TV series Outlander seeks Indigenous peoples for recreated 18th century village
Clumsily worded casting call asks for 'Native' men, women and children. An Indian status card would be “helpful,” the ad says.
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Producers of the popular TV series Outlander are planning to fly more than 100 Indigenous Canadians to Scotland for a month this spring to recreate an 18th-century “Native village.”
According to a casting call posted online, the British-American series, which airs on Netflix and the W Network in Canada, is seeking 70 young Indigenous men, 10 older men, 25 women and 10 to 15 children.
The document uses the term “Native,” which many groups consider out-dated or even derogatory, throughout.
The only prerequisite is a valid Canadian passport and availability in all of May and June – no acting experience necessary. An Indian status card would be “helpful,” the ad says.
JP Longboat, interim managing director of the Indigenous Performing Arts Alliance, said he’d like the producers to “explain their rationale” for asking for status cards, which he called “offensive and ignorant” — though somewhat understandable from the practical standpoint of needing a shortcut to determine who’s Indigenous.
“It excludes a lot of people they’re looking for,” Longboat said. “Most TV roles for Indigenous people are going to be period pieces, and what they’re looking for is this stereotypical ‘look.’ Really, what do they care?”
Recruiting events are being held this weekend at a hotel in Sudbury and a friendship centre in North Bay. Participants will get flights and hotels paid for, as well as an unspecified weekly fee.
A representative of the casting company, Toronto-based Lisa Parasyn Casting, declined to answer any questions because of non-disclosure agreements with Netflix.
Outlander’s fourth season is based on Diana Gabaldon’s 1996 novel Drums of Autumn. In it, main characters Jamie and Claire Fraser encounter Mohawk and Tuscarora peoples in colonial North Carolina.
When she saw the language in the casting notice, Jenny Lewis, co-chair of film and television at the Casting Directors Society of Canada, said “Yikes!” But she wasn’t particularly surprised.
“Casting directors are told what to say. We’re a link in the chain, not the top voice,” she said. “Production out of Scotland or England wrote that blurb.”
Lewis said she was still seeing the slur “mulatto” used in casting requests for people of mixed ethnicity as recently as 10 years ago.
If it's not practical to find local people to be extras, as in this case, British productions often prefer to cast Canadians, as the visa process is simpler, Lewis said.
As for requesting an Indian status card, Lewis said it’s “tricky.”
“When you are in a community that is so underrepresented, you don’t want to be hiring non-Indigenous actors to play those parts. We try and stay truthful to those communities,” she explained.
Lewis said non-Canadian producers likely do not know the “sexist and racist” history of Indian status in Canada.