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mvblair

Should whites portray non-white characters?

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I haven?t seen all of the ?in between? movies segments about this month?s theme, Latinos in Hollywood, but I saw one where Edward James Olmos criticized white actors who portray non-white characters. I?m not sure if he was criticizing such white actors in general or just the specific ones who further stereotypes.

 

To criticize stereotypes is absolutely just. The example they showed of a white actor portraying Francisco Villa as a drunk womanizer is awful. And there were plenty more. But Olmos himself has played several ethnic stereotypes over the years.

 

However, if Olmos is saying that it?s wrong in general to pick white actors for non-white parts, I disagree with him. As long as an actor plays a role respectfully, it doesn?t matter what their ethnic background is.

 

Olmos himself is guilty of portraying a stereotypical figure: in ?Triumph of the Spirit? he played Gypsy, a slimy fixer who profits from anything he can, including genocide. It?s certainly not a positive portrayal of the Gypsy ethnicity because it plays into the ?money grubbing? stereotype. I would like to know whether or not Olmos regrets this role.

 

In ?Blade Runner,? Olmos portrays an angry, disgruntled East European. In ?Beverly Hills Chihuahua,? a movie wrought with Mexican and Latino stereotypes, Olmos portrays Diablo, who heads a criminal gang of dogs in Mexico.

 

As for respectful ethnic roles, Olmos, who is an American born of Mexican heritage, portrayed the Dominican dictator Trujillo in ?In the Time of Butterflies.? Trujillo was a brutal fascist, and Olmos portrays that correctly, even though a better movie could have been made about the Trujillo Era.

 

Back to the larger question, what does everyone think about whites portraying non-white roles? I imagine that the general consensus is that if it is done respectfully, the use of non-white actors is not racist.

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The first character that came to mind was Marlon Brando playing a Japanese (or Okinawan) in "Teahouse of the August Moon". It was bizarre, but funny. Today that wouldn't be done. Too politically incorrect.

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> {quote:title=mvblair wrote:}{quote}

> I havent seen all of the in between movies segments about this months theme, Latinos in Hollywood, but I saw one where Edward James Olmos criticized white actors who portray non-white characters. Im not sure if he was criticizing such white actors in general or just the specific ones who further stereotypes.

 

I don't think he was criticizing actors for playing the parts they are given. Here is the promo I believe you are referring to:

 

http://www.tcm.com/mediaroom/index/?o_cid=mediaroomlink&cid=240408

 

What I believe he is saying is that filmmakers shouldn't rule out, while still in the casting process, using actors from the culture/race/ethnicity that is being depicted. And as long as they're not being ruled out off-hand, as long as there are open auditions, that the role should still go to whichever actor who can do the best job, regardless of the actor's race/ethnicity.

 

At least that's what I think he is saying.

 

 

> Back to the larger question, what does everyone think about whites portraying non-white roles? I imagine that the general consensus is that if it is done respectfully, the use of non-white actors is not racist.

 

Going back to what he was saying, I don't think it is a matter of stuff being done respectfully (hopefully, that's already a given) as much as it is making sure you give all actors the opportunity, and that casting decisions don't give an unfair advantage to certain actors while overlooking their actual ability to play a part.

 

Comparing the way this is done today and the way it's been done through most of film history is not easy, because today you have a lot more diversity in society than ever before, and more chances for directors from all kinds of racial/ethnic backgrounds than ever before.

 

At a certain point in time, it might have seemed more attractive for filmmakers/producers to go with a well-known actor who happened to be Caucasian (as most of the major stars of the 20th century were) because they were already popular than to take a chance with an unknown Latino/Asian-American/African-American who might actually be able to do as good a job, or even better than a Caucasian actor.

 

(There were some decisions that obviously were racist, like not casting Lena Horne in the 1951 Show Boat for example).

 

Latino actors, for example, were very typically cast in very stereotypical roles, like Ricardo Montalban or Carmen Miranda, for example; and I think it was more rare to see someone like Ramon Novarro or Anthony Quinn being given a part that was not specifically Latino, or that was yet another race/ethnicity.

 

Someone like Rita Hayworth, on the other hand, seemed to make big it after being scrubbed of any obvious ethnicity. Other Latinos were, as far as I can tell, not generally regarded as such, including Margaret O'Brien and Yvette Mimieux, to name just a couple.

 

Even today, it's possible that Latino actors who were born or raised in the U.S. (like, say, Cameron Diaz, Jennifer Lopez, Rosario Dawson or Jessica Alba) generally enjoy more and better opportunities than those who were born elsewhere (Salma Hayek, Gael Garcia Bernal, Diego Luna, Andy Garcia, Antonio Banderas, etc.)

