K. Tempest Bradford

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Realms of Fantasy: Full Of Some Whitewashing You Don’t Care To Read About

Realms of Fantasy: Full Of Some Whitewashing You Don't Care To Read About

I know that pointing out RoF Fail is a little like kicking a puppy, but you know how it is when Nick Mamatas sends you a link clearly meant to induce blog-worthy rage — you just have to accommodate him.

So, LJ user torrain was reading the latest issue of Realms of Fantasy and didn’t get far before the facepalm reached epic proportions. Inside the magazine’s movie review of The Last Airbender ze found this awesomeness:

However, The Last Airbender has already caught flak for “whitewashing,” meaning, the casting of white actors (or actors who appear to be white) to play non-white characters, especially when those characters are heroic. It’s a hot-button issue that dredges up memories of images like Al Jolsen wearing black-face makeup. Of course, there are two sides to this coin. On one hand, whitewashing can feel insulting, disrespectful, and disappointing to movie-goers. Many may label it as politically incorrect. On the other hand, anyone who has run a casting call will tell you that when you find the right person for the role, something magical happens. Time seems to stop, and you feel as if the character comes to life right in front of your eyes. The character is no longer ink on paper; the character begins to live and breathe. It has nothing to do with race and everything to do with the individual human being reading for the part. Adding to the mix is the fact that some roles written for white people have been won by actors of color, and some roles written for men have been played by women. In other words, whitewashing isn’t a one-way street. It’s a difficult situation that places filmmakers between the goal of finding magic and not offending audiences. At the end of the day, most directors simply want to tell a good story.

There’s a lot of obvious fail going on here, and it’s hard to know where to begin, but I’ll start with this notion that “something magical happens” when the right person comes along for the role, even if that person is white and the character is not. Even if this was ever true somewhere in the world, it’s not true in this movie. Let’s quote Roger Ebert talking about the casting, specifically:

Shyamalan has failed. His first inexplicable mistake was to change the races of the leading characters; on television Aang was clearly Asian, and so were Katara and Sokka, with perhaps Mongolian and Inuit genes. Here they’re all whites. This casting makes no sense because (1) It’s a distraction for fans of the hugely popular TV series, and (2) all three actors are pretty bad. I don’t say they’re untalented, I say they’ve been poorly served by  Shyamalan and the script. They are bland, stiff, awkward and unconvincing.

Entertainment Weekly:

The trouble with The Last Airbender is that Aang, as a character, is a saintly abstraction (Noah Ringer plays him with a sensitive pout that grows cloying), and he’s surrounded by generic young actors who are like place holders for real stars.

Variety:

Shyamalan has worked wonders with child actors before, but Ringer is no Haley Joel Osment, delivering some fancy footwork but zero charisma in the pic’s key role. Most dialogue scenes are framed in tight Sergio Leone-style closeup, emphasizing the actors’ wooden nature. At that proximity, we notice that Rathbone never blinks; nor can he be counted on to deliver any of the comic relief of his animated counterpart.

I could go on. The issue here is not that M. Night just happened to find these amazing kids to play these roles who just happened to be white. This is what he or the producers or the studio set out to do from the beginning because, even though millions of people love the cartoon and its clearly Asian characters, they felt that audiences just can’t handle brown and yellow people as the heroes. As the evil villains, sure. But protagonists must be white, right?

Whitewashing, no matter how much you pretty it up with the magical casting feeling of amazingness, is still just damn wrong.

The second half of that paragraph, which you probably didn’t even read because the first part was so rage-inducing with its faily wrongness, I shall paste again, because it also needs addressing:

Adding to the mix is the fact that some roles written for white people have been won by actors of color, and some roles written for men have been played by women. In other words, whitewashing isn’t a one-way street. It’s a difficult situation that places filmmakers between the goal of finding magic and not offending audiences. At the end of the day, most directors simply want to tell a good story.

