Colorblind casting

Writing in Atlantic, Angelica Jade Bastién says colorblind casting—picking actors regardless of their race—causes more problems than it solves:

•It becomes an excuse for casting whites in non-white roles.

•Movies can put non-white characters in minor roles, save the big roles for white people, and still claim to be diverse.

•It doesn’t eliminate the racial issues in Hollywood, including the lack of minorities in studio positions or behind the camera: “It’s simply counterintuitive to argue that problems related to race can be fixed by ignoring race altogether.” What the movies need, instead, is a middle ground “between stories where race is everything and stories where it’s not even an afterthought.

Erik Loomis at LGM agrees with Bastién and argues the real issue of colorblind casting is that it makes the world look post-racial and tolerant, and therefore makes it easier for white liberals to ignore racial issues. And that it simply doesn’t make sense in a world where race is a big issue to cast roles without regard to race.

I’ve got to say I strongly disagree. The real issue of colorblind casting is that for decades, any role that wasn’t specifically written for a black guy (or Japanese woman, Latino kid, handicapped man, etc.) was white by default: non-white actors need not apply. One comic-book writer/artist team said they wouldn’t write/draw a black character into a story unless his being black was somehow relevant—otherwise it was just tokenism.

jungleaction06That’s a shitty deal for black (or Hispanic, or Asian) actors, who get shut out of a lot of roles, particularly the major ones, which are usually white. It’s a shitty deal for minority viewers who want to see themselves on-screen. That’s why Martin Luther King encouraged Nichelle Nichols to stick with the role of Uhura, a role that could easily have been done by a white character. And why, as noted at the link, the first black woman in space cited Uhura as her inspiration. The late Dwayne McDuffy has written in Marvel’s hardback collection of the 1970s Black Panther series how much it stunned him to see a black super-hero, a monarch, and a world where all the characters—hero, villain, henchmen, innocent bystanders—were all black (cover by Rich Buckler, rights with current holder). That’s not a small thing. Or consider The Force Awakens, which Bastién discusses quite a bit: would the world be better off if Finn and Poe were both white (and back when New Hope came out, I’m sure they would have been)? If white liberals get a distorted perception of race from seeing such casting, that’s not good, but I think it’s relatively insignificant.

And as Foz Meadows has written in multiple blog posts, she enjoys seeing a world where queerness isn’t demonized and bullied, and women aren’t treated like crap for being girls. For example, this post on Teen Wolf and what Meadows sees as an alternative to stereotypical masculine/jock-bonding/homophobe behavior (I have no opinion on this point myself, as I’ve never seen the show, but it’s a good post).

I agree with Bastién that colorblind casting doesn’t solve the bigger picture of discrimination in Hollywood, but I never thought it was going to. I completely disagree that when white guys get put into nonwhite parts, colorblind casting is at fault. Most articles and blog posts I’ve read in favor of colorblindness distinguish that from “racebending,” putting white characters into nonwhite roles such as the live-action Avatar movie or Prince of Persia. And that kind of casting long predates the colorblind variety. A lot of lead Asian roles have gone to whites over the years: Boris Karloff, Christopher Lee and Peter Sellers have all played Fu Manchu for instance (and Sellers did it in the 1980s). David Lean was apparently fine in 1984 with casting Alec Guinness as an Indian sage in A Passage to India. Likewise Hollywood slotted blacks into minor supporting roles for years, long before colorblind casting was a thing.

I agree it’s not the solution. But I believe strongly it’s an important step.

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3 Comments

Filed under Movies, Politics

3 responses to “Colorblind casting

  1. I imagine others have already spoken about this more eloquently, and this being The Internet, someone will disagree, but I thought The Martian did a great job of being diverse. The movie even more so than the book. Plus, it blew the Bechdel test out of the water. For that and many reasons, it’s my favorite movie in many years.

  2. I missed it (with being sick last month, we missed a lot) but I’m looking forward to seeing it eventually.

  3. Pingback: So what constitutes good representation, anyway (#SFWApro) | Fraser Sherman's Blog

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