 

But, behind the camera, it's interesting that some of the most respected Latino directors are those born overseas - Pedro Almodovar, Guillermo del Toro, Alfonso Cuar?n, Alejandro Gonz?**** I??rritu, Luis Mandoki - while a U.S. Latino like Robert Rodr?guez doesn't enjoy the same kind of recognition.

 

 

> {quote:title=hamradio wrote:}{quote}

> Al Jolson

>

> cn00036739_large.jpg

 

I think that was a white actor playing a white performer who happens to perform in blackface sometimes.

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> {quote:title=HollywoodGolightly wrote:}{quote}

> Someone like Rita Hayworth, on the other hand, seemed to make big it after being scrubbed of any obvious ethnicity. Other Latinos were, as far as I can tell, not generally regarded as such, including Margaret O'Brien and Yvette Mimieux, to name just a couple.

 

Did I misunderstand? Are you saying Margaret O'Brien and Yvette Mimieux are Latinos? :-)

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> {quote:title=georgiegirl wrote:}{quote}

> Did I misunderstand? Are you saying Margaret O'Brien and Yvette Mimieux are Latinos? :-)

 

To the best of my knowledge, yes, both had a Latina mother. Since their last name wasn't Latino, they are not assumed to be.

 

Unless this info is incorrect, Margaret is half-Irish and half-Spanish; Yvette is half-French and half-Mexican.

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Margaret_O%27Brien

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yvette_Mimieux

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I find it an insult to my intelligence in most cases. Warner Oland playing Charlie Chan, along with Brando, Hepburn and many others who played Asian was bizarre to me. From my earliest recollections as a movie lover, I never understood it, though my mother tried to explain.

 

Spencer Tracey playing Portuguese I could live with, but Charleton Heston as a Mexican was another story. If nothing else, most whites playing ethnic roles gave me a good laugh at just how ridiculous they and the studios looked. The obvious bigotry in Hollywood is right there on the screen for all to see, and is often a sorry reminder of the way it was, but it's also a reminder of just how far we've come as a society.

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> {quote:title=georgiegirl wrote:}{quote}

> The obvious bigotry in Hollywood is right there on the screen for all to see, and is often a sorry reminder of the way it was, but it's also a reminder of just how far we've come as a society.

 

Just to play devil's advocate for a minute, there were quite a few non-U.S.-born actors who were doing quite nicely in the silent era, until sound came along. Should Hollywood be to blame for the fact that audiences wouldn't accept certain accents once talkies become the norm? ;)

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> {quote:title=HollywoodGolightly wrote:}{quote}

> Just to play devil's advocate for a minute, there were quite a few non-U.S.-born actors who were doing quite nicely in the silent era, until sound came along. Should Hollywood be to blame for the fact that audiences wouldn't accept certain accents once talkies become the norm? ;)

 

Garbo did okay with her accent, as did Gilbert Roland, Joseph Schildkraut and many others, so..

 

Of course 'we the people' were to blame, too, but the studios were so powerful they could have played a major part in turning it all around long ago. They had a hand in perpetuating the bigotry and the myths of certain ethnic groups.

 

It wasn't until I was an adult that the race, religion or creed of any actor crossed my mind. To me they were images on a screen and the characters they portrayed, as long as they were white. If they wore some other mask, it just didn't feel right and made their performance less enjoyable to me.

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I did not mean it that way

sorry you thought I was questioning someone's word

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> {quote:title=eanm wrote:}{quote}

> I did not mean it that way

> sorry you thought I was questioning someone's word

 

I didn't think you meant it that way, I didn't either. lol I just wanted to clarify I wasn't. Got that? lol

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Whoever is the best actor for the role, should get the job. I don't care what race they are or what race they're playing. When you do care, then it is no longer art. It's politics.

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Should Charles Boyer, a Frenchman, have played a Romanian (in HOLD BACK THE DAWN)? Or Robert Wagner, a German-American, played a Greek-American in BENEATH THE TWELVE-MILE REEF? Or Irish-American J. Carroll Naish played every ethnicity known to man (except, ironically enough, in nearly 500 films, an Irishman)?

 

The point is not -- acting ability aside -- the ethnicity of who plays the character, but how much innate dignity the actor invests in the performance. From a purely dramatic standpoint, all characters must have that sense of dignity, of their own place in the universe and justification for their subsequent actions, if those characters are to be multi-dimensional and believable. Without that dignity, character descends into caricature, a fate from which an actor's being of the same ethnicity as the character will not save it.

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yes, dignity of the performance is important. and yes we should be able to be color blind. but if the whole point of the story is about racial tension (i.e. Sayonara), then it doesn't make sense to have a really obvious white guy playing a supposed-to-be non-white guy (i.e. Ricardo Montalban in Sayonara----they were IN japan for pete's sake!!! there are asian male actors!!!). i don't mind Yul Brynner in the King and I, not only because he was fantatic and perfect for the job, but being part asian he isn't so painfully white that it's painful. so it's a tough call, and like all deep issues, there's no hard and fast rule.

