If they cast a white dude as MLK Jr. or Malcom X, I would be offended. And I’m white.
There’s a fine line on this issue, but I think if you’re going to be depicting historical events, you should do your best in casting to keep it real. If you can’t do that, then find a different story to tell.
Andrea Arnold just finished an adaptation of Wuthering Heights that casts black people in key roles. This works just fine because Wuthering Heights, though a classic novel, doesn’t hae the same significance as a historical event or person. You can screw around with a cultural artifact or myth, but not so much with actual history.
Jazz — I can understand the idea of casting for the sake of commercialism being yuck, I’m not in favor of that. But come on, Keanu playing someone half-Japanese is not as far fetched as a white guy playing MLK. Or a black guy playing JFK.
So, do you really think it right to be offended by a movie before you have even seen it? How can you judge that Keanu is playing some role of the white guy being king before you’ve even seen the movie? Maybe they are trying to do something different with it?
My uncle lived in Hawaii for a while, he used to love seeing musicals and opera. He saw Oklahoma cast with native Hawaiians, the whole cast. My uncle was a bit old fashioned (read grew up in an era of racism) and found this off-putting, because Oklahoma is a pretty white musical. But maybe that spoke more about him than the fact that they took a chance and decided on doing it differently, with NO white people in it?
This may have nothing to do with Keanu’s situation, but on the other hand IF he were not Keanu, would people still object to a person who is not Japanese playing a role that was traditionally Japanese? What do you think?
I’m trying to get at the more subtle reasons here, if there are any, to such an objection. But certainly not accusing anyone in particular of racism, just stating that we all have a tendency to mistrust the telling of a certain story when the characters are “messed with,” and it gets to be particularly problematic when race, religion or sex comes into the picture.
“Andrea Arnold just finished an adaptation of Wuthering Heights that casts black people in key roles. This works just fine because Wuthering Heights, though a classic novel, doesn’t hae the same significance as a historical event or person. You can screw around with a cultural artifact or myth, but not so much with actual history.”
No literature critic nor any professor, academic, whathaveyou ever claimed though about the “whiteness” of certain characters of Wuthering Heights, especially the role of Heathcliff, unless of course you’re NOT assuming Nathan that Wuthering Heights’ lead character is a white character and since it’s a work of fiction, it’s no big deal that a black is the lead this time around when in fact, there’s not a single word in Bronte’s book that implies Heathcliff is of a CERTAIN COLOR. That’s a shame if you’re assuming that because you seem to be offended by a white boy playing a major black figure. Why would you assume Bronte’s book ISN’T about a color lead character?
Seriously, some threads and some fucking opinions around here are as delusional as the world financial order that’s been imposed by the Big Nations.
I can understand the idea of casting for the sake of commercialism being yuck, I’m not in favor of that. But come on, Keanu playing someone half-Japanese is not as far fetched as a white guy playing MLK. Or a black guy playing JFK.
Not it’s more far fetched because they created this half white half japanese character and included him in the story just to be able to cast the white actor.
How can you judge that Keanu is playing some role of the white guy being king before you’ve even seen the movie? Maybe they are trying to do something different with it?
He’s the main character and he’s the leader of the good guys.
“He’s the main character and he’s the leader of the good guys.”
From what I’ve read about the film it’s actually Hiroyuki Sanada who plays the character who is the leader of the 47.
“there’s not a single word in Bronte’s book that implies Heathcliff is of a CERTAIN COLOR.”
It’s pretty much stated by Lockwood in Chapter One that he’s darker-complexioned than what Lockwood is accustomed to: “But Mr. Heathcliff forms a singular contrast to his abode and style of living. He is a dark- skinned gipsy in aspect . . .”.
“If they cast a white dude as MLK Jr. or Malcom X, I would be offended”
Yeah, I think that this specifically would be problematic because of the legacy of minstrelsy,etc. What if the filmmakers were black and had a specific artistic goal in mind when casting this way?
Well if that’s the case it blows the whole objection of there being a white guy playing a 1/2 Japanese guy in this movie, because he does NOT fit the “I AM HEROIC WHITE MAN HEAR ME ROAR” theory about this movie that ties in with the general statement of the original post.
So what then, is the big objection, really? Outside of casting Keanu, who is not the most amazing actor anyway?? They had their reasons, and he’s acting with a Japanese cast, do you think the rest of the cast is hating him for being included in the movie? Are they shunning him as the white man who will distract everyone from the rest of the actors and the plot? The only guy anyone will remember when all is said and done? Keanu, really? Do ya think?
You’re aware that Tom Cruise’s character wasn’t technically the leader in The Last Samurai right? Doesn’t change the fact that the focus was on him.
do you think the rest of the cast is hating him for being included in the movie? Are they shunning him as the white man who will distract everyone from the rest of the actors and the plot? Do ya think?
They’re too busy counting the money they’ll receive and the opportunities they’ll get after appearing in a hollywood flick.
