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Talking authenticity and representation with casting assistant Kit Gale - We love you!

To celebrate LGBTQIA+ History Month EDNA caught up with casting assistant and performer Kit Gale to talk past wins, progress and her hopes for the future of representation in campaigns.

Kit has worked closely with EDNA across various productions, including taking the lead on casting for multiple Primark pride campaigns. She has created a niche for herself in 'Queer authentic casting'. She is sharing an abundance of advice for brands around creating an authentic narrative that goes beyond the final image.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

I'm a Queer Performer and Casting Assistant from the North of England, embracing both British and Lebanese roots. My journey into the queer scene began at 16, sneaking into Manchester Gay Village, where those clubs were my sanctuary during my teenage years. Pursuing my passion for documentary film, I moved to Leeds at 18 to study at the Northern Film School. Despite feeling a bit out of place within the university environment, Leeds introduced me to the DIY queer scene, marking the beginning of my drag performance journey.

From hosting queer events to go-go dancing at DIY queer bars, I documented vibrant nights, capturing the diversity and creativity around me. My fascination lies in the beauty found in various forms, especially in people and their unique stories.

Before entering the industry, I spent four years as a Support Worker, mainly with disabled communities. This experience gave me insights into access needs and the importance of inclusion. My first casting assistance experience was during a New Year's Primark campaign in 2018. It marked one of my initial on-set experiences. Transitioning into a full-time role as a Production Assistant with EDNA, I found my niche assembling castings for projects, taking pride in curating casts that enhance and are authentic to each project's creative vision.

Outside of work, I began Freelance Casting, including a project with Director India Sleem, a fellow Stockport friend. This was an Adidas campaign for Members Week, curating a diverse cast of young individuals from Manchester photographed in their home environments. The experience was incredibly fulfilling, allowing me to assemble an all-Northern cast and contribute to authentic regional representation.

My passion for casting comes from my belief that the fashion industry often projects an “aspirational” image, fostering negative self-perceptions. As a millennial shaped by reality TV classics like 'You Are What You Eat' and 'America’s Next Top Model,' - Tyra Banks seemed to teach a generation of young people that size 8 was considered “fat”. I believe beauty should reflect our diverse society. I want to contribute to positive changes in the industry.

Adidas Members Week, Director and Photographer India Sleem, Casting Kit Gale
How should brands approach the casting process to ensure diverse and authentic representation of the LGBTQIA+ community?

Collaboration with LGBTQIA+ individuals is a crucial aspect of creating authentic Pride campaigns.

Pride goes beyond the flamboyance of Ru Paul's Drag Race and screaming ‘'YAAAS QWEEN SLAY THE HOUSE DOWN BOOTS'; it should be centred on real experiences and narratives from within the community.

Hiring Casting Directors and crew from the community contributes to the campaign being authentic from the very root. Drawing from my own experience of casting and being part of the community, I know it personally allowed me to establish a bond with the cast and contribute ideas on how to create a safe space for the production.

The process should be collaborative from beginning to end with both the crew and the cast. Listening to people and their experiences, while creating a safe environment for them to thrive contributes to a strong Pride campaign.

The last Pride campaign I worked on (Primark Pride 2023) was a great example of this approach. We cast mainly outside of model agencies, putting out open calls to discover different forms of 'found family' within the LGBTQIA+ community. The cast took charge, creating, styling, and shooting their own Pride campaigns, which created a raw and genuine campaign.

Primark Pride 2023 'Found Family', Photography by Ellen Blair, Casting Kit Gale, Produced by EDNA Studio
You mentioned casting outside of agencies, is this your preferred approach? Or are there particular casting agencies that champion representation that you work with?

My preferred casting scenarios involve the freedom to cast beyond traditional agencies, as that's when my creativity thrives the most. I am captivated by beauty in its diverse forms, whether a 60-year-old Drag Queen from Blackpool or ‘Big Vee’ working as a caller at the local bingo hall. The intricacies of individuals and their stories fascinate me, and I feel joy when presenting various expressions of beauty, from all walks of life, for campaigns.

However, one agency I thoroughly enjoy collaborating with isZebedee. Zebedee holds the distinction of being the first agency I know of that actively highlights the LGBTQIA+ community, disabled models and those with visible differences. Their commendable efforts in championing positive representation for underrepresented communities make them trailblazers, significantly contributing to the creation of a more inclusive industry. They are also a dream to work with (a team full of caring people!).

Brands must recognise that their actions bear consequences, and such decisions can inadvertently contribute to the ongoing mistreatment of people from the community they are trying to celebrate.

The fashion industry has evolved in terms of inclusivity and representation of different sexual orientations and gender identities, but what common barriers do you still see in place which restrict true representation?

The fashion world often mirrors the societal landscape, and with the escalating transphobia, some brands appear hesitant to feature individuals from the Trans community, fearing potential backlash.

