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Race in the Movies


LawrenceA
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I was inspired by the I Just Watched thread to start this conversation about depictions of race in films past and present. That conversation centered on Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing and the casting of Jennifer Jones as the Eurasian lead character. What do you feel about the casting of white/European actors and actresses as non-white/European characters?

 

At one time, this was a part of a lot of leading performers credentials, the ability to play Chinese/Japanese/Mexican/any other ethnicity, even down to the dreaded "blackface". "Yellowface" and "brownface" have continued to be acceptable much longer than "blackface", although none are really acceptable now.

 

The present trend in racial casting has been switching previously portrayed or depicted characters that were white with actors or actresses of color. The comic book film has become the cash-cow of the film industry, but the source material was woefully lacking in easily-recognizable characters that were non-whites. The result has been switching the race and sometimes gender of characters to make them more diverse.

 

One other, more troubling example of this, was the casting in the not-yet-released Marvel film Dr. Strange. The lead character is a surgeon who seeks guidance from an old mystical wizard known as the Ancient One, depicted in the comic books as an elderly Tibetan man. When it came time to cast for the film, the producers went with 56 year old white English actress Tilda Swinton. When Marvel was questioned on this decision, they said at first that they felt the traditional depiction was a vaguely racist stereotype, and they wanted to be more progressive. When pressed further, Marvel claimed that they were afraid of upsetting the potential Chinese audience with the positive character of a Tibetan (this could be a whole other topic, about Hollywood pandering to overseas markets becoming more and more prevalent). However, the script shows that the character's nationality has already been changed to Nepalese, so the political reasons disappear. Why then the race change?

 

Please feel free to discuss this, and any other items about racial depictions in films past and present.

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Well Lawrence, there's always your boy(and present avatar) Clark here doin' this very thing in the movie TO PLEASE A LADY, ya know...

 

Clark-Gable-in-To-Please-a-Lady-clark-ga

 

***edit to follow***

 

Oops...sorry. Wrong kind'a "race" topic here, huh. Never mind then.

 

I guess this'll teach me to read these OPs a little more closely before I post somethin' from now on, huh!

 

(...sorry...just couldn't resist)

 

;)

Edited by Dargo
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First one can't compare the casting of actors during the studio-era with casting today.   The studio-era system was a very structured system.   Casting decisions were based mainly on the actors the studio already had under contract.   Seeking actors NOT under contact was done only rarely (loan-outs and associated trading between studios).    This is the primary reason that explains actor \ actress pairings (as well as the inverse;  why actor X never made a film with actress Y).

 

Given the above it was just NOT cost effective for a studio to hire a race specific actor NOT under contract just to play in a film.  In addition those actors had little to none audience name recognition.     In addition American audience, especially in certain parts of the country,  wouldn't have accepted a non-white actor.   That is a sad reality of American history (e.g. see the Burns film Jazz) but it is what it is. 

 

Today,   there are many fine actors,  with solid box office credential of all stripes that can play the parts as called for.   With actors contracts often being on a 'per film' basis the sound financial reasons that applied to the studio era don't apply today.   

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Lawrence, the Chinese market is huge for current films, especially action movies. A friend had written a screenplay for a thriller in which the villain was Chinese; he was told in a potential greenlight meeting this was unacceptable for commercial reasons. It is not surprising that a sympathetic Tibetan character was changed to another nationality.

 

Here's a fun trivia question. What actress made only two well-known films (she had earlier made a few which were not widely distributed), in both of which she played characters of a different race?

 

Hint: the time frame is 1950s-early 60s.

 

 

Susan Kohner is an intelligent guess, but wrong.

 

 

Hint: the actress played both of these roles on Broadway.

 

 

Hint: They were both musicals.

 

 

Answer: Juanita Hall, an African-American who played Bloody Mary, a Polynesian woman in SOUTH PACIFIC and a Chinese-American woman in FLOWER DRUM SONG. (Earlier in her career she had made a few race movies.)

