SEX FOR ACTING ROLES. WHERE IS THE LINE DRAWN FOR COUCH CASTING?
Three years on, Jane* a graduate of Daystar University is yet to land a role in any film despite auditioning for various productions. She has now opted to surrender her passion in acting- a decision she attributes to the ever growing number of film directors and producers who want to sleep with her and in turn cast her for a role.
Starlets undergo a lot in the entertainment industry, she tells Pulse. “Making it in the local showbiz industry especially in the film business is a daunting task; from blackmail, under-the-table dealings to sexual favours for roles or otherwise known as ‘casting couch’ are just but a few issues we go through on a daily basis, however many opt to remain silent for fear of being reprimanded by the same filmmakers or their friends in the industry,” she says.
We conducted a series of interviews with different thespians across the film and theatre scene who assert that for many actresses one often needs to bare some flesh to land a meaty role, a furtive arrangement between casting crew and the budding actors for some ‘pound of flesh’.
“While I will withhold names, I know of a number of actresses who have landed major roles in different productions through giving sexual favours. Today it is not as predominant as it used to be few years ago, still ‘couch casting’ happens and over the past few months have received various complaints from emerging actresses who are lamenting over the matter,” says Gerald Langiri, actor and casting director.
Echoing Langiri’s sentiments is Tim Kingoo, Production Manager at Phoenix Studio.
“Couch casting still happens in the local theatre and film industry, however today it is mild as compared to few years ago,”
Kingoo adds that a few years ago it was anarchic; it was not uncommon to find actors making out backstage just before or after a play, and it wouldn’t be a big deal.
“Today directors are more demanding, many of the casts today are picked based on how sexually appealing they are, some would later be taken out for drinks by the same producers, then things happen,” he adds.
Langiri on the other hand observes that many girls venturing into film industry today are a desperate lot.
“Many of these girls would go to extent of seducing the producers and it is only when the producer does not keep their end of the bargain that these girls threaten to expose the producer for sexual harassment. Interestingly when the producer awards them a casting role none of them complain,” he reveals.
In order to create a conversation around ‘couch casting’ in the local film industry film director Likarion Wainaina and film producer/actor Brain Munene partnered with Bruce Makau (also a producer) to shoot a five-minute silent film titled, Between The Lines a production that seeks to expose the ‘couch casting’ in the film industry both in theatre and film.
Watch the film between the lines below:
The film narrates a story of love bred on a production set, love between co-actors and the director who seeks sexual favours from a young actress who is trying to make it in film industry.
In the film Temko Lavinda, the main cast, refuses to be intimidated by the play director Sam Psenjen who would later choose to replace Lavinda with Shiviske Shivisi, a gullible young actress who wants to be on the limelight at whatever cost.
Lavindas’ decision costs her a role in the play but she inspires fellow cast members to stop participating in the play, here she emerges as an agent for change.
According to Wainaina the whole idea behind the films’ script was sparked by a recent incident where he witnessed casting roles dished out to someone only after they had sexual relationships with a filmmaker.
“Today a good number of the film producers are women and it is not only women being asked for sexual favours, but also men,” he adds, noting that as an actor it can never be fulfilling to become successful in the profession through exchanging through the exchange of favours ‘horizontally’, and not by merit.
“These are mature men and women, nobody forces them to sleep around with filmmakers,” he notes.
According to Mulwa Mutinda, the stage manager at Phoenix Theatre, there are three categories of actors in the film industry: those who are gifted actors; however they become victims of circumstances because they desperately want the role and would do anything to earn it.
Secondly there are those who have no talent in acting however they are talented in seducing the producers so as to feature in the film.
And finally those who are professional and would never sleep with a man or a woman for a role in a film.
Langiri further posits that actors are known to be very expressive people and it is no secret that sex among crew and cast or vice-verse, happens. However he draws a line and says that it is immoral when one engages in the practice in exchange for a casting role.
‘Couch casting’ however seems a worldwide phenomenon, media from Hollywood, Bollywood and Nollywood have over the past reported that before celebrities catch their big breaks in film industry, they have to go through auditioning in a highly competitive, often lopsided, process that has lead desperate thespians to do whatever it takes to get the role this includes sex for roles.
“This desperation on one end, and surplus of power on the other end, has led to the couch-casting mentality in the entertainment industry,” one online page reported.
Hollywood star Gwyneth Paltrow in 2011 revealed to Elle magazine her cast coaching experience,
“When I was just starting out, someone suggested that we finish a meeting in the bedroom. I left,” she recalled.
Clearly declining this man’s advance wasn’t detrimental to Paltrow’s career. She is an Oscar winner and is estimated to be worth $45million (Sh3.9bn), a story that may act as an inspiration to most of the budding actress who choose to stand their ground. She has starred in films like Shakespeare in Love, Iron Man, Se7en and Country Song.
Another Hollywood victim of ‘couch casting’ is Lisa Rinna who recently claimed that she missed out on a role in a prominent television series because she refused to give a producer ‘a quickie’.
In her book “You’ll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again (1991), Oscar-winning producer Julia Phillips attempted to expose many of the underground Hollywood institutions and confirmed that a ‘couch casting’ mentality was alive and well in Hollywood.
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