Hi. I'm not really President, but I play one on TV.
There has been some discussion of late of non-traditional casting in films of late. Some have voiced distress over the casting of Jaden Smith in a role originated by Ralph Macchio. Another group, The Missouri-base Council of Conservative Citizens, a White Supremacist group, is organizing a national boycott over the casting of Idris Elba as the Norse god Heimdall, guardian of the Rainbow Bridge of Asgard in the upcoming THOR movie. Still others are upset that movies are being cast in remakes, sequels, and other fictional movies with non-traditionally cast actors.
Casting roles to please the demand of the public has been practice in Hollywood and beyond since the first performers stepped on stage to portray someone they were not. In Shakespearean times, all roles in plays were performed by men, even the female roles. Roles that called for ethnics, such as Native Americans and Indians were performed by actors in heavy make-up. John Wayne himself, the Duke, the quintessential American hero, slapped on the pancake make-up and portrayed Genghis Khan in The CONQUEROR.
Middle Easterners have been maligned time and time again by this practice. Charlton Heston, (ne: John Charles Carter of Evanston, Illinois), played the Hebrew prince-turned-slave-turned gladiator Ben-Hur, his name, ironically in Hebrew meant to be white, or Son of white linen, and the Egyptian Hebrew Moses; and even he had a crack at portraying a Mongol in the 1992 version of GENGHIS KHAN.
Pirates! The pirate genre has gained in popularity in the past few years. But as for historical accuracy? Women on board any ship aside from a passenger vessel were considered bad luck of the worst kind. And if a woman was brought on board, they had only one purpose - to be raped, then discarded when they were no longer amusing. But now, with our new-age pirates re-invented, women are not only put on the same plane with the pirates, women were actually seizing command of pirate ships FROM men. And the crew would treat that woman with the same respect and obedience that they gave their male
Jim Caviezel, Robert Powell, Max Von Sydow, Jeremy Sisto, Christian Bale, Chris Sarandon, Martin Donovan, Victor Garber, Jeffery Hunter,Ted Neeley, Will Ferrell, and Willem Dafoe have all had a crack at portraying the most famous Palestinian Historical figure of all time. From my last count, not a single one was born in Bethlehem. And Bruce Lee - arguably the greatest martial artist of his time, was to be cast as Kane in the long-running series, "Kung-Fu." The producers instead cast David Carradine, who at the time, knew absolutely nothing about the martial arts. The theory that only an actor of identical background could only play the part only holds water when the historical figure was not an ethnic.
I could cite dozens of other examples, but the bottom line is that these films are performances, and the actors are just playing a part. In the movies The DAY AFTER TOMORROW and DEEP IMPACT, the actors playing the President of the United States were African Americans. They were not playing African American presidents. Their part was the President of the United States, with race, religion, sexual preference or ethnicity never brought into the discussion. In fact, the only movie where race was a factor in the story was the 1972 drama The MAN, where James Earl Jones, through an impossible set of circumstances, was suddenly thrust into the Oval Office as the first Black President of the United States (in 1972, we weren't yet African Americans).
Getting back to accuracy in historical portrayals, should Academy-Award winning actor Jamie Foxx have played blind musician Ray Charles in the movie RAY? Who would you find that had Proteus Syndrome to play John Merrick in The ELEPHANT MAN?
Going further into fiction, the 1978 super-sized comic book, "Superman vs. Muhammed Ali," the aliens forcing the two to battle each other insisted that they wear
their traditional garb, Superman in his blue-and-red tights, and Ali in traditional boxing gear because aside from their clothing, the aliens could not distinguish one human from another. Essentially, they were saying, "All you humans look alike!" Should Richard Dreyfuss not have taken the part of Ken Harrison, a sculptor suddenly paralyzed from the neck down in WHOSE LIFE IS IT ANYWAY? Should Gary Sinese have chopped off his legs to finish up his performance of Lt. Dan during the filming of FORREST GUMP? How about movies involving Extraterrestrials ? No! That would be ridiculous! But by the thinking of of Cinematic Fundamentalist, these roles were insulting travesties, because the actors were not physically similar to the characters they portrayed.
Closed Auditions. Aliens Only
A very funny line in the Mel Brooks' comedy classic BLAZING SADDLES, Sheriff Bart (Cleavon Little - Black Bart, get it?) pleads with the citizens of Red Rock to work with the black, Asian, and Irish immigrant railroad workers to help save their town. After some serious discussion among the townspeople, Olson Johnson (David Huddleston) announces to the railroad workers (and the exact dialogue has been edited for political correctness), "Alright, we'll take the (Asians) and the (African Americans), BUT NOT THE IRISH!" So class discrimination goes beyond just physical appearance.
But there is the one color, however, that has dominion over them all.
The Entertainment Business, when you break it down to its most basic essence, is a business. They are in business to make money. If the market futures dictate that the money-spending, movie-going public want to see more of a certain ethnic, studios will fall over themselves to produce films for that disposable income demographic. If movie-goers wanted to see more purple-eyed, three-toed little people, I can guarantee that within a year, there will be a glut of entertainment options geared for that demographics. The proliferation of Middle Eastern Indian movies, or Bollywood films, is a prime example of catering to a specific
demographic. Above all, the Golden Rule will always apply to any business - They with the Gold will make the Rules.
The REAL Karate Kid
Fortunately, as we as a people become more culturally sophisticated as traditional entertainment taboos are falling by the wayside. Women are now allowed to perform openly on stage. Women have even portrayed "Hamlet." In the Jim Crow Era, a Las Vegas pool was drained and cleaned because singer Dorothy Dandridge dared dip her toe into the water. Sammy Davis, Jr., when performing with the Rat Pack in Vegas, could not use the same door as the rest of the Rat Pack to get on stage. Now, ethnic performers can perform, mingle, use the hotel's facilities, and just be treated like everybody else. Where there was a colored Baseball league and a white league, now there is just one (well, two, but they are completely integrated).
But, we've a long way to go before we all can see past the cosmetic differences among each other. As Jigsaw said in SAW 3D, "We're all red on the inside."
There will be a time when a movie like A TIME to KILL can be remade with the actors' roles reversed, and everyone will accept it as a tense courtroom drama, not a statement about race, but I won't hold my breath waiting for it.
Oh, one last note: the KARATE KID was also portrayed by Hillary Swank, a girl, and the ORIGINAL Karate Kid was actually a DC Comic character, part of the Legion of Super-Heroes, the son of a 31st Century Japanese Crime Lord. Casting Calls, anyone?
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Every other Wednesday
Until I find my footing, I'd like to vent on the state of today's movies. I will occasionally praise a movie that piques my fancy. But it's a whole lot more fun railing against a person's work who makes more money on a single project than I would make if I lived 500 years. Oh, I will usually make observations on movies rather than films. The difference? Films are critically acclaimed, while movies are just darned good fun.
Born in the Fifties with an extreme phobia for movies in general, I became obsessed with movies when I broke that phobia with the first movie I actually enjoyed, “The Ten Commandments.” I particularly like the kind of movie where you can put your brain on hold. I get enough reality and drama in my everyday life; I refuse to pay someone to subject me to the same. |
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