The Random Fan: Ethics, Race, and Casting
Read This. Because, Once Again, carnivaloftherandom is SPOT ON:
Please heed the warning: SPOILERS. I’m putting this behind a cut, but there is seriously no way you won’t be spoilered for IM3 or Star Trek Into Darkness if you click through.
People threw hissy fits when Samuel L. Jackson was cast as Nick Fury, when Laurence Fishburne was cast as Perry White, when Idris Elba was cast as Heimdall. Lather, rinse, repeat as the fanbase erupted into ugliness. I will always want the right person in the role as written, but there are certainly issues with changing established characters’ race. Sometimes, when race is not an intrinsic issue for the character: it can be cast in the way that best serves the character. Usually, this involves changing a character from white to another race. Why? Because whiteness is very rarely a character-informing feature. This is because privilege isn’t a character trait unless you’re leaning on it and being a jerkface. Maleness isn’t a character-informing feature in most modern circumstances, hence we have Joan Watson on Elementary. (Who could still have legitimately been a combat surgeon in the Army in Afghanistan if they’d chosen to use that backstory. It is the 21st century.)
I will say that I had a very hard time writing this, not because of my feelings on these particular films but because there are a lot of discussions to be had about, “Colorblind,” casting. (note, please go visit racialicious.com for more information on racelifting, racebending, whitewashing, etc.) When we have a gender majority of 51% female, and 49% of children under age 5 and 51% of children under age 1 in the US are non-white, the fact that the number of roles for women and PoC (especially in futuristic settings) are shrinking is an obscenity.
Last year, there was a charge of putting caucasian actors in what amounted to “Yellow-face,” in Cloud Atlas. The film is chock-full of race, gender, age, and every other permutation of transformation for a handful of the lead and supporting actors. While I think that it can be said that a more organic use of makeup might have played better, I think that the film made absolutely critical points about the nature of “Othering” and the narratives we perpetuate in order to preserve our own status quo. These are conversations that we need to have, even when there is clearly not ill intent at play. The status quo has to be challenged in order for it to change.
That said, two recent films (Iron Man 3 and Star Trek Into Darkness) handle race and adversarial characters in very different ways.
Now is the point at which I warn you again: Spoilers. Many, large, and varied spoilers. Deal with it.
Once again, CarnivalOfTheRandom is SPOT ON.