What do you think?

So much controversy and division these days! Now there’s fighting within the black community over who suffered the most and who gets to represent Black heritage. Black immigrants from Africa or England also experienced racism, remember apartheid?! Why is it wrong for a British or African-born person to portray Harriett Tubman or Martin Luther King Jr? If they are great actors isn’t that sufficient? It’s not like an Asian or Caucasian is putting on black face to portray an African-American hero. People are splitting hairs I think on this issue. An immigrant from Africa will still be discriminated against by racists, they don’t escape that because they were born in Africa or England. Isn’t racism partly why Megan Markle left England?

On the other hand I too dislike when Asian roles that are specific to a culture are haphazardly given to clueless actors, (for example when Non-Koreans portrayed Koreans in the show, “Mash” because they butchered the Korean language and therefore misrepresented Koreans). I also dislike how Asians are too often all grouped together as “Chinese” when we have distinctly different physical appearance, language and customs; so yes I’d prefer that the original culture is represented by actors from that culture. In the show, “Kim’s Convenience” several non-Koreans portray Koreans but I think they don’t look Korean and they don’t seem to understand the culture, so I dislike that, but at least they’re trying? I guess my point is, actors should throughly research, and depict their character with authenticity and respect and if it’s possible, the studios and casting directors should chose actors that genuinely fit the part. What do you think?

18 Comments

  1. Hamilton is praised for its music and unconventional casting. Great acting is not based on race. Yet if the wrong race or nationality were to play a role in something like Porgy and Bess, or an able bodied person played somebody with a disability, there would likely be an outcry. Shouldn’t the same rules of best actor prevail?

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    1. I think physicality is a factor that shouldn’t be ignored for authenticity, the great acting plus matching the role seems ideal. I think actors are vain creatures, they like to stretch but they shouldn’t break the character role to fulfill tokenism or ego of the director/producer, whoever hired them. I thought the film, Cloud Atlas was insulting to Koreans because of the awful CGI yellow face.

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      1. I agree, if we took the time to really look, we’d see how unique we are and inclusion has to be mutual to all. Lately there’s a lot of in fighting within groups, even from the same side. It’s divisive, not healing the rifts. I’m guilty of poking fun at mainstream popular films because I want to point out subconscious prejudice but I don’t dislike white people or want them to be punished for historical and inherited inequities. I just want fairness and a truer representation of a world of multi-racial, multicultural people where no one race dominates as the alpha heroes. I dislike forced inclusion, tokenism is an obvious ploy. I think we can all see authentic respect and inclusion vs fake inclusion that demonizes men or white people. That’s not a solution.

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  2. I understand about disrespecting a culture by misrepresenting it, but if it is wrong for someone of one culture to dress up and make themselves up to look like someone from another culture, why is it still ok for men to dress up as women? Especially, stereotypical long blond hair, big chested women? Or is that considered disrespectful of women now? I grew up in the days of costume parties and I don’t think anyone was trying to be deliberately offensive.

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  3. I think the appropriation arm has swung too far to the left. Can’t I wear a t-shirt celebrating Public Enemy without someone stepping in and calling foul? With acting, I don’t know. Do I need to have autism to play a person with autism? I’ve read that. Yes actors with autism exist. Are those *the best* actors for a role? I guess that’s why they have auditions. I only have one identity that I care about being portrayed correctly–Tourette Syndrome. Does someone need TS to portray that? IMO, no. But they better research it and portray it with respect and without stereotypes. I don’t think a director should ever be surprised to get the question “Why did you get a X to play a Z? It’s a question that deserves an answer.

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  4. People immigrating in from anywhere seem to believe more in the American dream. I have seen immigrants from all cultures owning businesses in the NYC area. Pizza shops are not just owned by Italians anymore. Immigrants of all races seem to push their kids harder to do well than most of our native born (including white kids) believing in that dream. I would disagree with the notion that those of African descent have not experienced racism in England. I think I have read that people from Caribbean nations with ties to England have experienced racism. Some of them went over and worked in England 30 or more years and have struggled with the right to stay even though where they are from is tied to England. I think actors like Samuel L. Jackson have complained in the past that Hollywood hires British actors because they know they could pay them less. Actors in England get paid much less than actors in the US. Personally I am a big fan of British TV shows and I am biased this regard. I think British actors of all races are much better at what they do in my opinion. Many of them go to university programs that are very good to be trained to be an actor. I guess if you can do Shakespeare well you can do most any role. I know there are many actors on TV and in Hollywood that never went to university for acting and but may have had some formal training with a tutor or acting coach. There is racism depicted on British TV shows. I think that is a sure sign it still exists there.It may not be the exact same experience, but I am sure a Nigerian or immigrant from some other African country may have some stories of their own to tell.