Jesus. Okay, deep breath. First of all, the conceit of having women play roles written for men is usually about deconstruction more than it’s about some magical audition process or someone being “right” for a role. And I can’t come up with any examples of people of color playing roles “written for white people” unless you’re talking about classical theater or something. Maybe they mean Sam Jackson as Nick Fury? But again, when POC play, uh “white” roles, that actually has a different weight and purpose behind it than whitewashing. The power differentials there are NOT equal. Are POC overrepresented in Hollywood movies and American television? No. Are white people? Yes. So when whitewashing occurs, do you know who it hurts and disrespects and diminishes? POC.

The fact that this Realms columnist doesn’t understand any of this is already major fail. The fact that his or her editor doesn’t understand any of this is even bigger fail. And it’s leading many people to question why they would even bother to save such a magazine from its impending cancellation when all they have to look forward to is a bunch of racefail in the non-fiction section.

I’m just going to bottom line it for you: Whitewashing is never okay no matter what. If you don’t agree, then you’re really too far gone to exist in polite and cultured society and perhaps you should do us all a favor and go back to the cave you most certainly crawled out of.

Is that too harsh?

47 Comments

  1. Chris Chris on 15.07.2010 at 16:14 [link] (Reply)

    I imagine casting must be something like math: http://drp.ly/1neH1o

  2. Bart Leib Bart Leib on 15.07.2010 at 16:14 [link] (Reply)

    Actually the films with Sam Jackson as Nick Fury are based on the recent “Ultimate” Marvel comics, in which Nick Fury’s character is black. So it wasn’t even winning a “white” role. The only example I can even think of is when Denzel Washington played Don Pedro in Branagh’s “Much Ado About Nothing” – classical theater on film, and it’s not a role where the script calls for a CoC like “Othello”.

    The fact that they couldn’t supply any examples to support their argument pretty well proves that their “point” is unfounded. Even if it wasn’t a legitimate point to begin with.

    1. Jim C. Hines Jim C. Hines on 15.07.2010 at 21:00 [link] (Reply)

      Not only black, but as I understand it, specifically based on Samuel Jackson. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nick_Fury#Ultimate_Nick_Fury

    2. Pedantrist Pedantrist on 16.07.2010 at 02:06 [link] (Reply)

      Will Smith – I Am Legend.

    3. Momsomniac Momsomniac on 16.07.2010 at 13:32 [link] (Reply)

      “Much Ado” was the one and only example that came to mind for me as well – although I really see no reason to read most of Shakespeare as precluding non-white actors.

      And as I greatly enjoyed the movie “Much Ado about Nothing” and saw it several times, I can say with some assurance – even if you count what must be 300+ extras – Denzel appears to be the ONLY back person in the movie….

      Didn’t the casting call for Airbender ASK for caucasian actors?

      1. Jim C. Hines Jim C. Hines on 16.07.2010 at 15:04 [link] (Reply)

        Yep. “Caucasian or any other ethnicity…”

        http://io9.com/5512941/who-sent-out-the-last-airbender-casting-call-asking-for-caucasian-actors-producer-responds

    4. Chesya Burke Chesya Burke on 16.07.2010 at 15:30 [link] (Reply)

      I Am Legend with Will Smith. Not sure this counts because I don’t believe the character’s race was mentioned in the book.

      1. Momsomniac Momsomniac on 16.07.2010 at 20:35 [link] (Reply)

        Heh, as far as I am concerned, ALL parts were written for Will Smith. : )

  3. hermetic hermetic on 15.07.2010 at 16:15 [link] (Reply)

    Oh, hell. Seriously, people? Seriously?

    Well, no subscription to RoF, then.

    Thanks for blogging on this, Tempest.

  4. Mary Robinette Kowal Mary Robinette Kowal on 15.07.2010 at 19:16 [link] (Reply)

    Yes, to everything you’ve just said.

    Also, thinking that swapping gender roles or the race of a character doesn’t have an impact on the play is blind to how society works. Why? Because that one change alters the character’s entire history. The only time that doesn’t happen is with cardboard placeholder characters that don’t come with a background to begin with.

    It also changes the audiences’ entire perception because of societal baggage they bring. Any casting director who isn’t thinking about all of that isn’t doing their job.

