Inclusive Language: What You Need to Know When Casting

This blog on Inclusive Language in casting is part of our new series focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion in advertising and video marketing.

The past few years have brought to head many issues in this country, from access to healthcare and economic inequality to systemic racial injustices. To meet the moment, brands are joining the voices crying out for change. It’s why we’re seeing brands reconsider culturally insensitive mascots and imagery, honor Juneteenth, and most importantly make a commitment to the public to put diversity, equity, and inclusion at the forefront of their brand identity.

It’s an important mission because, historically, cisgendered, heterosexual males have been centered in most facets of U.S. culture. This is especially true in the entertainment and advertising industries, both in front of the camera and behind the scenes.

In 2019, only 15.1% of feature-length films were directed by women, while BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) directed just 14.4% percent of the most profitable Hollywood releases. Among all senior executive positions, 93% are held by white people and 80% by men. These are eye-opening—and unacceptably inequitable—statistics.

You see these disparities and ask yourself, “What can I do?” Aside from being a vocal ally by attending protests and supporting minority makers through grants and resources, as marketing professionals, we can be advocates and enact change by turning our attention to the inclusive language we’re using in our field, especially when casting talent for video ads.

RELATED: Grants and Resources for Minority Content Makers

Language is a tool that always needs sharpening, and that’s especially true for inclusive language. It’s constantly being refined to accurately reflect lived experiences, so the sea of terminology that exists can be easy to get lost in. We’re here to help.

Here are some insights and tips on inclusive language you should use during the diversity casting process.

Learn More: Social Media Video Ad Specs & Placements Guide

Diversity Casting in Entertainment and Video Marketing: The Statistics

Adopting inclusive language isn’t about ticking boxes or filling quotas. It’s about giving people the respect they deserve–that they systemically have rarely received. If you want your efforts to be honest and authentic, you must fully understand the reasons why diversity, equity, and inclusion are necessary for the greater good.

Use these statistics to have a deeper understanding of why diversity and inclusion are key to leveling the playing field for talent from all walks of life (and how it can even improve your bottom line.)

  • 66% of African Americans and 53% of Latinx Americans feel their ethnicity is portrayed stereotypically in advertisements. (Adobe 2019)
  • 61% of Americans find diversity in advertising important. (Adobe 2019)
  • 69% of brands with representative ads saw an average stock gain of 44% in a seven-quarter period in 2018. (Heat Test Report 2019)
  • 64% of consumers surveyed said they took some sort of action after seeing an ad they considered to be diverse or inclusive. (Think With Google 2019)

Inclusive Language to Use in Casting

When devising the language you are using during casting, there’s one big question you should ask yourself first: is identifying ethnicity, gender, ability, age, or other physical characteristics actually necessary in describing the character?

The implicit bias is that cisgendered, heterosexual, non-disabled, and white are all default characteristics, rather than one subset of our national identity. Because of this, producers will often needlessly include descriptors about a character’s physical characteristics even when identifying them has no impact on the narrative.

But sometimes a character’s ethnicity, gender, or other factors can be vitally important to a video, especially if it’s part of your company’s continuing commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. If you’re casting talent fully representative of our world, you want to ensure that you’re using inclusive language that is inoffensive and sensitive to the evolving nomenclature surrounding diversity. 

Here is advice on the language you should use to remain inclusive during the casting process.

Race, Ethnicity, National Origin Inclusive Language

Which words or terms are inclusive and which are not have changed throughout history. A word that a generation before thought was sensitive may now be seen as insensitive today, especially in regards to race, ethnicity, and national origin. This isn’t just in the world of video advertising but across all industries. 

Buffer has created an exhaustive guide of inclusive language for startups and the tech industry that can easily be applied to the diversity casting process. We’ve identified some of the language you should use in regards to race, ethnicity, gender, and national origin.

Need help making videos? See how our video production platform can help your business.

Black/African American/BIPOC

The term African American was first popularized by civil rights activist Jesse Jackson in 1989, but many find that the term can erase an individual’s unique heritage by being too homogenous. 

As diversity and equity consultant Sahra Ali told Readers Digest, “The most appropriate term to use is Black…because it speaks to the collective experience of people with darker skin without negating the individual or historical background.” 

