Sheila Vand Addresses Changing Character Names After Casting for Easy Diversity Points

     August 2, 2020

As we inch closer to the release of a new episode of Collider Ladies Night with Snowpiercer and The Rental star Sheila Vand, we’ve got a clip from the conversation to share that calls for some extra attention. As we always do on Collider Ladies Night, we went back to the very beginning of Vand’s journey to the industry and experience in Hollywood thus far, and a topic that came up often while covering Vand’s filmography was ethnicity and how that impacted the opportunities that she got.

As we all well know, Hollywood has a habit of boxing actors in, so when Vand was first starting out, she was worried that if she played too many Middle Eastern roles, she’d get pigeon holed. On top of that, she also noted, “I had this thing where I felt like, when I got a Middle Eastern role that people were gonna think the only reason I got it was because it was Middle Eastern, not because I was talented.”

On top of that, over the years, Vand kept running into one particular issue that didn’t sit right with her – and rightfully so:


Image via IFC Films

“There was also this thing that would happen in my career where I would get cast in a role that was just a white role. Just a normal role, whatever. White, maybe not white, just had a normal non-ethnic name and then after casting me they would wanna change my character’s name to something Middle Eastern. This happened many times. The first time that happened, I asked them not to do that and they were cool with it and they heeded my wish.”

That wasn’t always the case though, and it’s something that’s hugely problematic in an industry that still affords so many more opportunities to white actors:

“I’ll tell you why it bothered me, was that it’s not like they had written a Middle Eastern role or an ethnic role to give an opportunity to an ethnic actor. Instead, I had to compete with a pool of white actors who are afforded a lot more opportunities than I am, and I win for my talent and my merit, and then they want to get points for diversity after the fact, and that’s not right to me. It’s like, you shoulda done this before then. Because I didn’t want the perception to be that I only competed with 10 girls for this part when the reality was that I had competed with 400 girls for the part.”

If you’re thinking this is something Vand probably only encountered in the early years of her career, think again. It actually happened on a show Vand is currently working on, TNT’s Snowpiercer:


Image via TNT

“Originally, my character’s name was Cleo and all of a sudden when things changed behind the scenes there, I became Zarah Ferami and I had a moment where I was like, ‘Do I want to do this?’ And I realized, ‘You know what? Maybe it’s a good thing; we need to see Middle Eastern people on screen to show Hollywood that we can play ball.’ And also for culture, for representation. So I had a conversation with them of like, ‘That’s OK. I’m down with this, but I just don’t want it to now become followed by a slew of other stereotypes.’ And so, they were cool with that too.”

As time went on, Vand became more focused on the importance of visibility and inclusion. As she put it, “It’s less about what this character’s name is, and it’s more about what kind of character this is.” She further explained:

“With this whole tide and sea change of inclusion and representation, I’m like, ‘Of course, I want to be part of that.’ So I’m embracing it way more and just getting a little more involved behind the scenes. Which was also scary to do when I was younger because like I said, I never wanted to get fired and I was always made to feel so disposable and replaceable. Now I’m like, ‘But you can’t get that without some experience and age.’ Now I’m like, ‘I don’t need you. You need me!’”

If this clip isn’t proof enough, you’re not going to want to miss the full episode of Collider Ladies Night with Vand dropping soon. Vand’s experience and voice in the fight to change this industry for the better is indispensable, and she also had loads to share about her passion for storytelling, an experimental performance she put everything she had into, Snowpiercer, The Rental and then some.