 

 

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One other, more troubling example of this, was the casting in the not-yet-released Marvel film Dr. Strange. The lead character is a surgeon who seeks guidance from an old mystical wizard known as the Ancient One, depicted in the comic books as an elderly Tibetan man. When it came time to cast for the film, the producers went with 56 year old white English actress Tilda Swinton. When Marvel was questioned on this decision, they said at first that they felt the traditional depiction was a vaguely racist stereotype, and they wanted to be more progressive. When pressed further, Marvel claimed that they were afraid of upsetting the potential Chinese audience with the positive character of a Tibetan (this could be a whole other topic, about Hollywood pandering to overseas markets becoming more and more prevalent). However, the script shows that the character's nationality has already been changed to Nepalese, so the political reasons disappear. Why then the race change?

 

Well, that was less controversial than director Cameron Crowe's decision to cast the naturally blond Emma Stone as an Asian-American in the 2015 film "Aloha."  The howls of protest may have helped seal the movie's fate. It tanked, and Crowe wound up apologizing for the miscasting. Stone has even expressed regret for taking the role.

 

aloha-emma-stone.jpg

Stone as Allison Ng in "Aloha"

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You have to look at the times the productions were made and society at that time. As far as what happen in the past, you can't change the past so I just look at it is "this is how life was back then".

 

But, today is a new day. With this particular case, Marvel has been very proactive when it comes to diversity. Because of their track record, within the context of all their castings past and present, I don't see too much of a problem with this casting.

 

On the other hand, there is another casting controversy brewing. In the production Ghost in the Shell (2017), a live action version of a popular anime from long ago, they are casting Scarlett Johansson in the lead role. Last time I checked, she was not Asian. If that wasn't bad enough, they actually considered using technology to make her look "more Asian" whatever that means. So they are already admitting there is an issue with this casting. When I think of a Caucasian being made to look Asian, the only image that pops into my mind is John Wayne as The Conqueror , probably the most doomed production ever.

 

Its not as if there is a shortage of Asian actors. And there are many movies and tv shows starring Asians that are doing well. So I don't see the reason to open yourself up to so much criticism by this casting when it wasn't necessary. There was a time when if a Caucasian wasn't either the star or at least a major player in a film, it was thought that Caucasians wouldn't watch the film. I would think that time has passed a long time ago. But, I guess not.  That goes back to when if there was a black person in a scene, the white southerners wouldn't watch it. That's archic thinking. And I think this is also.

 

Film adaptions have always made changes to increase box office. How many films do we know where the male star is too old for the role. Not believable to be with the female love interest ? They play around with ages all the time. Races too if it will increase ticket sales. I just don't think this is sound strategy in 2016. Today people want to see on the screen what they see in life. Different people from different walks of life. And casting should reflect that.

 

Another current release Gods of Egypt (2016) bombed tremendously a few weeks ago. One major complaint was that all the "gods" were white. As I look at the map, Egypt is in the middle east, north east corner of Africa. Not Europe. Yet the majority of the cast is European with English accents. Today's public rejected that. How many more productions have to fail before they understand that this is a new day ?

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You have to look at the times the productions were made and society at that time. As far as what happen in the past, you can't change the past so I just look at it is "this is how life was back then".

 

But, today is a new day. With this particular case, Marvel has been very proactive when it comes to diversity. Because of their track record, within the context of all their castings past and present, I don't see too much of a problem with this casting.

 

It may be a new day, but people apparently are always going to criticize casting choices -- whether it's Nicolas Cage as Superman or Will Ferrell as an aging Ronald Reagan. Of course, neither Cage nor Ferrell ever made it to the finish line.

 

Zoe Saldana is catching holy hell at the moment because she's starring in a film biography of the late singer Nina Simone. Saldana, who was born in Queens, is the product of a Dominican father and a Puerto Rican mother. Her complexion is lighter than Simone's, and so she has had to be made up to look more like the singer. As a result, there have been vocal expressions of disapproval from Simone's family and her legions of fans.  

 

simonandsaldana.jpg?quality=90&strip=all

A screen biography of Simone (left) is headlined by Saldana as the late singer

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Well, that was less controversial than director Cameron Crowe's decision to cast the naturally blond Emma Stone as an Asian-American in the 2015 film "Aloha."  The howls of protest may have helped seal the movie's fate. It tanked, and Crowe wound up apologizing for the miscasting. Stone has even expressed regret for taking the role.