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Basically I think acting is acting. The nature of acting is to portray all kinds of roles. I have never really minded actors going outside their ethnic or racial background because I think it's all baloney anyway.

 

As some have mentioned here, the reason for the portrayal is everything. If it's simply an actor playing a part that's ok. If the portrayal is meant to hurt or demean, that's something else again.

 

For that reason I have never been offended by the "black face" artistes of the early part of the 20th C because there was no offense meant. To me it was more offensive to see great talents like Hattie McDaniel and Louise Beavers play maids. Although they never played dumb. The black face schtick comes directly out of the minstrel show, which flourished for decades after the Civil War.

 

The list of "white" actors who have played "ethnic" is very long indeed. And when you consider the talent and intelligence of these performers it's hard to make a case of racial prejudice. Indeed one of the most endearing of these is Chico Marx as the language-fracturing Italian in the Marx Brothers films. I come from Italian stock and I have never been offended by this incredibly talented man.

 

In early films, many Jewish actors were often cast as Italians or whatever, because the public wouldn't accept a Jewish character. Paul Muni and Edward G. Robinson come to mind. In Robinson's autobiography (a great read) he talks frankly about always being cast as ANYTHING but an Anglo or a Jew. Even *A Hole in the Head* was re-written for an Italian family (rather than Jewish).

 

I guess what gets my goat is when someone says: ONLY A (blank) should play this role. Baloney. We need to get past the point where actors are seen as being Italian or Puerto Rican or Polish or whatever. Indeed, we need to get past the point where HUMANS are seen that way.

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>I don't think he was criticizing actors for playing the parts they are given. Here is the promo I believe you are referring to:

 

>http://www.tcm.com/mediaroom/index/?o_cid=mediaroomlink&cid=240408

 

Thanks for the link to the promo, HG. I just watched it again.

>What I believe he is saying is that filmmakers shouldn't rule out, while still in the casting process, using actors from the culture/race/ethnicity that is being depicted. And as long as they're not being ruled out off-hand, as long as there are open auditions, that the role should still go to whichever actor who can do the best job, regardless of the actor's race/ethnicity.

 

>At least that's what I think he is saying.

 

Yes, I think that's what he's saying too, except that he says it was a shame to have an Italian-American played a Chicano in "The Milagro Beanfield Wars." I think that Olmos is being extremely hypocritical because of his portrayal of Gypsy in "Triumph of the Spirit." I'd like to hear Olmos respond to that, although of course he never will.

 

(That being said, Olmos is one of my favorite actors. He's done a lot for Latinos and has played some wonderful science fiction roles).

 

I guess that some people are OK with people of one race playing the role of someone from another race as long as it looks authentic, which is odd, because when we're watching movies on or TV screens, there is almost no sense of realism. Like, we're perfectly OK with Indiana Jones jumping out of a burning building, but "heaver forbid" that the bloody-thirsty villain is played by someone of appropriate ethnicity.

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> {quote:title=drednm wrote:}{quote}

> I guess what gets my goat is when someone says: ONLY A (blank) should play this role. Baloney. We need to get past the point where actors are seen as being Italian or Puerto Rican or Polish or whatever. Indeed, we need to get past the point where HUMANS are seen that way.

 

That's very well, dred, but I think we must not lose sight of the fact that, historically, white actors have enjoyed more opportunities than their "ethnic" counterparts (and more recently, U.S.-born Latinos greater opportunities than foreign-born Latinos). So, yes, it would be great if the casting directors would look at people for their skills and ability rather than any other considerations.

 

> {quote:title=mvblair wrote:}{quote}

> Yes, I think that's what he's saying too, except that he says it was a shame to have an Italian-American played a Chicano in "The Milagro Beanfield Wars." I think that Olmos is being extremely hypocritical because of his portrayal of Gypsy in "Triumph of the Spirit." I'd like to hear Olmos respond to that, although of course he never will.

>

> (That being said, Olmos is one of my favorite actors. He's done a lot for Latinos and has played some wonderful science fiction roles).

 

It's not a comparison I would make, because I am pretty sure there are a lot more Latino actors in the U.S. than gypsy actors - but that's just a wild guess. ;)

 

It seems valid for EJO as a Latino to criticize the casting of a movie that is predominantly Latino in theme and cast. It would be equally valid, I suppose, if a gypsy actor were to criticize the casting process for Triumph of the Will.

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*That's very well, dred, but I think we must not lose sight of the fact that, historically, white actors have enjoyed more opportunities than their "ethnic" counterparts*

 

Well, why do you think that is?

 

I have my own thoughts on this and my thinking is that in the early days of Hollywood, minorities did not have the same rights or protections that the law now gives them.