  5. Pam Adams Pam Adams on 15.07.2010 at 19:20 [link] (Reply)

    Could you loan me a wall? I need to pound my head against something.

  6. Adam Lipkin Adam Lipkin on 15.07.2010 at 19:39 [link] (Reply)

    *facepalms*

    Unbelievable.

    Based on the table of contents posted by RoF, I’m assuming that Resa Nelson is the columnist in question.

  7. Samantha Samantha on 15.07.2010 at 19:41 [link] (Reply)

    This makes me want to go and get a copy to read the whole review, in case the rest of it utterly contradicts this.(I get the impression it doesn’t?)Or to see if there was another review/take on it as a point-counterpoint thing. Because, wow, I’m kind of guessing casting could have their pick of any number of incredible Asian actors. And I see race-bending in theater (no idea how much), but the number of people who see film dwarfs theater to an absurd amount. And two-way-street implies at least comparable traffic. And when a POC is cast (in film) as a “white” character, it’s usually because of the box-office draw of that actor. And so I am confused.

  8. Delux Delux on 15.07.2010 at 19:41 [link] (Reply)

    “Time seems to stop,”

    Well it sure did for me reading that hot mess of fail. Wow.

  9. yeloson yeloson on 15.07.2010 at 19:47 [link] (Reply)

    Yeah, seriously.

    Are we to believe white people are more inclined to this “magical acting ability” than 90% of the rest of the human population? Because it seems strangely loaded how often it turns to white washing and not the other way around.

  10. Mary Dell Mary Dell on 15.07.2010 at 19:47 [link] (Reply)

    I can only think of one notable example of a black actor playing a role “written as white:” Lou Gossett, Jr. in An Officer And A Gentleman. Notable because when he got the role, the producers & writers said “ok, we’ll re-write it as a black character” and he said “no, don’t you dare re-write it.” They couldn’t initially conceive of the power relationship working the way it did with a black guy in that role, but by making them leave the script the hell alone Gossett created an iconic performance.

    However. That was not a famously white character, or really a white character at all; it was an unproduced screenplay that was written with the white=default assumption, which is not the same thing.

    Anyway, I suppose the author of the fail you quote is really thinking of Morgan Freeman playing the president or God, because everyone knows those dudes are supposed to be white.

  11. Cassandra Yorgey Cassandra Yorgey on 15.07.2010 at 20:40 [link] (Reply)

    Um, I *actually* grew up in a cave (a tourist cave, but a cave nonetheless) and on behalf of all us cave people I’d like to mention that we do *NOT* condone whitewashing and we WON’T let those that do back in the cave. SHUN. SHUN THE WHITEWASHERS.

  12. Matthew Daly Matthew Daly on 15.07.2010 at 20:54 [link] (Reply)

    Morgan Freeman as God is also what I came up with off the top of my head. Perhaps more seriously, Billy Dee Williams played Harvey Dent in Batman (1989), although he was replaced with Tommy Lee Jones when it became a starring role in Batman Forever.

    And now if you’ll excuse me, ladies, I must return to watching Isaiah Mustafa playing Chuck Norris.

  13. Emily Emily on 15.07.2010 at 20:59 [link] (Reply)

    This kind of counts, but is also a hilarious example: The character of Lisa Tuttle on Saved By the Bell was originally written as like, a “Jewish princess,” I believe was what the producers said. Then Lark Voorhies read and MAGIC HAPPENED and they cast her, and I think said they didn’t even re-write really, just changed a few words here and there.

    SO WHAT? What fucking difference does it make to the fact that the casting calls for Airbender pretty much only looked for white kids in the first place? Oh right, none.

  14. Cath Cath on 15.07.2010 at 22:51 [link] (Reply)

    So. I went to see Avatar, and a problem I haven’t seen talked about much is that white actors are in the foreground, but ethnic actors are in the background. There are lots of ethnic extras in the background, sure, but then there are these white people who seem to step out of an inuit tribe, for example, like genetic magic.