A notable example occurred last year when Burberry faced criticism on Instagram for a campaign featuring a Trans-masc model proudly displaying their top-surgery scars. Instead of issuing a supportive statement, Burberry chose to delete the posts. This response left the model feeling "violated" and "disempowered."

Brands must recognise that their actions bear consequences, and such decisions can inadvertently contribute to the ongoing mistreatment of people from the community they are trying to celebrate.

Brands also need to act with understanding and compassion when working with individuals of varied gender identities, making sure they are being mindful to ensure the person is comfortable with how they are being asked to present.

For instance, with styling, someone presenting as more masc may not feel at ease with a typical femme look. It's crucial to consistently check in and communicate throughout the process to avoid making the individual uncomfortable. When individuals feel comfortable and heard, this sense of ease will be reflected in the resulting images.

As a final note on this another common issue faced is when suggesting 'plus-size' models in the past, I've encountered challenges as the sample sizes typically only extend to 16 during shoots, despite the average size of women in the UK being a dress size 16. This highlights the fashion industry's continued limitation for larger bodies, with limited stock for bigger sizes serving as a recurring obstacle. To achieve genuine inclusivity, brands must extend their inclusiveness to sizing.

When individuals feel comfortable and heard, this sense of ease will be reflected in the resulting images.

Can you share some examples of pride campaigns that you think have been successful and what made them impactful in terms of LGBTQIA+ representation?

Before I delve into campaigns, I do have to take it back to mentioning the artists who have been involved in these campaigns themselves as they continuously inspire me. The creative lens of Jesse Glazzard and Nora Nord are two notable mentions and their stunning campaign for Calvin Klein x Dazed centred around Queer artists and creatives. The campaign's strength lay in its distinctly Queer lens and strong cast interviews.

Another campaign that left a lasting impact on me was the 2023 Pride campaign by Ralph Lauren in collaboration with British Vogue. This campaign beautifully unfolded three distinct Queer love stories, embracing self-love, platonic love, and romantic love. What makes this campaign truly remarkable is the raw and tender narratives shared by each individual in the cast.

I appreciate the diversity in casting, portraying the beautiful platonic friendship between two black trans women, an older Queer relationship, and a Trans man embracing self-love. Additionally, the styling of the campaign stood out to me, as it exudes a softer aesthetic compared to the usual vibrant and bright style seen in typical Pride campaigns. In 2024 I hope to see more brands collaborating with a diverse range of LGBTQIA+ creatives and passing the mic to let Queer people share their narratives over the perspective of the brand.

Often, brands may hesitate to embrace certain initiatives until the fashion industry deems them acceptable.

Ralph Lauren x Vogue Pride 2023, Photographer Charlotte Hadden
How do you think brands can strike a balance between promoting inclusivity and avoiding tokenism in commercial campaigns?

Often, brands may hesitate to embrace certain initiatives until the fashion industry deems them acceptable.

A notable instance of this trend is observed in the launch of Rihanna’s brand, Savage Fenty's underwear range, which introduced a refreshing and diverse portrayal of beauty not commonly seen in the realm of lingerie brands without being tokenistic. After the show and brand became celebrated and successful, other brands started to follow suit.

Savage Fenty’s success seemed to inspire Victoria Secret to relook at their narrow views of beauty and after a break the Victoria's Secret show returned, collaborating with icon and trailblazer Michaela Stark. She used some of her Couture creations, styled with archived Victoria's Secret garments, to recreate the old idea of 'fantasy.' In her Instagram post, she states, 'I wanted to prove that angels can represent ALL women, without losing the fantasy element. Specifically, I wanted to tear down the idea that angels can’t be plus size or trans, as spoken by the ex-CEO of Victoria's Secret.' This shift marks a departure from their previous stance, aligning with a broader representation of body types.

To avoid tokenism, brands must take a close look at themselves and how they operate internally. Are decisions mostly made by the same people? (Usually five white cisgender men), or is there an intentional effort to include different perspectives? Real representation starts from within the brand, not just in external campaigns.

From my experience, the most impactful campaigns have arisen when the crew and directors embody diversity, bringing forth a wealth of backgrounds and perspectives. This approach not only enhances the authenticity of the campaign but also contributes to a deeper understanding of the audience and their diverse needs and preferences. In essence, fostering diversity within the brand's internal structure is not just a trend; it's a crucial step towards building campaigns that resonate genuinely with a broad and varied audience.

To avoid tokenism, brands must take a close look at themselves and how they operate internally. Are decisions mostly made by the same people? (Usually five white cisgender men), or is there an intentional effort to include different perspectives? Real representation starts from within the brand, not just in external campaigns.

You have made a really good point about representation coming from the inside out, do you have anything further to say about how brands can ensure that their commitment to LGBTQIA+ representation goes beyond marketing campaigns and is reflected in their overall company culture?

I think it’s fundamental for brands to provide training and education in their workplace as this will raise awareness and foster an understanding of LGBTQIA+ issues. This means not only providing resources but also ensuring that there is continuous education to create a more informed, supportive and considerate environment.