 

 

Stone as Allison Ng in "Aloha"

 

Clearly Stone was a poor casting choice but there is no such 'race' as Asian-American.    Ng is mixed raced;  Hawaiian-Chinese-Swedish.   (I'm assuming 'Hawaiian' means Hawaiian native \ Indian).    

 

Mixed race folks often don't have a dominant look;  i.e.  one parent's racial make-up dominants.   Therefore I don't see the need to cast an actor that was really the same racial make-up as Ng but just someone that portrayed her overall look.     e.g. my sister who is Japanese-German could have played the part. 

 

e.g. If there was a film about Tiger Woods I could see casting an actor that was mostly African even though Tiger is half-Asian,  and 1 quarter African and White. 

 

PS: Just read your post about Zoe Saldana playing Nina Simone.    Kind of makes the point I'm making.  Yea, no way to please all the people all the time! 

Edited by jamesjazzguitar
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e.g. If there was a film about Tiger Woods I could see casting an actor that was mostly African even though Tiger is half-Asian,  and 1 quarter African and White. 

 

Or "Cablanasian," as Tiger calls himself.

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It may be a new day, but people apparently are always going to criticize casting choices -- whether it's Nicolas Cage as Superman or Will Ferrell as an aging Ronald Reagan. Of course, neither Cage nor Ferrell ever made it to the finish line.

 

Zoe Saldana is catching holy hell at the moment because she's starring in a film biography of the late singer Nina Simone. Saldana, who was born in Queens, is the product of a Dominican father and a Puerto Rican mother. Her complexion is lighter than Simone's, and so she has had to be made up to look more like the singer. As a result, there have been vocal expressions of disapproval from Simone's family and her legions of fans.  

 

simonandsaldana.jpg?quality=90&strip=all

A screen biography of Simone (left) is headlined by Saldana as the late singer

 

That's just uninformed people who don't understand history. This goes to another topic and I don't want to derail this thread. But, Nina wouldn't have minded a bit. I've seen the trailer and she did a fine job.

 

And you have to be careful about internet complaints. Online, people will debate if water is wet if it will get page views and publicity.

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That's just uninformed people who don't understand history. This goes to another topic and I don't want to derail this thread. But, Nina wouldn't have minded a bit. I've seen the trailer and she did a fine job.

 

But this is the era of the social media mavens who have an instant opinion on just about everything. It makes me wonder if Siskel and Ebert would have ever become national figures in this climate. Today, everyone's a critic!

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I'm beginning to wonder if the 

 

Then there is the upcoming biopic where the guy on the right portrays the guy on the left.

 

_3b03b14a-c57d-11e5-b910-0fdc132e0d1d.jp

 

This just can't go well :lol:

 

 

No, no! The guy on the right (Joseph Fiennes, brother of Ralph) would be playing the guy pictured below:

 

singer-michael-j.jpeg

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Then there is the upcoming biopic where the guy on the right portrays the guy on the left.

 

 

 

This just can't go well :lol:

 

It is my understanding the guy on the right only plays Jackson after he has received one of his whitening treatments!

 

But really,   Jackson had so many surgeries and other 'processes' performed on him to transform his look that finding an actor to play him could be difficult.   The make-up artist for that film needs to get a hefty bonus. 

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Then there is the upcoming biopic where the guy on the right portrays the guy on the left.

 

_3b03b14a-c57d-11e5-b910-0fdc132e0d1d.jp

 

This just can't go well :lol:

 

Is it only me, or does anybody else around here think Mr. Fiennes would be a better pick to play another pop superstar who very recently died in Minneapolis???

 

(...disregarding the difference in race here, of course)

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I'm beginning to wonder if Sir Alec Guinness -- who played his share of ethnic characters during a celebrated career -- could ever have gotten away with it today.

 

0317b232e157a207c17a8613328f976b.jpg

Guinness as Fagin in Sir David Lean's 1948 screen version of "Oliver Twist"

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Then there is the upcoming biopic where the guy on the right portrays the guy on the left.