“You’re aware that Tom Cruise’s character wasn’t technically the leader in The Last Samurai right?”
Yes. You said “leader.” I think we’ve covered the “whys” regarding this earlier in the thread, and I think everyone more or less agrees that this is less than ideal.
Is there anywhere else to go on this? I feel like we’re repeating earlier posts in the thread at this point.
sidenote: Jarmusch’s Mystery Train, González Iñárritu’s Babel?
I didn’t mean the leader technically (Reeves’ character is fictional after all) I meant the character who will eventually lead the other good guys in the film just like Tom Cruise’s character did even though Ken Watanabe’s character was the actual leader (in the film and in real life).
OK, apologies if I misunderstood your intent.
Ah well, then I guess it’s going to be a sucky movie…
Only one way to find out . . .
. . . well, OK, if we count making up your mind before you see it, there are two, but . . .
My mind is blank. I can’t account for anyone else’s… :D
And you know, I won’t say that I don’t develop a prejudice to seeing a film before I know anything about it either, but on the other hand sometimes your intuition can be right on. That’s when you wish you had spent your money elsewhere, but, c’est la vie…
You know, I was thinking about other art forms such as opera. In opera, you can have a black or white tenor or soprano for a role that only one type of character was supposed to be. Like a white soprano playing Aida or a black man playing Siegfried. Shakespeare plays operate by this rule as well. And on a stage, you can even change what the set should look like. Perhaps diversity of how a work is interpreted gives a new angle to view things. I’m not necessarily saying that Kevin Costner for example in Dances With Wolves may not give a slightly skewed look at how we view Native Americans for example, but it’s something to think about.
I think such things are less worried about in opera, for example, because there’s less expectation of prosaic realism in the staging of an opera.
I haven’t actually read Wuthering Heights, but the larger point for me is that casting different races when adapting is only a concern when it relates to specific historical figures or events. Or perhaps if the adapted work is predicated on certain characters being a certain race.
You mean like this,
“but the larger point for me is that casting different races when adapting is only a concern when it relates to specific historical figures or events.”
Yes, but point is you can’t just “assume” that Arnold screws around with Wuthering Heights since it’s obvious that Bronte doesn’t explicitly refer to ANY type of color in her novel and what’s more insulting is that you never argued that Wuthering Heights could be a novel of A RANDOM RACE and instead, indulging in typical white-boy stereotypes.
I can understand the idea of casting for the sake of commercialism being yuck, I’m not in favor of that.
I’m basically expressing a sense of “yuck” at the concept of the project. I’m not saying the film is going to be terrible, but am I saying I find the concept distasteful, bordering on offensive. Keanu playing a hapa character may not be offensive—because he is hapa—but the contrivance of putting a hapa character into the film for ostensibly commercial reasons is distasteful to me. Now, if he’s playing a Japanese character, same deal.
So, do you really think it right to be offended by a movie before you have even seen it?
Not in general, but in certain circumstances I think being offended before seeing the movie is understandable and justified. So are you saying you can’t think of examples like this? You can’t understand people getting offended if a white actor was cast to play MLK Jr. or Malcolm X? I asked my wife, who has a lot of Native Hawaiian in her, if she would get offended if a white actor played King Kamehameha. She said she would, and so would a lot of other people, non-Native Hawaiians as well.
But does that mean that any of these films will be terrible? No. Does that mean that the filmmakers don’t have a valid, creative reason to cast a white actor in these roles? No, it does not. These films could end up being really good; and there could be valid reasons for the casting choice. Nevertheless, people getting offended at this—before seeing the film—is completely understandable, isn’t it? Anyway, it is to me. And we can just leave it at that.
^ A film with Keanu Reeves “turning Japanese” is automatically bad before being made, particularly if it’s a rehash of the Loyal 47 legend AND a yet-another-fucking-remake case in hand. I could be wrong though and Keanu might be a supporting character who dies middle road of the film :P
Since Matt Parks has already pointed out that Bronte does point to some specifics of race, I think you’re deliberately avoiding the real point. Even if Bronte had specified that the characters were white, black, latino, whatever…I would not see it as problematic to switch the races around. Does anyone have a problem with Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood? A problem with the fact that he chooses to use Japanese people in a Shakespearean play?
Heathcliffe has often been considered and presented as something of a wild romany type i think. Now romanies are in the news quite a bit in the UK at present, with unprecedented interest raised by the success of Big Fat Gypsy Wedding (now with spin-offs including Celebrity Big Brother), but also negative images and lots of hatred still, with evictions from land bought and built on (apparently a former scrapyard classed as “green belt” to outlaw them). I haven’t seen Arnold’s film but i doubt she had such TV interest in romanies in mind when deciding on casting- and why should she?
