The text below was sent to Donna Rosenstein, Head of Casting at Amazon Studios; Jackie Snyder Benz, Senior Casting Associate at Grant Wilfley Casting, and Amy Sherman-Palladino, creator and showrunner of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, regarding a casting notice for “white female dancers” to portray burlesque dancers in the upcoming 4th season of the show.
I am the executive director of the Burlesque Hall of Fame, the world’s premiere museum dedicated to preserving and sharing the history of burlesque. A casting call was recently placed on Backstage (and presumably elsewhere) seeking “White/European Descent” dancers to portray “1960s burlesque-style strip club dancers” to appear on season 4 of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.
I urge you to rethink casting only white women for these roles. Maybe this approach stems from a mistaken notion of the historical reality in burlesque clubs in the 1960s. As it happens, however, from World War II on, burlesque shows grew increasingly more diverse. By the time Mrs. Maisel hit the comedy scene, most shows included at least one or two BIPOC performers in their lineups. Some of the most popular and well-paid performers of the post-War era were BIPOC women: Toni Elling, Lottie the Body, Princess Lahoma, Jean Idelle, Mitzi Dore, Jadin Wong, and many more appeared on marquees around the world.
It is disappointing to see a show like The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, whose main premise is the repeated struggle of a woman to overcome prejudices against her sex, engage in this kind of racial discrimination in its casting. It is doubly disappointing coming from a major studio in a year when issues of prejudice and representation have been front-and-center. Ironically, your casting call is more discriminatory than the casting at the clubs you intend to recreate in your show.
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel owes its popularity to the indefatigable spirit of its protagonist, a woman who dares to take on the social limitations of the day and triumphs. A half-century later, surely Amazon can find the courage to do the same!
Please cast BIPOC performers in these roles and throughout the show.
–Dustin M. Wax
Burlesque Hall of Fame