Another thing they could do is develop and commit to Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (ED&I) policies and ensure it is ingrained in the foundational principles of their brand and serve as a central and non-negotiable element of their organisational structure. This imperative is particularly crucial at the highest levels—executives and company leaders who hold decision-making power, as they are the driving force behind actualising initiatives. I’d also say ensuring there are clear zero-tolerance policies put in place for discrimination and ensuring employees feel safe to report such incidents.

One of the most obvious yet still not put in place for a lot of brands in many industries is diverse hiring practices. Hiring managers need to actively seek diverse talent during recruitment processes, ensuring that LGBTQIA+ individuals are represented at all levels of an organisation.

Bringing it back to the campaigns, how can brands make sure the campaign has a measurable positive impact on the community?

Brands can also make direct financial contributions to LGBTQIA+ organisations by allocating a percentage of their profits. Examples of this include providing essential funding for community initiatives, support services, and advocacy efforts. Additionally, establishing partnerships with non-profit organisations and charities that focus on LGBTQIA+ rights and well-being further demonstrates a commitment to creating a positive impact. By integrating these practices into their core values and operational structure, brands contribute not only to representation in marketing but also actively support the community's needs through concrete actions and financial support.

Primark is a notable example of this, each year donating a fixed sum of money 'irrespective of the sales of the product collection' to ILGA World. Alongside Bluebella Ltd who donated 10% of profits from its pride collection and Dr. Martens plc who raised money throughout the year (for The Trevor Project in 2023) and also donated a further £105,000 to 'crucial' LGBTQIA+ charities in 2023. Dr Martens is also interesting as they collaborate with designers from the community when creating their pride collection, which again helps with creating an authentic campaign.

Another point to be made is the commitment does not always have to be monetary, a great example of this is LUSH in 2023. They collaborated with the LGBT+ abuse charity Galop for a Valentine's campaign. During this initiative, Lush customers were encouraged to appeal to MPs to 'have a heart' and advocate for the ban of 'conversion therapy.' This involved signing a Valentine's card in-store and sending an e-card to their MP, contributing to the collective effort to support the ban on conversion therapy. To raise money for the charity, Lush introduced a Valentine's wash-card, with all proceeds dedicated to supporting Galop’s helpline for individuals who have undergone “conversion therapy.”

Have there been any notable positive shifts in consumer behaviour or brand perception as a result of more inclusive casting in fashion campaigns?

Witnessing the positive reception to certain brands' commitment to more inclusive casting and fashion has been truly inspiring. One luxury fashion designer who particularly stands out to me is Sinéad O'Dwyer, collaborating closely with the powerhouse Casting Director Emma Mattell. Sinead's work serves as a compelling example of how inclusivity can be genuine rather than tokenistic. It's truly heartening to witness the recognition and value given to disabled and plus-size models in the fashion industry by designing their clothes based on the models' bodies.

In her recent show at London Fashion Week, she invited three blind women to come backstage before the show, allowing them to feel the clothes and then sit in the front row with audio descriptions describing the clothes. This sets a new standard for how other brands can be innovative and include often excluded communities within fashion. Noticing the encouraging feedback from the disabled community in the comments emphasises the profound impact of genuinely inclusive fashion.

I think that the rise in inclusive casting has also led to the high street following suit with some of their product offerings. This year Primark introduced a line of adaptive underwear tailored for the disabled community, signalling a positive move in the right direction for high-street inclusivity. As we move through 2024, I anticipate and hope for increased efforts from high-street brands to prioritise and enhance inclusivity in their brands.

Any final words for brands who may be gearing up to shoot their 2024 pride campaigns?
  • Pay your cast and crew fairly! It's common for individuals in the LGBTQIA+ community to be asked to work for "exposure" or at low pay rates. Amid a cost of living crisis, it's more important than ever to value the contributions of the community appropriately.
  • If your Pride campaign receives comments from TERFs or homophobes online, actively monitor and address these. It's the brand's responsibility to ensure the well-being of your cast throughout the campaign, providing a safe space for them throughout the process.
  • Include both cast and crew pronouns on your call sheets, and proactively inquire about people's access needs before shooting. Prioritising inclusivity in this manner ensures that everyone involved feels respected and accommodated.
  • Diversity is key; both your cast and crew should represent a spectrum of identities. Engage with queer photographers, directors, and producers. Their unique perspectives contribute to a more authentic and enriched portrayal of the LGBTQIA+ community.
  • Avoid Pink-washing!! Changing your brand's logo to a Pride flag and bringing out a jockstrap with ‘SLAY QUEEN’ plastered on the front, doesn’t cut it anymore. What is your brand doing to actively support the LGBTQIA+ community beyond Pride Month?
  • Remain open to feedback. In the fast-paced industry landscape, mistakes can happen, but being receptive to feedback from both cast and crew demonstrates a commitment to continuous improvement. Creating an environment where constructive feedback is valued fosters growth and strengthens collaborative efforts within the LGBTQIA+ community and beyond.

Love Kit and EDNA x