We’ve had quite a few black Macbeths (Nicholas Bailey, aka Dr Trueman in East Enders, once played Macbeth on stage) and there was Welles’ famous production. There were black people in England at the time of the Brontes. Directors can play round with fiction, whatever the author may have intended (i agree we shouldn’t make assumptions unless the author is specific), to give a new angle, even if purists scoff. What does the bible say of Christ’s appearance? If not much, it could be assumed he didn’t stand out physically from others in the region. He is however more often portrayed as white, even Nordic, than black in films. Elton was pilloried for claiming he was gay.
“Does anyone have a problem with Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood? A problem with the fact that he chooses to use Japanese people in a Shakespearean play?”
Kenji managed to post before I did and I’m not sure it’s a big deal either way lest the author of course had pre-decided this to be the case, whether it’s a national, race, appearance issue, in several cases, in Moliere’s plays, in many ancient Egyptian / Greek / Roman sculpts where depiction is made based on the exploitative material and not the “colorful” reality per se, in epics like Kalevala, Nibelung, obviously Mahabharata, unspecified references to the characters’ physical portrayal give liberties to theatre / film directors, painters, performance arts.
Nevertheless Kenji, it’s remarkable to see in plenty of hagiographies the not-so-white depiction of Christ, a similar approach to make space for the Arabic / Israeli-lenience of Christ’s imagery and roots based on those areas of his discipline. What bugs me though is that color in the multitude of religious but above all the Abrahamic religions is either of utmost “benevolence” or a complete refusal of “fooling around” with it i.e. Muslim-oriented religions.
Essentially, the problem of race and color depiction has to be penetrated in order for more liberties to be ensured at all levels and the transgression from awe-stricken boneheads to open-minded behaviors, it’s remarkable that just last year, Christ’s figure still sparked controversy in a play here, No Body Else where Christ was shown in explicitly sexual jubilation with Magdalene and the play had to be permanently canceled due to threatening messages from fanatics towards the cast, crew and director of the play.
I hijacked a bit in the last sentence yet it’s hilarious to think we can have any liberties whatsoever when religious fanatics from all religions are waiting in the frontline of artistic censorship to aggressively refuse any such “experimentation”, be it color, sexual behavior and / or a more “masculine” facade, when if seen from a BROAD AND CRYSTAL-CLEAR position, religious texts are no more but lesser branches of literature texts! If we can exploit Heathcliffe’s appearance or even Berenice’s facial characteristics in Divine Comedy, why can’t we exploit fucking Moses and self-absorbed Muhammad?
If a white dude could pull off a part like Malcolm X, I would be duly impressed. I’m open to that if anybody could meet that challenge.
Going back to the “yuck” factor, I think there are specific sensitivities among Asian Americans who have had to endure the images of white actors portraying (or rather mocking) Asians in films and TV shows as late as the 1960’s and early 1970’s. The buck-toothed Mr. Yunioshi in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, for example, is evocative of the hateful “Dirty Jap” propaganda posters from WWII. That’s not to suggest that I think similar motivations are behind the casting of Keanu Reeves, but it puts many of us on edge. There’s a fine line between mimicry and parody.
“There’s a fine line between mimicry and parody.”
Right . . . so it becomes a matter of intent. Something we can only speculate about prior to seeing a particular film. But, yes, the cultural track record inspires trepidation.
Nevertheless, people getting offended at this—before seeing the film—is completely understandable, isn’t it? Anyway, it is to me. And we can just leave it at that
Jazz — understandable yes, fair to the film — no. It’s only fair if you make a judgement like this after you’ve seen it.
well, i feel like it’s hard to talk about racism in terms of intent. any way you look at it, in the example of a white guy playing an Asian guy, it’s still a white guy “acting like” an Asian guy. you’re right that there is a line between mimicry and parody, but to that same point, it’s still someone who is not an Asian guy, doing what he thinks an Asian guy does. whether his intent is to do the best job he can to accurately portray said Asian guy or not, it doesn’t matter because he is still bringing his own observations or opinions of that type of person along.
it may sound like i’m just going around in circles here, but i’m having a hard time conveying what i mean.
“it’s still someone who is not an Asian guy, doing what he thinks an Asian guy does. whether his intent is to do the best job he can to accurately portray said Asian guy or not, it doesn’t matter because he is still bringing his own observations or opinions of that type of person along.”
OK, but acting—and in fact, cinema itself—is by nature, illusionary as much as it is real. I don’t think anyone would argue that casting should be above criticism on these terms, but if we try to set up advance prohibitions about what can’t be done based on differences between “real” and what a filmmaker is doing on film, at best we end up with dogma, and at worst we end up killing the form outright.
“it’s hard to talk about racism in terms of intent”
Well, it seems like we’re trying to swing this pretty wide. I’m not prepared to accept that having an actor of one race portray a character of another is, in and of itself, racist. It’s hard to talk about, yes, but it’s a complex subject, so it should be.
The interesting part is that the director, Carl Rinsch, is a total newbie. He’s best known for his commericials This is his first feature-length film and look at all the publicity it’s getting.