In recent years the term BIPOCor Black, Indigenous, and people of color—has arisen as a word that’s more representative of the specific injustices faced by Black and Indigenous people.

It’s also important to capitalize the B in Black when referring to a group in cultural terms to reflect the shared sense of identity associated with the word. Similarly, you should use these words as adjectives when referring to groups, and not nouns. For example, never say “blacks,” but “Black people.”

QuickFrame client HASK uses a diversity of talent to show that their products are inclusive of the needs of different communities.


These pan-ethnic terms are used for people tracing their roots to Latin America and Spain. Latinx specifically is a gender-neutral variant of Latino/Latina, though it isn’t one widely used by this population

Be aware that there is a problematic history associated with the word “Hispanic”, so you should remain receptive to how someone wants to be identified. Based on a Pew Research study, country of origin labels, like Mexican or Cuban, are preferred over these pan-ethnic terms.

Indigenous/Native American

Never use the term “Indian” when referring to Indigenous peoples of the Americas. Catch-all terms like Native American and Indigenous American are actually representative of this group’s history in the United States. 

Similar to using country of origin labels with Latinx communities, it’s recommended to be more specific with Indigenous/Native American talent and use original tribal names. Remember, there’s nothing inappropriate about asking what someone prefers to be identified as. 


Use the term Asian person when referring to anyone of Asian descent. 

We also recommend trying to be as specific as possible when describing your character. If they are of Asian descent and from America, use the term Asian American. You can also use a country of origin label, like Japanese or Korean, to be more representative of the Asian diaspora. 

Gender Inclusive Language

Don’t assume everyone is a man. Masculine language has predominantly been the default when writing anything where the gender isn’t expressly non-masculine. Think of well-known phrases like “all men are created equal” or “for all mankind”. 

As diversity, equity, and inclusion commitments have begun to dismantle this default, you should ensure that you aren’t falling into the trap of centering casting language around masculine pronouns. If you’re casting the audience surrogate, don’t refer to them as an “everyman”, but instead as an “everyperson”. You’ll also be more inclusive by asking for a person’s preferred pronouns, like he/him, she/her, and they/them, among others.

Colgate-Palmolive teamed with QuickFrame for an Ajax commercial that acknowledges the numerous micro-aggressions women face on a daily basis to inspire relatability and brand trust.

LGBTQIA+ Inclusive Language

Just like how you shouldn’t assume everyone is a man, you should also not assume everyone is heterosexual. If your narrative requires a non-cishet (cisgendered-heterosexual) person, make sure you are using appropriate descriptive language. 

Transgender means anyone whose gender identity does not align with the sex they were assigned at birth. Non-binary or gender nonconforming is an umbrella term for a person whose gender identity is neither solely male nor female (falling outside the gender binary). 

Specifically, when casting trans actors, ensure that you are using the pronouns they prefer. If you are unclear, don’t hesitate to ask. It’s a sign of respect to ask for a person’s preference, especially if you provide your own pronouns first. 

QuickFrame client Stoli reinforces the brand’s commitment to equality by celebrating the powerful legacy left behind by politician and gay rights activist Harvey Milk.

Disability Inclusive Language

According to Stanford University, there are two major linguistics preferences for referring to people with disabilities. There’s people-first language that centers on the person, and not their disability, like “student with disabilities.” 

Conversely, the second preference is identity-first language, which celebrates disability as an inherent part of a person’s identity, like “disabled students”. There isn’t a consensus on which preference is “more appropriate” to use, so you should always ask a person’s preference, rather than making an assumption.

Despite the differences in both preferences, you don’t want to use language that stigmatizes disability as an impairment, like hearing-impaired, which has a negative connotation. Similarly, don’t use words like “crazy” when describing someone with a mental disability as it continues to stereotype people with common mental health issues as dangerous.

Age Inclusive Language

Do not use terms like older or younger when casting talent. Instead, use actual age ranges–like 18-24 or 45-65–because it gives specificity to what you are looking for. That said, you shouldn’t use age ranges alongside adjectives, because more often than not what you may think is old will be considered young by another demographic. 