    Because, only white people can memorize lines, and people of color can only be kept in the background.

    There is one notable and interesting piece of casting in the film that I didn’t expect. Monk Iyatsu, Aang’s father figure, is black. He is portrayed in a series of flashbacks that develop the character as a gentler influence than he was in the cartoon, where he was portrayed as a Tibetan jokester. It is the only way in which the film may in fact improve on the original cartoon because of the character development. It was one point in the film’s favor to see an important good guy role, if not a large one, go to someone other than a white actor.

    Not only is the white washing a problem, but the subordinate/dominate relationship among actors who are supposed to be the same race is a glaring social issue.

    Phooey.

    Cath

  15. Josh Jasper Josh Jasper on 15.07.2010 at 22:56 [link] (Reply)

    Well, shit, it’s not like Warren cares what you, me, or anyone like us thinks of his magazine.

  16. Rose Fox Rose Fox on 15.07.2010 at 23:45 [link] (Reply)

    This whole casting magic thing is some pure Grade-A bullshit. You know that whole “if you’re one in a million, there are eight people just like you in New York City” thing? It applies to casting calls too. There are always multiple people who show up for any given casting call and would work perfectly well in the role.

    In addition, “magic happens” is pretty much shorthand for “The director recognizes that someone with innate talent also has a lot of experience and training as well as a good rapport with the director”. And the things that are most likely to make an actor stand out–looking the way the director has pictured the character, having a lot of acting experience and knowing how to kick ass in an audition, being able to banter knowledgeably with the casting director, having personal connections who can provide good references, having gone to a well-regarded acting school, having a portfolio of other good roles–are all much more common among white actors, because they’re more likely to start out with money and to get into good schools and to get good intro roles and to do well in their early auditions and so on. Privilege begets privilege.

  17. Madeline Ashby Madeline Ashby on 16.07.2010 at 00:03 [link] (Reply)

    I’m sure it’s in someone’s realm of fantasy that this isn’t an issue. Maybe Paramount’s. I’m sure they wish the words “whitewash” and “Airbender” weren’t inextricably linked in Google’s vast brain. Too late now.

    Thanks for blogging this, Tempest. Every single time I read about racebending, I’m reminded of a) why I loved the original A:tLA series, b) why I’ll never see the film, and c) why I decided to edit a guest issue of Transformative Works and Cultures about it. If you or any of your readers would like to participate, the call for papers is here: http://journal.transformativeworks.org/index.php/twc/announcement/view/14

    I know that there is passion here that can burn longer than a blog post, and I want future scholars studying the history of race in media to know about it. We also welcome editorial essays from fans, contributions in the form of manga and vids, all kinds of fun stuff. If that sounds like something that some of you are interested in, you can ping me @madelineashby.

  18. Josh Josh on 16.07.2010 at 02:45 [link] (Reply)

    Trivia point in order to distract myself from the aarghgenic column: Ben Marco in The Manchurian Candidate, a Latino character in the novel played by Frank Sinatra in the first movie and Denzel Washington in the second. His sweetheart, described in the novel as Semitic, is Janet Leigh in the first movie and Kimberly Elise in the second.

    That’s really the only example I can think of in which black actors play nonblack characters as black characters (I don’t think one can count Brian Stokes Mitchell in Man of La Mancha and Sweeney Todd, or other forms of colorblind casting on the stage). But it’s important that the characters, at least Marco, weren’t exactly “written as white”; maybe what we’re seeing with them is just an aspect of the “interchangeable minority” phenomenon on which Anthony Quinn and John Turturro built careers.

  19. 8mph Ansible 8mph Ansible on 16.07.2010 at 14:17 [link] (Reply)

    People are welcome to poke and prod me since I’m like a year, at least, behind schedule with my mucking about elsewheres. But I still plan on unveiling it at the deadbrowalking lj hopefully by beginning of next year if not sooner.

