of entertainment.

  • Elizabeth
    Reply

    I’d love to know what Ali Mohd thinks of your labelling his headshot as a potential terrorist
    Did he give you the permission to do so?
    While my gut tells me that this entire post is extremely problematic, I would give it a pass if the actors featured had explicitly said that THAT was how they wanted to be featured in a public forum
    If not, then I would label you as a Karen
    Is that an equally problematic stereotype? Perhaps. Are there casting calls for those roles? Also yes.
    Are YOU comfortable with that labelling? Are your ACTORS? Because at the end of the day, the most important thing is that an individual’s choice and agency in how they chose to represent themselves is respected. That goes hand in hand with whether an actors choses to pursue roles that place them into stereotypes.

    • Vanie Poyey
      Reply

      Yes Ali and I specifically shot that look for the terrorist roles out there for shows like Jack Ryan. That’s the point you’re missing when you’re quick to label me a “Karen” (which is a whole other conversation when women buy into sexist labels created by men only to feel they are part of the club to ensure not being labeled themselves… I’d stop using that label if I were you). The point is that he can be many things and his look lends itself to ALSO playing a terrorist.

      • Elena
        Reply

        Karen is actually a label created by Black people to label a particular type of white woman. Diminishing the name by reducing it to only be about sexism is disingenuous and an erasure of Black narratives.

    • Nani Bergman
      Reply

      My thirst to succeed is much larger than my pride.

      I see no problem starting out playing by the rules and hoping someday to be the rule maker.

  • Jackie
    Reply

    While I understand minorities experience more stereotypes, it really crosses all race and genders. I would hope that a good casting director/director/producer would be able to see past stereotypes with a strong actor. That being said, my motto has always been: “I’d rather be typecast than NOT cast!”

    • Vanie Poyey
      Reply

      That’s a good one!

  • Guy Richardson
    Reply

    They are just character types, and unfortunately castings tends to see actors that way and we are compelled to offer up some sort of stereo type. It’s really what you can do within that to show your own individual personality and particular talent. Your headshot shots reflect or suggest the character stereotype that best represents you . You are offering an illusion.

    • Vanie Poyey
      Reply

      Agreed!

  • Steve Glass
    Reply

    1) You’re not forcing people to dress a particular way. It’s their call. We’re trying to stimulate a casting director’s imagination. If this issue is a problem it doesn’t begin with photographers. For instance, I don’t think your example of “army/fighter/terrorist is convincing with respects to the label. It needs more context. Put a bong in his hand, seat him in a director’s chair, or have him holding a soccer ball and that same outfit and hair style would be repurposed. There’s still much left to a casting director’s imagination. Actors participate in storytelling. When we tell stories, we can both advance and break stereotypes. As headshot photographers we don’t make that call. That’s the writer’s and producer’s and director’s call.
    Love what you do!

    • Vanie Poyey
      Reply

      That’s exactly right Steve!

  • Adrienne
    Reply

    Might I suggest leaving the more specific stereotype label off of the publicly shared head shots (Yes you’re going to discuss with your clients the more specific labels they want you to capture.) Instead use the more generic; Urban, Suburban, Southern, Western, Business, Tech, Medical Professional, Service Industry, love Interest, Villain, Anti hero, etc. What Steve said above is exactly it, casting will use their imagination with those headshots to fill in context of the image for the character type they’re looking for.

    Keep it up, your work is spot on for the industry. Hopefully one dayI can shoot with you when I’m able to get to LA.

    • Vanie Poyey
      Reply

      Ah, I do this so that when my clients search for looks on my site to look at wardrobe samples, they get what they are looking for easily. Of course if anyone has a problem with these labels, I would be happy to remove them!

  • Adam
    Reply

    THE WIRE
    SNOWFALL
    ATLANTA
    THE CHI
    POWER
    POWER BOOK II: GHOST

    all are great shows and highly acclaimed awarded decorated etc with characters that would require my “thug” look more than my commercial nice guy look so people need to relax because my thug has gotten me multiple auditions and being versatile is key! Tell people to STFU and u keep doing great Vanie thanks so much love your work!

  • Elena
    Reply

    Karen is actually a label created by Black people to label a particular type of white woman. Diminishing the name by reducing it to only be about sexism is disingenuous and an erasure of Black narratives.

    • Vanie Poyey
      Reply

      Not accurate Elena. First it was white comedian Dane Cook way back in 2005 and then it started to catch on in 2015 when a husband on Reddit was complaining about his wife “Karen”, a karen. Both male, both have sexist roots. The African American community caught on only after that around 2017. Still, it’s a disservice to women who are named Karen and to all women because of it’s sexist roots… code or not for black people.

  • Tracy Winters
    Reply

    I think language in casting is evolving and changing and I am being very conscious and open to change both as an actor and a coach. Im seeing this change being driven by Casting and Producers. It’s an exciting time.

  • Micci Toliver
    Reply

    I completely agree with your position, Vanie. Scripts reflect the reality of our society, like it or not. As a bi-racial actor, it reflects on my personal life as well as my acting life. People are always trying to figure me out or pigeonhole me. Casting has no idea what to do with me; YET. It’s my job to change that. I think it’s unprofessional for an actor to not think in multiple looks unless their type or brand is that specific or in demand. You can play a villain with a soul, i.e., Tony Soprano. This is what separates you from other photographers. Keep doing what you’re doing. As far as labeling each look, that’s necessary to help Casting Directors think!

