a reply to: TinySickTears
Is it a big deal?
In the grand scheme of things? No. People should be more concerned that they have ineffective and malignant people in their governments, more
concerned that poverty is inevitable in a top heavy economy and concerned about what that really means for those at the bottom, more concerned with
trying to prop up failing bee populations.
But in the specific case of the film industry, in a very localised context, yes it is a big deal. Its a big deal for a number of reasons. Actors
playing parts have always adopted roles which their actual lives have not prepared them for. Since Shakespeare's day in fact, if not longer. Men or
boys playing women was not at all uncommon, and of course, many of his plays were set in nations other than England, which meant that the stable of
players he had available to put on stage, would ALWAYS be from realms other than those being depicted.
This continued up until the end of the era in which "black face" was considered appropriate as a source of entertainment.
Breakfast At Tiffany's featured, among other, far more stellar castings, Mickey Rooney as a Japanese photographer, Mr Yunioshi, gave what is described
today as a "cringe-worthy portrayal", despite having no intention of causing offence.
Up until relatively recently in the history of western produced film and drama, a stable of actors from backgrounds other than some variation on
"white", was just not as readily available as would be necessary, to make it possible for characters from different backgrounds, to be depicted by
persons who have a cultural or national similarity to them. And up until relatively recently (I say relatively, because history has been a long time
in the making), it must also be said that the nation from which much of the film and theatre the world has fawned over, has been America, a nation in
which it was only acceptable to even BE from a minority background, after the sixties were well and truly done with, and many people had died at the
hands of bigots, racists and other bastards.
So we have really had less than a century in which the dramatic arts were being fostered with the support of big studios at least, amongst persons
from minority backgrounds, either in America, or elsewhere (of course, most nations have their own theatre traditions, regardless of where on the face
of Earth they happen to be, but the point is that the film INDUSTRY was not supportive of any but the European and American traditions for most of the
history of Hollywood).
Now, heres the thing. When I see a movie with some American or British actor, playing the part of someone who is clearly supposed to be from a very
different background than their own, the actor must be superb, absolutely breathtaking in their skill, be perfectly adapted to the role. Method
actors, for example, have the ability to literally become the character for the duration of the role, and in my view, only a method actor or actress
should ever be placed in the position, of having to portray someone from totally outside their ethnicity.
I have seen older movies before now, which have featured mere pastiche and little else, when it comes to portrayal of persons foreign to the actor
involved in depicting them. You sort of forgive the older titles for some of their failings, simply because there were different social mores
operating at the time, meaning that within a certain degree of acceptability, the odd faux pas here and there has to be given a pass.
But this simply does not wash in a modern movie.
For example, in the Doctor Strange movie, knowing what I know about the comic book it was based on, Tilda Swinton was cast as The Ancient One. I
found her presence absolutely startling, jarring even, in the role. They had to re-write the character to make it work, for one thing. To go to that
level of effort, purely to shoehorn her in there, suggests to me that for some reason, it was not considered preferable to go with someone more
immediately similar to the role, despite the fact that slavish adherence to comic book lore is necessary to appeal to fans of the comic books
themselves, which any studio should want. Break immersion even slightly, leave alone with a characters back story having to be altered to go from
Tibetan Monk, to Celtic... I don't know, who somehow arrived at what is clearly an Eastern method of practicing "magic" by... we have no idea what
route or method...When something like THAT happens, you have to wonder, just what movie casting people will do, to avoid getting things right by doing
the easy thing, and following the DAMNED LORE OF THE UNIVERSE BEING DEPICTED!
There were, are, HUNDREDS of actors who could have been much better for the role, more like the comic book, less like some random retcon, made so
that a star name that people in the West can pronounce correctly without opening their minds, can be placed on the front cover of the Blue Ray box.
Put another way, let us consider the PERFECT casting of Hugh Jackman as Wolverine in the X-Men movies. Some of those movies were bad, but they were
not bad because of anything Jackman did, or because he looked wrong for the part. You look at him, you take one look at any shot of him in those
movies, and even if you had only read the comic books, never seen the films, you would know PRECISELY who he was playing, which character you were
looking at, even if you only saw still images, with his claws retracted. Every single second of that film series which contained Jackman was improved
by the sheer perfection of the casting which lead to his selection for the part. His presence carried a couple of the X-Movies, as far as I am
concerned, and made the first Wolverine standalone movie... bearable.
But how ridiculous would it have been to place a woman in the same role, or to throw a curved ball, and make Wolverines character a Japanese fellow
who speaks little to no English? Would it have been ridiculous to do it because women are not badass? No. Would it have been ridiculous because the
Japanese are not hardcore enough to play Wolverine? Of course not, have you SEEN Japanese film? No, it would be ridiculous because it would be a
totally inappropriate casting choice, because the job of a casting director is to ensure that the movie has actors and actresses who are capable
visually and technically of appearing as the character they are cast as.
Its actually very simple.
They could have cast Chow Yun Fat, Donnie Yen, they could have asked Jackie Chan, or any one of a hundred names I could read off the back of an
action movie box, and any one of them would have been less jarring in the role than Tilda Swinton.
Now, do I think that Catherine Zeta-Jones will be as jarring as Tilda Swinton was? No, not in the least. One Euro influenced ethnic group is very
much like another beyond a certain point, in terms of appearance and so on. But do I think I could name a few people who would have been a damned
sight better in the role? Sure, absolutely, without a doubt. There are a great many latin laides who could have been MARVELOUS in this role, where
Catherine Zeta-Jones will be, at best, on par, which is about as good as she ever got once she left Wales for Hollywood.