    Because of the failbender casting I began trying to put together a list of US movies & telly shows–mainly movies–with white washed characters. One of the problems (other than the task tends to depress me) is that I can’t find a stopping year as the further I look back in cinema history the more I find. =/ I also tried to make a lil addendum list of PoC playing originally designated white characters (e.g. Will Smith as Agent J) and its length feels laughable in comparison I wonder why I should bother adding it.

  20. TinkerTenor TinkerTenor on 16.07.2010 at 14:50 [link] (Reply)

    Excellent point about women who play roles written originally for men. Its almost always because having a woman in the role is the director’s vision for the piece, and serves some theme or motif he or she is working on the piece to explore. I can’t get seen for the role of Elphaba on Broadway and then get cast because I’m so darned magical. Magic doesn’t matter if you’re the WRONG SEX. People of the wrong sex don’t GET seen in the first place.

  21. Nick Mamatas Nick Mamatas on 16.07.2010 at 15:27 [link] (Reply)

    In addition to all of the above, the quoted material is an artifact of awful fannish pseudo-journalism. Fans don’t want to read bad news or controversy in their little magazines (or so it is believed anyway), and plus the The Last Airbender is on the cover, but at the same time the editor clearly knows that “racebending” needs to be addressed. So it is, just to be pooh-poohed.

    1. tempest tempest on 16.07.2010 at 15:46 [link] (Reply)

      spot on. Julie Andrews posted her misgivings about having Airbender on the cover of the mag a month ago due to the failtasticness of it, and Doug responded:

      “As to the fail you speak of, I assume you’re referring to the issue of whitewashing. We are aware of it, and that’s why we do address this matter in the accompanying article about this movie.”

  22. Louise Louise on 16.07.2010 at 15:34 [link] (Reply)

    I worked in opera for a decade (backstage), and the casting, especially of the principals, was the only time I’ve ever actually seen genuine ‘colourblind’ casting. Voice and stage presence trumped everything. The type of voice that can handle lead roles in opera only appears in a very small percentage of any population, with the happy side effect that the current generation of opear singers has some pretty impressive diversity.

    We had a Korean woman do an Austrian role, a Brazilian play a Spaniard, a Chinese man play an Egyptian lord, a Rigoletto played by a black man with a white daughter. An Aida in which the black king of Ethiopia had a white daughter, and the white king of Egypt had a black daughter. Dozens of productions in which the chorus was multi-coloured despite their presumed nationality — Italian, Persian, Egyptian, English, German, Russian, Thai, South American, whatever.

    Only when the plot demanded it did the casting follow colour lines, and then only grudgingly. It creeped us out when we did an opera set post-Civil War (the US Civil War, that is), and every role had to be cast to accomodate race.

    I suspect that colour-blind world only exists because the small pool of available talent at the world-class level is so diverse. It’s diverse now because of widened opportunities that allow, for example, a Korean girl to study Eurpoean vocal style. Earlier generations fought hard against the first opera singers to break the colour barriers.

    Admittedly, most of the works were written by now-dead white men, so there’s still a long way to go in that area.

  23. Gozer Gozer on 16.07.2010 at 16:31 [link] (Reply)

    She lost me at “magical”. Whitewashing is about business, not about the sweet, sweet magic of Finding That Right Actor. George Takei was told point-blank by Paramount executives back in the 80s that there was no way his proposed series about Sulu as a starship captain would ever sell. They genuinely believed that nobody would watch a show with an Asian lead — unlike today, where the execs use weasel-words like “I’m colorblind!” to defend themselves against charges of racism, those guys were upfront about their racism. They told him it was nothing personal, it was just business. The Paramount execs who okay’d Airbender and oversaw it were obviously not those same guys, but they were cut from the same cloth.

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0146308/

    That’s “Ten Blocks on the Camino Real”, a 1967 film based on a Tennessee Williams play starring Martin Sheen. Ironically, he was the only Hispanic actor in the cast — all the Mexican characters are played by white actors, and he played the main (white) character. He, of course, changed his name from Ramon Antonio Gerard Estevez to the Irish-sounding “Martin Sheen” because if he hadn’t, he wouldn’t have been employable in Hollywood.