  • Scott McDonald
    Reply

    I’m sorry to hear that you’ve been catching some flack about the labeling of some of your pictures. I don’t think that’s all that helpful nor
    does it do much to address issue of stereotyping in casting. I sense that progress is being made in that area, but that there is still work to be done. The only thing I think you could do with your labeling is to use milder terms in some cases especially with minorities and other discriminated against groups. Such as instead of terrorist, maybe just bad guy would be better. But anyway your pictures look great, keep on
    doing what you do and will see what “develops”

    • Vanie Poyey
      Reply

      Noted, Scott. You’re the second person to say so.

  • DAX
    Reply

    The thing is as you say stereotypes do exist and I’ll play every single one of them because I know and have met some stereotypical people of a variety of races and cultures. I think if the characterization borders on buffoonery and bad taste then avoid but one could say The Wire was full of stereotypes and yet no actor made themselves look bad by portraying them. I think your work captures exactly what all actors need to be selling and as soon as I can get to LA I’m coming in!!!

  • Sarai Quinice
    Reply

    Hey Headshot Professor,

    I can’t believe we were just talking about this last week or so. I would be stereotyped as the victim black girl that has been raped/ molested. In my past roles, you will always see me crying, depressed, broken, hurt, etc. There is more to my talent and essence than that-not saying that victim has been apart of my life because it hasn’t until now where I felt like I became a victim of local stereotypical castings. I’m learning now and because I have grown so much, I’m learning to respectfully decline offers of stereotypical roles even if it’s paid. It all boils down, in my opinion, to what your goal is in the industry and your dream role. Some actors’ dream role may be to always play stereotypical roles. But I have a clear vision for myself. I want casting to see my versatility. My goofy, light, comedic essence that never appeared freely on camera before because of the dark stereotypes. I agree, once you have enough credits you can start to take control of your castings. I also agree that you as a photographer, have to capture “LIFE” and if that is apart of the actors brand, then you would be of service. If casting directors , producers, and writers are angry with you, maybe they should look in the mirror and meditate on what their next project should be. All the headshots are doing is making the actor more specific to their brand AND giving the higher ups ( CD, PRODUCERS, WRITERS) what they want to cast for.

  • John Hannen
    Reply

    Vanie, you are doing nothing wrong. In fact, you do a great service by assisting them better define the “looks” they bring to auditions. As the actor, I bring the wardrobe to the shoot (headshot shoot) and together we work to create the look(s) I want to move my career forward.

    Keep doing what you do. Many of us, actors and other professionals in our industry, recognize you as the best at what you do.

    V/R, John

  • Carollette Phillips
    Reply

    LOOOOONG POST ALERT…Tough subject. I can only speak from my own personal experiences as a Black actress. I had you shoot me in an “urban” type because I know as a Black woman, I look different with braids than without them and versatile hair is a bonus because it can age you up/down or just change your overall vibe. The challenge is getting the industry to acknowledge that a Black woman with braids doesn’t have to be a “hoochie mama”. She can be a love interest, a caring wife/mom, a lawyer and doctor etc. Unfortunately, sometimes “urban” is used by casting directors as a code word for “ghetto” (e.g. In an audition you are asked to sound more “urban” but they really mean you don’t sound ghetto enough to play Black.) There is often a failure to acknowledge that Black people and people of color are not a monolith. There are all different types of Black people but because you see thugs, drug dealers, prostitutes etc. played by people of color more often than not, it perpetuates a negative/closed mindset about people of color on screen and IN REAL LIFE. Yikes. I have personally chosen to decline auditions for roles that are not going in the direction I want to take my career. I am not taking photos in the vein of roles I do not plan to audition for and I am okay with not being seen for certain roles because of it. It is exhausting to be constantly called in for crack whore, prostitute, baby mama etc. but some people will argue that it is better to get called in than not called at all, right? For me, the answer is often no. I recently turned down representation from a great agency (this agent was a fan of your photography btw) because the agent said I had to audition for any/everything they submitted me for since I was not a “named” talent yet. I respectfully disagreed. As an actor, I always have a choice of how my body and likeness is used. From a business stand point for you Vanie, I think it is best to make sure your clients are okay with the labels if you are posting things publicly and on social media. Labels like Anti-Hero may save you some grief online and are probably more versatile and PC than labels like Thug/Terrorist/Skinhead which have unfortunate racist connotations that are not your fault but cannot be disconnected from the reality in which we live. Yes, people love the Wire and Snowfall so writers will continue to write shows where Black people are involved in violence, drugs and thug lifestyles just like people love historical pieces where often times people of color are slaves/subservient…le sigh. The problem is that for people of color, there is an overwhelming imbalance in the ratio between shows with stereotypical characters and shows without them so people may inadvertently view you as negatively contributing to the Hollywood “machine”. Shows like Insecure, Scandal and How to Get Away with Murder are also wildly successful and have far less stereotypical characters/themes but those shows are definitely out numbered by the ones that do. A big part of the positive shift that has begun, is coming from having more writers, directors and producers of color. Thanks for listening to my Ted Talk lol. And p.s. – I am not strictly opposed to stories that involve characters who may be thugs or prostitutes and whatnot. For me as an actress the character/story has to have some depth and other redeeming qualities. I was in a production of Katori Hall’s The Mountaintop as Camae, a prostitute, but that character was not written in a shallow/stereotypical manner.

  • Gary Anderson
    Reply

    It’s not you (nor any photographer), it’s producer/director/casting. They have zero imagination anymore, so they put pressure on actors (and, therefore, photographers) to appear as the cliche’ that’s in their heads. I’m 59, S&P hair, in shape/athletic. But if they want a banker type, they notoriously want that “fat cat, cigar-chomping” cliche’ banker, so I’m not asked to play. God forbid I ever audition as a doctor without wearing a lab coat, because they just can’t see it.

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