 

_3b03b14a-c57d-11e5-b910-0fdc132e0d1d.jp

 

This just can't go well :lol:

I met Michael Jackson once in 1984. Now I don't know what part of his life this movie will portray, but none of those photographs on this thread look the way that he looked when I met him in 1984 at the beginning of the Victory Tour with his brothers.

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I met Michael Jackson once in 1984. Now I don't know what part of his life this movie will portray, but none of those photographs on this thread look the way that he looked when I met him in 1984 at the beginning of the Victory Tour with his brothers.

 

Did he look like this?

 

Victory-Tour-michael-jackson-concerts-27

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Fagin and his various portrayals, and the resulting cries of antisemitism, always confused me as a child. Growing up in my area, we had no Jewish families around that I knew of, no synagogues, so Jewishness wasn't really on my radar, so to speak. When I saw Fagin, I just thought he was a character, and wasn't meant to denigrate a whole race of people. This brings up another thorny issue: when does a negative portrayal of a character in fiction cross over into a perceived negative portrayal of that entire social group? How often has a villainous character been black, Asian, Latino, gay, religious, etc etc, and then there are cries that said villainous character was an attack on ALL people of that particular social group? How often is such an accusation overblown nonsense, and how often is it justified?

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Fagin and his various portrayals, and the resulting cries of antisemitism, always confused me as a child. Growing up in my area, we had no Jewish families around that I knew of, no synagogues, so Jewishness wasn't really on my radar, so to speak. When I saw Fagin, I just thought he was a character, and wasn't meant to denigrate a whole race of people. This brings up another thorny issue: when does a negative portrayal of a character in fiction cross over into a perceived negative portrayal of that entire social group? How often has a villainous character been black, Asian, Latino, gay, religious, etc etc, and then there are cries that said villainous character was an attack on ALL people of that particular social group? How often is such an accusation overblown nonsense, and how often is it justified?

 

"Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah," anyone?

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It is my understanding the guy on the right only plays Jackson after he has received one of his whitening treatments!

 

But really,   Jackson had so many surgeries and other 'processes' performed on him to transform his look that finding an actor to play him could be difficult.   The make-up artist for that film needs to get a hefty bonus. 

They should have Janet Jackson portray him.

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Hi, I'm joining this thread late and I have only read the first two and the last two comments before posting here, so if I repeat anything anyone has said, sorry.

 

 

I have a horrible time watching blackface in any movie even when I know it was standard practice in movie musicals.

Of course, James Cagney refused to do blackface and was put on suspension because of it. This did not bother him.

 

Sometimes, the ability to speak other languages fluently was the reason for people being cast in other ethnic backgrounds. The best example of this is the late Egyptian actor Omar Sharif. Omar could speak 9 different languages fluently and therefore played all kinds of ethnic backgrounds.

 

When it came to interracial touching or dancing in movies, it was okay for Anthony Quinn (mostly Mexican except for 1/4? Irish) or Ricardo Montalban (all Mexican) to dance with black actresses.  But not Frank Sinatra.

 

I try to keep in mind the historical context of what the studio system allowed.

 

As for current films, well, I am not in comic book movies except for Batman, and my favourite batman of all time is;

 

Adam West.

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Fagin and his various portrayals, and the resulting cries of antisemitism, always confused me as a child. Growing up in my area, we had no Jewish families around that I knew of, no synagogues, so Jewishness wasn't really on my radar, so to speak. When I saw Fagin, I just thought he was a character, and wasn't meant to denigrate a whole race of people. This brings up another thorny issue: when does a negative portrayal of a character in fiction cross over into a perceived negative portrayal of that entire social group? How often has a villainous character been black, Asian, Latino, gay, religious, etc etc, and then there are cries that said villainous character was an attack on ALL people of that particular social group? How often is such an accusation overblown nonsense, and how often is it justified?

Well, this goes back to my issues of The Godfather.

 

By the way, it was not until after he died did I find out that Brando was French, not Italian, and that Brando looked better on a markee than Brandeux.

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