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on "colorblind" casting

Casting of movies shouldn't be "colorblind" any more than treatment of other people should be "colorblind."

"Colorblindness" with regard to race is ridiculous. It doesn't--and shouldn't--exist. If you ignore someone's race, ethnicity, and/or culture, you're refusing to acknowledge a huge part of who they are. A "color blind" world tries to erase differences instead of embracing and celebrating them. We should treat everyone with equality, yes, but that doesn't mean we should treat everyone the same, with the same blandness. Our world is awesome because of its diversity.

We discussed "colorblindness" in my Multicultural Education class. A school that's entirely free from the effects of race sounds wonderful at first. But a "colorblind" classroom would not honor students' histories and heritage. A Korean-American student couldn't bring a hanbok to "Show and Tell." A Mexican-American student couldn't teach her classmates how to sing "Happy Birthday" in Spanish. Instead of learning pride in their race, no matter which race it is, students would be taught that race doesn't matter. But their race matters to them. It's part of who they are. And race matters to the rest of society, outside the classroom.

Treating everyone "the same" in a "colorblind" way often means treating people "neutrally." But what is our society's idea of neutral? Too often, the default is "white." It smacks nastily of assimilation.

My class was called "Multicultural Education" because the most equal, effective education is multicultural, not "colorblind." The best schools accept, honor, and include all cultures. Diversity is welcomed and encouraged.

I love how Stephen Colbert makes fun of the "colorblind" philosophy by pretending not to "see race." He draws attention to the fact that race isn't something you can ignore. Even though our society's idea of race is a social construct without concrete biological basis, it's deeply ingrained in our culture. Our notions of race have shaped our history and continue to affect our society.


You can't cast a movie "colorblind." The characters' races affect their history, their place in society, and their effect on the audience. Even if the film takes place in a fantasy world, on another planet, or in an alternate reality, that last point remains: A CHARACTER'S RACE WILL HAVE AN EFFECT ON THE AUDIENCE. Minority children and teens want to see themselves in the characters. White children's social views of minorities can be influenced by the portrayal of minorities in films. Even adults' ideas can be biased by movies.

And, NO, casting minorities as minor characters, sidekicks, and The Guy Who Heroically Sacrifices Himself for the Protagonist IS NOT GOOD ENOUGH. Minority children will never see themselves as movie heroes. White children will never see movie minorities as leads. And when will minority actors get cast consistently in solid, leading roles?

People who cast movies should not be "colorblind." They should pay close attention to the impact of race in the film.

Gene Roddenberry understood this. He purposely cast diverse actors in Star Trek because he envisioned a peaceful, diverse future for Earth. His series takes place in a fictional, science fiction environment, but he understood the power his portrayal of race had. He cast Nichelle Nichols as Lieutenant Uhura, a character that could probably have been played by an actress of any race. Casting a black actress in such an important role was rare for the 1960s, and having the character take part in television's first interracial kiss was enormously controversial. But Roddenberry wanted to make a statement, and the civil rights movement supported him. When Nichelle seriously considered leaving the show, Dr. Martin Luther King. Jr. told her she had to stay on because she was providing an important role model for young African Americans. RACE IN CASTING MAKES A HUGE SOCIAL IMPACT.

So here we are, after Star Trek, after the disastrous Airbender movie, having learned nothing. We hear the same arguments from Airbender in the new Hunger Games controvsery. "But the protagonist is racially ambiguous in the source material!" Maybe, but what about the impact of the actor's race? What about the racially exclusive casting calls? (It was even worse with The Hunger Games--they didn't even ask for "any other ethnicity."). What about the awkward racial dynamic created by casting minorities in certain secondary roles? (As villains chasing the white protagonists in Airbender, and now as The Minor Characters Who Die Heroically and/or Tragically to Make the Protagonist More Sympathetic in The Hunger Games).

Maybe movies tend to whitewash casts because they anticipate the majority of audiences will be white. Apparently, white people are only capable of liking and identifying with white actors? NOPE. We just want to see good movies.

So, NO, I am NOT content with Jennifer Lawrence's bronzer, even though she was approved by the author of the books. NO, casting Lenny Kravitz DOESN'T make everything better, fierce though he may be. Millions of impressionable people young and old will be seeing these films, and they'll be seeing a continued pattern of White People Important And In Charge and (Minorities Stay Off To The Side, Often Dying).



( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 25th, 2011 02:48 am (UTC)
It's kind of like how we used to cast white men in black men roles by painting them black and then having them play at being the stereotypical black man roles.

There are so many talented actors and actresses of varying backgrounds, colors, shapes and sizes. Even the Twilight series, for all the flack it's getting, did the right thing by casting Native Americans in Native American roles.

If we're going to get whites to play various colors, why don't we cast blacks or yellows or reds to play whites and paint them, too? But it only ever seems to go one way, and it's not just because we're white so our skin is easier to paint. That's never been a legitimate excuse.

Yeah, I agree. Completely unacceptable.
May. 28th, 2011 12:21 am (UTC)
Something else just occurred to me.

What good could Hollywood have done if they cast the film Prince of Persia with Iranian Americans or other Middle Easterners? Instead they slapped on fake tans to white men and put on British accents.

It irked me. Really bad.

Well, okay, if they had done a culturally-correct casting they would have to also tweak the plot a bit, too, BUT. One step at a time.
Jun. 7th, 2011 09:21 pm (UTC)
Exactly! Excellent points all.

I remember Airbender coming out at the same time as one of the Twilight movies and being shocked at how wonderful the Twilight casting was--not only with the Native American werewolves, but with Bella's school friends. If I remember correctly, none of her friends had specified races; most filmmakers would have made them all white. But at least half of them are minorities! I was impressed.

The "Prince of Persia" movie got a lot of flack at the time it came out, though not as much as Airbender. Those defending the casting tried to point out that Persia contained people of many different skin tones, but never suggested that ACTUAL light-skinned Middle Eastern actors be cast.
May. 26th, 2011 02:51 am (UTC)
/stands up and applauds. I completely agree and couldn't have said it any better myself. As an anthro kid, I'm constantly telling people that just because something is a social construct DOES NOT MEAN THAT IT ISN'T "REAL."

Also, did you know that Star Trek was only the first interracial kiss on American television? Britain had us beat and irrc, so did some South American country (Brazil? I don't remember) with a telenovela.
Jun. 7th, 2011 09:22 pm (UTC)
No, I didn't know that! Anything we can do, other countries can do better.
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )

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