Thursday, December 23, 2010

Herr Wozzeck Comments On: Racial Casting

Okay, so I'm going to comment on a piece of movie news that's come up this week as we head towards the end of the year.

Well... for those of you not in the know, the first trailer for Thor was released a couple weeks back. It looks like fun, we get to see some screentime from Natalie Portman...

...and the first thing that gets people in a tizzy is a black guy.

*Warning: rant impending*

Apparently, there are some people who are taking enormous issue with casting Idris Elba as Heimdall. According to these people, casting a black guy as someone who is supposed to be a white guy by definition is a bit egregious. Why? I don't know.

But when you get the hyperconservatives on it? You get stuff like this:

Yes, I'm not kidding. There are a group of people who are willingly going around telling people not to watch this movie, soley because of Idris Elba's casting.

And it's not even on topic anymore; now, it's become a website where they insult liberals for their ideals. And I attempted to comment tearing their argument apart: it got deleted by the mods of this website. So they don't even want to hear anything the liberals might want to say, no matter how good their point is. And for all the liberals that attack them? They all point to them being the same people who attacked the casting of The Last Airbender from last summer.

But their biggest sin has to be this: they say stupid shit like the following:

"Both authors immediately resort to infantile name-calling rather than making their own arguments. They know they can’t win based on the facts!"

Yeah, right. I find it hard to take seriously when there are a few facts you can't even get right:

-They cite the Black Panther TV show as being produced on Black Entertainment Television-- despite the fact that the show in question hasn't even gotten an air date yet!
-The entire website is based on the assumption that 'Europeans' are the same everywhere in Europe. Now, I don't know how true this is, but I can tell you that I took a general tour of Europe once, and I can tell you without a shred of doubt that there are major differences between all the major European cultures.
-Avatar: The Last Airbender was an ANIMATED TV SERIES!! How the hell could you fuck up a simple fact like that?

It's stupidity like this that really makes me hate websites like this. They claim that 'racism is a term they use when you can't win' when they're engaging in almost the exact same behavior as the people they're attacking--with the same allegations, no less! And when someone points it out? They don't wanna hear it!

I can't begin to tell you how much this pisses me off.

*End rant*

But... you didn't come here to listen to me rant about how much I hate hyper-conservative America, so I'll get back to the actual question Idris Elba's casting brings up: should we be more racially accurate?

The answer... is a bit more complicated than yes or no.

The problem is that people have always been casting actors of different ethnicities for their roles. In a way, they may always do it, from here to the end of human civilization. One is pressed to remember the term 'black-face', in which white actors were covered from head to toe in black make-up to play black people. This originated from a time before black actors were ever heard of, so it was driven by necessity. It was still very racist, however, and once black actors rose to prominence the practice fizzled out.

And in Hollywood? Oh, people have always been casting people of the wrong ethnicity/nationality, so to say that it's anything new is ridiculous. I'll go down some old movies and see what I can come up with:

-South Pacific: has a French plantation owner and two Polynesian women. The French guy is played by an Italian actor (Rossano Brazzi). The two Polynesian women are played by a black actress (Juanita Hall) and a French actress (France Nuyen, who, granted, was half Vietnamese, so it's a little more accurate than most of the casting choices we're talking about here).
-The King and I: takes place in Siam, thus incurring asian influences. All the major Asian characters? Played by a Russian (Yul Brenner), a Brit (Martin Benson), two Americans (Patrick Adiarte and Carlos Rivas) and a Puerto Rican (Rita Moreno).
-Lawrence of Arabia: takes place in the Middle East, and has a whole group of Arabian characters, fictional and non-fictional. And a lot of the major ones apart from T.E. Lawrence are Arabian. Exactly one of these was played by a guy who was actually Middle Eastern (Omar Sharif). The rest? A Brit (Alec Guinness), an American (Anthony Quinn), a Puerto Rican (Jose Ferrér), an Anglo-Brazilian (Michel Ray), and a Bollywood actor (I.S. Johar).

So the problem is that people have always been casting people into ethnically/racially incorrect parts, and much more egregiously, too.

And I don't see a single person yelling about any of the casting choices I just mentioned. Not even myself, granted: I grew up with South Pacific and The King and I, so it's tough to yell at them when I see them from the nostalgia angle (though it's also a little easier to forgive some of the ethnically incorrect casting in those two movies by the fact that Yul Brenner and Juanita Hall both originated their respective roles on stage). As for Lawrence of Arabia, I couldn't care less: the performances were all good.

And that's the key thing that I think everybody is forgetting here: were the performances good? If so, fine; does it ultimately matter what ethnicity the actor playing the character is? If it's a good performance, it's a good performance, and that should be the end of the story.

So my thoughts on casting Idris Elba as a person traditionally thought of as a white person? I say, give the guy a chance. All we have of Idris Elba's performance at the moment are a few seconds of a trailer. We won't know if his performance is good until the final product comes out. I say, give it a shot.

And if you talk about the casting of Idris Elba as Heimdall as if it's the next big political issue in America (*ahem* Ian Huyett, I'm talking to you), you need to be hung, drawn, and quartered. Especially if you can't be bothered to look up your facts about the origins of a certain Nickelodeon TV show.

This is Herr Wozzeck. I'll see you guys next time...

...with announcements.


Right. Now that I've got your attention...

I won't be able to review many more movies this year. Why? I'm home on break. So consider HWR to be on break for the winter. So technically, this is the end of the year for HWR.

It's been a great full year for HWR, with a lot of really, really good movies, and a lot of mildly bad ones as well. I'll be providing opinions on the end of the year in the form of countdown lists, and hopefully you'll stick around for that.

So thank you all for a great year of reviews, and you'll be hearing from me with the countdowns soon.

P.S. And if you want a really freaky casting decision? The actress who played Aphrodite in the original 1982 version of Clash of the Titans was a woman... who used to be a man. I'll let that sink in for a bit.

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