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    1. Thank you for sharing that information. I agree with your opinion. I think immigrants try harder because they know they can’t fall back on help, they’re escaping hardship and trying to make the future better for their children. Here in the US the welfare system keeps poor people poor, there’s no incentive to get out of the system and people are trapped in generational poverty, depression, hopeless environments and are fed media fueled nonsense that promote and glamorize sex and violence. At least in 2 parent homes of poor people have more support but single family poor lack stability even more. I think racism is spread throughout the world, not just in the US although it’s the most famous because it was built on the profits of slavery. I agree with you too about British actors, they have a certain poise and theatrical training that is unique to them. Performing Shakespeare well is a challenge, I think more so than film acting. England is known for it’s stiff upper lip, politeness in society but that doesn’t mean there isn’t racism there, it’s probably more under the surface, but still felt. I watched a film about a true story of a South African police chief who turned into a bank robber after becoming disillusioned with apartheid. It’s a good film starring Thomas Jane, can’t remember the title. There was a heartbreaking scene of villagers who were peacefully protesting, they sang songs as a protest, they were beaten and fired upon by the police. Some villagers fought back armed with tennis rackets that’s how unfair the situation was. Black people have suffered everywhere on this planet, not just in the US.

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  5. Racism is everywhere & anywhere . It exist in every culture whether subtle or aggressive . I’m Asian & I find it annoying & offensive when people say, “ All Asians look the same,” or “ Asians are bad drivers.” Stereotyping just causes more conflicts & negativity, though many use it for humor .

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    1. Yes, I hear you. I get upset when people assume all Koreans eat dogs, or that Chinese are dirty disease-causing people. Humor is a powerful vehicle for saying controversial or insulting stereotypes, I think there’s a need for humor though as long as it’s not senseless attacking. There has to be an element of truth to make something funny, maybe some Asians drive too slowly or at first glance may look similar, but when you look deeper you’ll see how different we are. I think Asians can discern differences in other asian ethnicities but non Asians seem to have trouble with that, probably because it doesn’t matter to them. But I find it super annoying when a non Asian tells me they can guess “where I’m from”, (I detest that question and wrote a poem about it :).) anyway they usually guess wrong—-they assume I’m Japanese, then Chinese, or Vietnamese, very annoying).

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  6. Absolutely! I felt my first kick in the gut on this issue watching the film Red Dawn. The head of the “Cuban” invaders spoke with a Puerto Rican accent and vocabulary. My observation is valid because my mother is Cuban American and my father was Puerto Rican American. I’ve lived in both communities. So I can tell when the wrong actor got the wrong part. Also, there is no malice in my comment. How could I diss my parents? But, wrong is wrong. Truth is an important part of fiction without which it turns to crap. Kudos!

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    1. You understand exactly what I was referring to, I think it would only take a few different choices to create authenticity but they cut corners (because I think they don’t consider it important), but it is. They could hire language/dialect coaches if they couldn’t find a native speaking actor, but they just chose to butcher the culture thinking no one will notice. Whenever I hear Korean spoken correctly and with a good accent I’m always impressed with the quality of the film, to me it’s a sign of respect to do the research and represent the culture as it really is. Thank you, Dan for adding your perception and experience. The uniqueness in cultures is beautiful and worth acknowledging.

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  7. Great topic! Remember Memoirs of a Geisha being played by a Chinese actress? There are many examples, but I like the ‘actors playing a disability’ comment, as a reminder that they are ACTORS who are ACTING. It’s pretend, people. Make-believe.

    That being said, I think there’s a good conversation going on regarding representation, pushing for it, but I think if we challenge Hollywood to find the best actors, we’d naturally find more diversity. Right now, it seems too much like, ‘who do you know’…

    It’s a tough call, but in general I think it has to depend on the role, and as far as Harriet, we live in the modern age. Black Americans of today don’t know what it’s like to be a slave, anymore than Black British do. Strange times to fighting for ‘slave ownership’…

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    1. Hi Lani, thanks for your comment. I agree with the points that you’ve made. I think people get territorial about their clan, who belongs/who doesn’t, they compete over the slavery history that they’ve inherited but not experienced. Racism is universally experienced but I guess the term, the grass is always greener on the other side is true.

      I remember there was backlash over the multicultural casting of Memoirs of a Geisha. I think the silliest part was that it was presented in American English not Japanese. The book bothered me because it was written by a Caucasian male who was writing as a Japanese female. It was based on a diary/true story but still, I personally dislike when males write as female characters. It was badly done in “Daughter of the Dragon” a fictional novel about a trafficked Korean comfort girl. I don’t think men understand women’s psyche well enough to think/feel genuine in a female narrative. It’s my pet peeve.

      Hollywood is still a big casting couch, I think Weinstein wasn’t the only one. You’re right that they also gain an entrance through connections.

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      1. I’m in total agreement with you.

        As far as males writing as women, it’s a tough one. I’ve seen it done very badly in a writers group, where a guy shared his writing of a female character…but I’ve also think if a male writer has dedicated to himself to writing female characters (Sidney Sheldon or the better known these days, RR Martin), it can be done. I’ve also read about how characters in books ‘take over’ while the writer is writing and ‘starts to have a life of their own’. But I understand your point of view, a male writer will definitely need female editors and beta readers!

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      2. I think it’s a similar motive of writers and actors to prove their talent by being the other gender, but it seems gimmicky to me and like an ego trip, but it’s my pet peeve. I come from the “write what you know” stance, but it’s true that some writers have muses, maybe it’s a form of channeling that the character takes over, that sounds a bit scary to me! 😊

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