 

I may be wrong here or very naive about this subject, but.....

 

Sure, you had a few African-Americans working in the industry as well as Latin-Americans, but on the whole many parts were given to White Americans, purely because that is what the industry at the time was made up of.

 

Pure and simple. So when people bring up the ideas that somehow actors from way back when and / or producers / or directors / or studios should be chastised for only allowing whites to present act as minorities, makes me wonder.

 

Those were the times. Times change, and like the rest of America, Hollywood was also slow to recognize that American minorities should also be used in film-making.

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> {quote:title=fxreyman wrote:}{quote}

> *That's very well, dred, but I think we must not lose sight of the fact that, historically, white actors have enjoyed more opportunities than their "ethnic" counterparts*

>

> Well, why do you think that is?

>

> I have my own thoughts on this and my thinking is that in the early days of Hollywood, minorities did not have the same rights or protections that the law now gives them.

 

I don't really think legal protections mean much in the industry. It's nearly impossible to prove discrimination, legally, unless someone in the casting office openly made very prejudiced remarks. More progress has been made simply by trying to change people's minds than anything else, I think. When minority groups point to the overall trends in TV and the movies to have less minority characters, proportionally, than the minority levels in the U.S. population, that also can help bring about change.

 

 

> I may be wrong here or very naive about this subject, but.....

>

> Sure, you had a few African-Americans working in the industry as well as Latin-Americans, but on the whole many parts were given to White Americans, purely because that is what the industry at the time was made up of.

>

 

Historically, the U.S. has been a melting pot, but sometimes it takes a long time for a population of newcomers to "melt in", so to speak. In hindsight, it's easy to oversimplify and say that the U.S. started out by being a white-dominated country. But, let's not forget, there has been all kinds of prejudices along the centuries, against the groups of most recent arrival. At various points in time, it could have been the Irish, or the Eastern Europeans, or Italians - groups that are now generally included among the "white population". More recently, the lines are beginning to blur in many cases because of the growing number of people with mixed heritage.

 

Having said that, it's true that white actors and filmmakers were a huge majority during Hollywood's "Golden Age" and it was not easy for everybody else to get the same kind of opportunities.

 

> Pure and simple. So when people bring up the ideas that somehow actors from way back when and / or producers / or directors / or studios should be chastised for only allowing whites to present act as minorities, makes me wonder.

 

Well I don't think the intent is to chastise as much to simply recognize the way things were, and to appreciate what it took for things to change over several decades.

 

> Those were the times. Times change, and like the rest of America, Hollywood was also slow to recognize that American minorities should also be used in film-making.

 

Hopefully, not just "be used" but given similar opportunities both in front of and also behind the cameras.

 

Just as important, I think, is to get away from the way we perceive so-called minorities, because in places like California, whites are already a minority; if current demographic trends continue, whites in the U.S. could be a minority of the population within 2-3 generations.

 

More importantly, for modern-day Hollywood, is the fact that global audiences already represent a bigger market, overall, than the North American audiences. And global audiences arguably want something distinctly American from Hollywood, but at the same time, one would imagine, they want more diversity in the characters being portrayed, except perhaps for period pieces.

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*"{I} don't mind Yul Brynner in the King and I, not only because he was fantatic and perfect for the job, but being part asian he isn't so painfully white that it's painful."* - "lp"

 

And that is one - and perhaps the biggest - reason *The King And I* is still viewed and admired all those years later while *Anna and the King of Siam* is nothing more than a curious relic of that same era.

 

To the OP who wrote -

*"Should whites portray non-white characters?"*

 

Not in the movies. Not in the 21^st Century.

 

Kyle In Hollywood

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I haven't seen "The Human Stain," but I'm inclined to believe those that Anthony Hopkins is not the person who should be playing a black man trying to pass as white. This reminds me of historian Barbara Fields' comment on the ideological nature of race, the way people think that a white women can have a black child, but that a black woman can't have a white child. One might think of other white actors who would be more appropriate than Hopkins for the role, but how many would think of black actors who'd be better?

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Does this thread applies to animated movies as well?

 

Avatar: The Last Airbender is a popular cartoon that is heavily influenced by Asian/Inuit cultures. A movie was recently announced based on the anime, featuring an all-white cast (but I can't tell if the movie will go through or not due to the "all white" controversy.) Hence the ensuing controversy ands people who claim that the culture of the Avatar world is essentially American and don?t see any Asian culture in Avatar.

 

Is this going to extremes in political correctness?

 

avatar%20casting.jpg

 

 

Avatar.jpg

 

avatarstills.jpg

 

Message was edited by: hamradio

 

Message was edited by: hamradio to somewhat clarify. I am mostly referring to the main cartoon theme. Will the movie reflect this is unknown at present.

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