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Casting different races in Hollywood: Is it right?

Casting different races in Hollywood: Is it right?

Casting different races in Hollywood: Is it right?
October 11
14:37 2016

“Mulan,” a live-action remake of the 1998 Disney classic, has been scheduled for a winter 2018 release. Based upon a legendary Chinese ballad, the 1998 film featured an impressive cast of acting talents, including Ming-Na Wen, Donny Osmond, Pat Morita, Eddie Murphy and George Takei.

Ming-Na was perfectly suited for the title role, even though it was an animated production. It’s not like we’re talking about a live-action production where we get to see the actors, rather than just her voice. Once the new “Mulan” filmmakers begin shooting, the actress getting to don the titular costume should reflect the character from an ethnically accurate perspective.

Should casting directors cast actors in roles where the talent personifies the part perfectly? Should fictional characters be treated in the same way as historical figures? No one in their right mind would suggest casting Vin Diesel as Miles Davis. But for the Miles Davis biopic, “Miles Ahead,” Don Cheadle would have been unable to obtain funding if he had not cast a white co-star. This is only one example of Hollywood’s problem with diversity.

Certain people would point to “Hamilton: An American Musical” as the quintessential example of historically inaccurate casting. “Hamilton,” created by actor, composer and playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda, cast almost solely black and Hispanic actors for white figures. In fact, the only ethnically accurate character is King George III.

“One of our overarching goals with the show is [that] you want to eliminate any distance between your audience and your story,” Miranda said. “Let’s not pretend this is a textbook. Let’s make the founders of our country look like what our country looks like now.”

Diversity in film matters since all art reflects real life in some capacity. Tokenism, the representation of a societal group by a single character, is not acceptable.

In another bold move, Zendaya was cast as Mary Jane Watson in “Spider-Man: Homecoming.” Is there an issue with the casting choice? In each “Spider-Man” film where the character Mary Jane Watson has appeared, she has always been portrayed by a white actress until now. The casting of a biracial singer has caused a rift in the fandom.

When casting roles, I typically point to the source material as the guild for selecting the optimum acting talent. There is, however, a significant caveat that pertains to the creative mind which originated the character.

Since Stan Lee, the creator of Spider-Man, does not have an issue with Zendaya being cast as Peter Parker’s girlfriend, no one else should. Lee recently endorsed Zendaya as Mary Jane. During an interview with Post Media, Lee said, “If she is as good an actress as I hear she is, I think it’ll be absolutely wonderful.”

“The color of their skin doesn’t matter, their religion doesn’t matter,” he stated. “All that matters is that this [is] the right person for the role.”

And if anyone is qualified to determine how comic book characters are represented, it’s Stan Lee.

This is not the first time the re-imagining of a character has impacted ethnic representation in a production. In 2003, the mini series “Battlestar Galactica” saw the make of the cast change significantly from that which was seen in the 1978 original. The Colonel Tigh of the 1978 version was portrayed by black actor Terry Carter; whereas his 2003 counterpart was played by white actor Michael Hogan.

The lack of diversity in film production is by no means a new phenomenon. Serious casting errors have compromised the quality of many films. “The Conqueror,” considered one of the worst films of the ’50s, suffered greatly from casting John Wayne as Mongol dictator Genghis Khan.

Even if characters are fictional, source material should always be considered when casting.

Featured Illustration: Samuel Wiggins

About Author

Shain E. Thomas

Shain E. Thomas

Born in Sacramento, University of North Texas graduate student Shain E. Thomas is an actor, social historian and a freelance entertainment journalist. Shain, a member of National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association (NLGJA) and the UNT chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), is interested in studying Antebellum American history.

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1 Comment

  1. JML
    JML March 10, 06:21

    “Let’s not pretend this is a textbook. Let’s make the founders of our country look like what our country looks like now.”

    No, let’s be ethnically accurate, you dunce!

    Reply to this comment

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