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Casting director fired after Gov. Manchin, UMW head protest film

Feb. 27, 2008 @ 12:00 AM

CHARLESTON -- The producers of the horror thriller "Shelter" have fired a casting director who put out what they say was an insensitive casting call for extras with unusual features to appear in a scene set in a "West Virginia holler."

The casting call from Donna Belajac Casting of Pittsburgh prompted an outcry from West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin and others who said it stereotypes West Virginians as inbred and carnival sideshows.

"Shelter" producers Emilio Diez Barroso and Darlene Caamano Loquet said the movie is not set in West Virginia and the state will not even be mentioned.

"On behalf of the entire SHELTER production we regret and are deeply sorry for the very insensitive casting call sent out without our knowledge by our casting director Donna Belajac who has been dismissed from this project as a result," Barroso and Loquet said in a statement issued Tuesday night.

The casting call said the film is looking for extras who are extraordinarily tall or short, those with unusual body shapes and unusual facial features, especially eyes, and even people with physical abnormalities as long as they have normal mobility.

"It's clear that they have no real understanding of who the people of West Virginia are," Manchin said. "And that's not only unfortunate, but in this case offensive. Certainly it doesn't sound like a movie worth watching."

The casting call also advertises for a 9- to 12-year-old white girl with an "other-worldly look ... could be an albino or something along those lines -- she's someone who is visually different and therefore has a closer contact to the gods and to magic. 'Regular-looking' children should not attend this open call."

"Shelter" stars Julianne Moore and is being produced by Nala Films in Los Angeles. It is being filmed in Pittsburgh but the story's location is not specified.

Casting agency director Donna Belajac was in a casting session Tuesday and unavailable for comment. She told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review on Monday that the casting call was not meant to stereotype people from West Virginia.

"We tried to word it in a way that's not offensive," she told the newspaper. "I hope it's not an offensive thing. It's not meant to be a generalization about everyone in West Virginia. That's why we put that it's in a 'holler' in the mountains."

The casting call also prompted criticism from U.S. Reps. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., and Nick Rahall, D-W.Va.; U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., and Cecil E. Roberts, president of the United Mine Workers union.

"Why must it be automatically assumed by the surgically enhanced 'beautiful people' who populate Hollywood that those who live in the hills and hollows of places like West Virginia are all afflicted with physical abnormalities?" Roberts said.

Capito said West Virginians "are owed an apology for such careless and blatant stereotyping." Rahall said he was appalled at the casting call.

Byrd said, "Unfortunately, some in the filmmaking industry have decided that perpetuating stereotypes and insulting generations of West Virginians means cash at the box office."