  24. Julia Su. Julia Su. on 19.07.2010 at 21:18 [link] (Reply)

    They need to just change their name to Realms of Fail and be done with it.

  25. Alice K. Alice K. on 20.07.2010 at 10:22 [link] (Reply)

    *sigh* I do want to like Realms, but every time I think of subscribing, they go do/say/publish something stupid.

    On a different (but magazine related) note, have you seen this? http://januaryhat.livejournal.com/17108.html

  26. Peter David Peter David on 01.08.2010 at 14:15 [link] (Reply)

    For what it’s worth, when we were casting “Space Cases” for Nickelodeon, we envisioned our lead as a Luke Skywalker/Will Robinson type. In other words, a young white guy. And Walter Jones of “Power Rangers” came in and nailed it and we cast him. Didn’t think twice about it.

    More examples? “Beverly Hills Cop” was originally a vehicle for Sylvester Stallone. Bette Midler was supposed to play the lead in “Sister Act.” And since others brought up Will Smith playing a role previously portrayed by Vincent Price and Charlton Heston, I should point out that his son did an excellent job in a role previously portrayed by Ralph Macchio, namely “The Karate Kid.”

    Just sayin’.

    PAD

    1. tempest tempest on 01.08.2010 at 18:50 [link] (Reply)

      Okay, so your point is…?

      (also, am kind of surprised you still read this blog.)

  27. Peter David Peter David on 01.08.2010 at 21:36 [link] (Reply)

    Surprised? Why? Don’t you think you’re worth reading?

    As for my point…well, you said, “And I can’t come up with any examples of people of color playing roles “written for white people” unless you’re talking about classical theater or something.” So…now you have some examples.

    PAD

  28. Peter David Peter David on 01.08.2010 at 21:55 [link] (Reply)

    Oh, and if you’d like some more: Kojak, played by Telly Savalas in the original series and Ving Rahmes in the remake series. The original Nutty Professor, played by Jerry Lewis, and Doctor Dolittle, played by Rex Harrison, were both played by Eddie Murphy. And then there was the entire cast of the Honeymooners.

    Now if you want to move away from TV and movies–and by “classical theater” I assume you mean Shakespeare–I have very fond memories of the all Black production of “Guys and Dolls.” Robert Guillaume was the best “Nathan Detroit” I’ve ever seen (and that includes Nathan Lane) and Ken Page stopped the show as Nicely-Nicely Johnson. And if you wish to combine theater and TV, there was the 1970s sitcom of “Barefoot in the Park” with an all-Black cast (Scoey Mitchell and Tracy Reed as the newlyweds) and the 1980s “The New Odd Couple” with Demond Wilson and Ron Glass. Oh! And I just remembered: A British sitcom, “Steptoe and Son,” featured two white actors, but was remade in the U.S. as “Sanford and Son.”

    So…plenty of examples there for you. Hope that helps.

    PAD

  29. Peter David Peter David on 01.08.2010 at 21:59 [link] (Reply)

    Oh, right. I also saw Whoopi Goldberg in “Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” playing a lead role previously only played by White men. She wasn’t quite as good as Zero or even Nathan Lane, but in her defense, the night I saw her she had a pretty bad head cold, so…

    PAD

  30. tempest tempest on 02.08.2010 at 02:06 [link] (Reply)

    All right then. We have some examples… I guess what I’m wondering is what’s the point? Are you arguing for the magical casting moment or just bringing up examples for the sake of it?

  31. Peter David Peter David on 02.08.2010 at 08:31 [link] (Reply)

    We don’t have “some examples,” we have a dozen examples. Thirteen, if you want to count Denzel Washington playing the Walter Matthau role in “Pelham 1-2-3,” which just occurred to me. I”m sure there are more if I give it some thought.

    I’m not “arguing” for anything, Tempest. The reason I’m not is that I’ve noticed that anything I say is subjected to…oh, how best to put it…reinterpretation. So the only “point,” to keep using your phrase, is that it’s a point of information. Make of it what you will.