Socioeconomic Inclusive Language 

A word like “professional” may not immediately seem like it’s mired in stereotypes, but when we consider the term, it’s typically been associated with a homogenous idea of the white-collar worker, which typically meant white and male. 

Be more descriptive about what you intend with the word by specifying gender, age, and the industry that they are coming from. This can extend into costuming as well, as this last year has proven that “professional attire” has completely changed.

Similarly, do not use words like “wealthy” or “poor” that can conjure stereotypes surrounding a character’s personality or the clothes they wear. A person isn’t defined by their economic status, and even if a character arc is informed by issues surrounding money, you will pigeonhole an actor (and other creatives) by narrowly defining who that character is meant to represent.

Physical Characteristics Language

Size words, like “fat” and “chubby”, should be nowhere in your casting breakdown. If a character’s size is hyper-specific to the production, use Plus Size, which is a commonly accepted term in the fashion and beauty industry.

QuickFrame client billie owns its identity proudly, showcasing a diverse array of women, with a celebratory focus on body hair.

In that same vein, try to shy away from using the term “real” when describing a character. It’s an ambiguous term with a lack of clear meaning. Aren’t we all “real people”? Is a person that wears makeup, or has cosmetic surgery, any less real than those who have not? Rather than using the term, focus back on the description of your character. What is “real” about them that you want to see come across during the casting process? 

Other terms that you want to avoid around physical characteristics:


Ambiguous descriptive terms like “urban” and “ghetto” are mired in Black stereotypes. Focus your description not on the characteristics of the actor you want to cast, but on the personality traits of the character. 

If you’ve used “urban” in the past as a way to describe a character’s style or clothing, use plain language to craft that description. The characterization you intend to convey could be easily described as a person who wears street clothes associated with large metropolitan areas.


Similar to the above language, do not use terms like “exotic” or “wild” when casting non-white talent. This is an example of tokenism, relegating a certain race or gender to historical stereotypes. 

Instead, ask yourself what you’re really trying to convey with these words, and turn those into actionable descriptions that describe why the character behaves a certain way.


Along with using words like “diverse talent” in a casting breakdown, you want to be intentional and specific with what you mean by “ethnic”. This goes to the points described above. 

Be thoroughly descriptive rather than using ambiguous terms that could be misconstrued. Asking for “ethnic talent” is similar to using a term like “color blind”. It erases the individual lived experience of non-white actors. Don’t shy away from being specific in what you are looking for so you are not accidentally using terms mired in casual racism.

Hair-specific Language

Do not use terms like “frizzy”, “unruly”, or “difficult” to describe natural Black hair. This is one area where descriptive terms shouldn’t be used. 

If you want to cast a Black actress who styles their hair naturally, say that. Or better yet, leave that description out of your casting breakdown completely, unless your concept absolutely requires it.

Inclusive Language in Diversity Casting: The Takeaway

The most important lesson you should take away is that you will make mistakes when crafting inclusive language and that’s okay. Listen to others when they tell you that your words affected them, and rather than getting defensive, thank them for calling you out, and tell them how you will learn from the moment. 

Using inclusive language during the casting process can help erase the inequities that have blocked others from entering the advertising industry. But at the most basic level, it unlocks a wealth of new stories to tell. 

Diversity in casting means giving audiences a chance to see a different perspective on a narrative they’ve likely seen before. Most importantly, it also gives audiences who are unaccustomed to seeing themselves in the media a chance to finally see their story told.

Inclusive language is necessary for casting but look for ways that you can extend this way of thinking across your entire business. The tech sector is already working towards removing language like “Master” and “Slave” from their programming code, as these words are analogues for historically racist language. 

Stay sensitive to every way you communicate within your organization, be it through job descriptions or internal communications. Being aware of the language you use is a universal lesson, regardless of the sector or industry you work in.

If you’re in a position of power, don’t squander it. Intentionally utilize inclusive language to empower those untapped communities who deserve to see themselves represented in the entertainment and advertising industries. They are depending on you, especially in a world whose divide seems to grow deeper every day.

Are you an untapped content maker? Learn more about grants and resources that can help you get ahead!

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