    PAD

    1. tempest tempest on 02.08.2010 at 09:00 [link] (Reply)

      I guess I’m just confused them. If you’re not bringing any of this up except to provide any information without some sort of conversation or point to it, then it’s just noise. Like, if you have an opinion about the discussion here, voice it. If you’re going to just decide that we will wildly misinterpret your opinion, then don’t join the conversation.

  32. Peter David Peter David on 02.08.2010 at 09:22 [link] (Reply)

    I’m not sure why you’re confused. You presented a criticism of someone’s statements and central to that criticism was that you couldn’t think of examples–in either casting or performance–where persons of color (a term I’ve never understood since white is the combination of all colors while black is the absence of color, and even white people range in color from pale pink to deep brownish tan–anything BUT white, really, but never mind) performed roles that were previously played by, or “intended” for, white actors. And I basically said, “Here’s a bunch.” If that leads you to rethink your position, fine. If it just makes you intransigent, also fine. It all seems rather straightforward to me and not the least bit confusing.

    PAD

    1. tempest tempest on 02.08.2010 at 13:07 [link] (Reply)

      Ah, I see, YOU are the one who is confused. Because the bit about not being able to think of roles meant for white people that went to POC was indeed NOT central to my argument. You probably missed the part where I said: “But again, when POC play, uh ‘white’ roles, that actually has a different weight and purpose behind it than whitewashing. The power differentials there are NOT equal.”

      You may have also missed where people upstream talked about how, when this does happen, it’s more often because the POC in question is a big star and the box office draw outweighs a commitment to racist practices. Will Smith, Denzel, and Whoopi definitely fit that scenario. Plus, when she was in Forum there was more than a little irony and deconstruction going there, which I quite enjoyed. Lane was better in the role, I feel, because they didn’t have to change it up in any way to accommodate him.

      In the first example you cited, I was glad to hear that when an actor of color came along you chose him because he was best for the role. However, if you all had a white guy in mind for it, why didn’t you specify white in the casting call? How did Jones even get in the door? Oh, because he was on Power Rangers, right? So his previous celebrity had something to do with him getting the part, even if that “something” was just him getting through the front door.

      There is nothing wrong with the above scenario. But the point people have made throughout the racebending debate is that very few actors of color even get that opportunity because opportunity begets opportunity. If Power Rangers hadn’t decided to go for the Benetton model of casting, would Jones have gotten the other, subsequent roles?

      The fact that there are some times when POC get to play roles either intended for or previously played by white people does not really trump the point that whitewashing is bad and just shouldn’t be done.

      Let me put it for you in really simplistic terms. Whitewashing = racism. Don’t support racism and we’ll be fine.

  33. Peter David Peter David on 02.08.2010 at 14:38 [link] (Reply)

    “There is nothing wrong with the above scenario.” See, I think there actually IS something wrong with it.

    The reality, in the instance of “Space Cases,”is that whatever we had in mind when we conceived the characters, when it came to actual casting, it was an open call. We made it clear that we were happy to see all races (within our age parameters) for all roles.

    I didn’t watch “Power Rangers”; I didn’t know Walter’s work at all. He came in, he nailed it, and we said, “That’s our guy.” Would the casting agency have sent Walter in if he were never in “Rangers?” Well, that depends: Let’s say he came in to read for “Rangers,” didn’t get it, but they remembered him and thought he’d be a good fit for us. Then yeah. Sure. If they thought he was wrong for the part of a young, wise cracking space hero, then we wouldn’t have seen him. But casting blind, in my experience, is something casting agents WANT to do because it gives them more tools in their toolbox.

    To go further in our original concepts: a second character was pictured as being a black actor. But the role was open to all. We wound up casting an Iranian. Another character, a female, the ship’s engineer, we were thinking maybe Hispanic. Who’d we wind up with? Jewel Staite (a good ten years before she played an engineer on “Firefly.”)

    A good casting call really doesn’t care about racial boundaries. A good casting call looks at all the best available talent, and then you take your best shot with what’s in front of you.

    I have no opinion on “Airbender” because I didn’t see it, although I’ve heard nothing good about it. Certainly not casting Asian actors in the lead roles seems a pretty dumbass idea. If you’re going Caucasian in an Asian role, then you damned well better have a Jonathan Pryce-level actor in the role. By all accounts, the leads in “Airbender” were hardly that.

    But would I declare that it’s because the studio was afraid to have an Asian cast? Well, no, because I don’t know it to be a fact and I’m hesitant to present an assumption as an absolute. If they didn’t want to cast Asians, why develop the property at all? Doesn’t make sense to me. Which isn’t to say it’s impossible: I’ve seen Hollywood do some pretty idiotic things with properties that they’ve acquired without having the slightest understanding of what made it successful in the first place. It’s just that assuming racism isn’t my automatic response.

    And yeah, Will, Denzel and Whoopi are movie stars and would seem to transcend the whole thing, which is why I cited a whole bunch of non-movie star black actors in roles originated by, or associated with, whites, to provide you information that you said you didn’t have. As for whitewashing, to me, it’s not just racism: It’s stupidity. Why hogtie your casting process?

    But that’s probably just me.

    PAD

    1. tempest tempest on 02.08.2010 at 14:52 [link] (Reply)

      It sounds like the approach you all took with Space cases was a good one, then, and one I would personally suggest. sadly, that’s not usually the case in Hollywood. Nickelodeon has a better track record in this area, if I remember right. And you’re correct that a good casting call doesn’t care about racial boundaries. The lack of good casting calls is the problem here, though. And this is why the idea of the magical casting moment the reviewer posited is such utter bullshit, because while that may happen often in community theater and maybe even to a decent degree for some networks, it’s not the norm. But it should be.

      also, racism is stupidity.

      1. Peter David Peter David on 02.08.2010 at 15:10 [link] (Reply)

        Yes, racism is stupidity. But not all stupidity is racism. See what I’m saying?

        When it comes to Hollywood, it’s always helpful to remember William Goldman’s truism: Nobody knows anything.

        As for the “magical casting moment”–I think that happens on occasion, sure. To stick with “Space Cases,” when we were casting the character of the eternal pessimist, Bova (named for Ben Bova), we had in kid after kid and none of them were close. We were starting to think the role was uncastable. And then in came this Iranian (well, Iranian American) kid named Rahi Azizi, with very little prior experience.

        And he did the scripted dialogue that no one else had elicted the slightest humor from, and at one point after doing a joke, he suddenly flashed this huge smile, as if aware that he had just said the funniest thing in the world, and then he went right back to this dour deadpan. And we almost fell off our chairs laughing. We practically offered him the role on the spot. Magical? It was freaking miraculous. Bova came to life, right in front of us. I mean, with Walter, he nailed the part and we said, “That’s our guy.” But if we hadn’t been able to come to financial terms (and that happens quite frequently) then we would have sighed, said “Too bad,” and gone elsewhere. But Rahi WAS Bova. No one else was imaginable to us in the role.

        So yeah, it does happen.

        But usually it’s more a matter of business and options than magic.

        PAD

        1. tempest tempest on 02.08.2010 at 15:19 [link] (Reply)

          ………..

          *stares and stares and stares until she resolves to give up and walk away*

          1. Peter David Peter David on 02.08.2010 at 15:49 [link] (Reply)

            Oooookay. I didn’t think we were actually in disagreement on anything. Racism is stupid, check. Magical casting moments happen on occasion, but they’re not the norm, check. Lack of good casting calls? Well, I’m not a casting agent, and neither are you; I can only speak to my personal experience in which there were no boundaries, and posit that most, if not all, casting sessions should be like that. That doesn’t seem an unreasonable position to me.

            But if you want to just “give up and walk away” as if I’m just too stupid to talk to, well…whatever.

            PAD

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I'm a writer, most often committing acts of genre (fantasy, science fiction, and other stretches of the imagination). You can find my short stories in many and various magazines and anthologies and podcasts. In addition to being a writer I also engage in activism and fandom -- often both at once.

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