Yet More Casting Ethics: Let’s Slap This Bad Idea Down For Good, Shall We?

What? They cast a Hispanic actor as Khan instead of a genetically engineered Mongolian actor?

What? “Star Trek” cast a Hispanic actor as Khan instead of a genetically engineered Mongolian actor?

One way really terrible ideas take hold and do damage to the culture is for rational people to ignore them while zealots, ideologues and wackos keep repeating them over and over until they no longer sound as wrong as they are. Allowing illegal immigration to continue undiscouraged was one of those ideas, manifestly ridiculous and destructive. Now look where we are.

Ethic Alarms has had several posts on another really bad idea lately that is being pushed on the culture by political correctness and affirmative action activists: the loopy assertion that ethnic roles in movies and TV should only be cast with actors whose ethnic origins match those of the characters, and that if a director casts someone else, racism and bigotry are at play. Not too long ago, such an assertion would be regarded as too silly to discuss, but we have been through an intense period—the period known as “The Obama Era”— where tribal spoils, grievance-mongering and group identification have been accorded higher priority than, for example, talent, competence, experience or proven success. Through the fog of such distortions, the idea of rigid ethnic casting doesn’t seem so crazy, though it is crazy indeed.

I regard it my duty as someone who has both professional expertise in ethics and casting to slap down this rotten and indefensible  idea every time it raises its repulsive head. I recommend that you do the same.

Yesterday, Ana Valdez, the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Latino Donor Col­lab­o­ra­tive, wrote to the Washington Post to endorse film critic Ann Hornaday’s column complaining about white actors playing Middle Eastern roles (I managed to hold down my bile with that one), and  added…

She failed to ac­knowl­edge per­haps the big­gest white­wash­ing: the con­tin­ual cast­ing of white ac­tors to play Lati­nos. This has been go­ing on for decades, from Eli Wal­lach play­ing Calvera in “The Mag­nif­i­cent Seven” to Mark Ruf­falo play­ing Michael Rezen­des, a Bos­ton Globe re­porter, in “Spot­light.” Jen­nifer Con­nelly won an Os­car for her por­trayal of Ali­cia Lardé Nash in “A Beau­ti­ful Mind,” and Ben Af­fleck played Tony Men­dez in the Os­car-win­ning “Argo.” All of these char­ac­ters are Latino. Ethan Hawke, Meryl Streep, Cather­ine Zeta-Jones, Jeremy Irons and Glenn Close all have played Lati­nos in mo­tion pic­tures…. It does look like Hol­ly­wood is try­ing not to hire Lati­nos.

No, it doesn’t look like that at all. Hollywood has happily and extensively cast Hispanic and Latin stars, and continues to do so. These stars have signaled their success when the studios stopped thinking of them only as Latins, which would be the inevitable result of Valdez’s unprofessional, anti-artistic, and dare I say, ignorant, formula. Hispanic actors and actresses of proven skill and box office success have had no problem finding roles, and good ones. Cesar Romero, you may recall, was cast as a non-Hispanic Joker in the Batman TV series and film. Ricardo Montalbán began as a typecast Latin lover, and graduated to playing Khan Noonien Singh a genetically-bred “superman” of Earth’s India on TV’s “Star Trek,” and most memorably, the movie “The Wrath of Kahn.” He made a fortune playing the mysterious “Mr. Roarke”—I don’t think that’s a Hispanic name—on TV’s “Fantasy Island.” Neither the late Jose Ferrer and his son Miguel were type-cast as Hispanics, with Jose memorably playing Cyrano de Bergerac  in the film version of the classic play (Cyrano is French) and Toulous Lauttrec—on his knees; I guess this was wrong and they should have found a really short actor—in “Moulin Rouge.” Many other actors of Latin heritage have thrived in Hollywood, getting non-ethnic roles and never being typecast based on their ethnicity: Raquel Welch, Alexis Bleidel, Sammy Davis, Jr. ( he was half Cuban), Andrew Keegan, Ramon Navarro, Uma Thurman, Edward Furlong, Joanna Kerns, Lynda Carter (yes, Wonder Woman was cast with a Mexican-American, not a real Amazon), A. Martinez, Frankie Muniz, Courtney Ford, Raul Julia, and the most versatile of them all, Anthony Quinn. Each of them have been beneficiaries of a casting philosophy that is not based on  genetic codes, but ability, economics, star power, and the director’s vision of the role.

Let’s examine Valdez’s  self-rebutting list:

Eli Wal­lach as Calvera in “The Mag­nif­i­cent Seven”

The Western, which has become a classic, succeeded in no small part because of Wallach’s witty, charismatic, cliche-free portray of a ruthless Mexican bandit. Wallach was primarily a stage star, and the film launched one of the great character acting careers in film history. He was cast in part because the film’s budget couldn’t afford an established star (like Quinn, who had already played enough Mexican bandits). Director John Sturgis cast the role brilliantly because he focused on skill and presence rather than surnames. No one in their right mind would wish that anyone other than Eli Wallach would have played the role so central to what makes “The Magnificent Seven” the delight it is.

Mark Ruf­falo as Michael Rezen­des in “Spot­light.” 

This is an especially silly complaint, as 1) Rezen­des’s heritage is irrelevant to the film 2) His name is only uses a couple times: I saw the movie three times, and it never registered on me that the charcater’s name was Rezen­des or that Ruffalo isn’t Hispanic. Who cares, other than affirmative action bean-counters? Ruffalo was terrific, as he usually is.  That is what matters to the audience and film-makers, and, I strongly suspect, the real Michael Rezen­des.

Jen­nifer Con­nelly as Ali­cia Lardé Nash in “A Beau­ti­ful Mind.”

Again, the character’s ethnicity was unrelated to the story, and few audience members were aware of it. I’m certain Nash herself was thrilled to be played by a knock-out beauty like Connelly, and as Valdez notes without apparent comprehension, Connelly won the Oscar for her portrayal. Does Valdez really think whatever actor was cast would have also won the award? Does it not occur to her that when an actress wins multiple honors for a role, this creates a rebuttable presumption that her casting was wise? Does she not understand that what matters in making movies is making good ones that make money, and not being able to boast about ethnic purity in casting?

Ben Af­fleck as Tony Men­dez in the Os­car-win­ning “Argo.”

This is my favorite of Valdez’s silly examples. Again, Tony Mendez’s heritage was not germane to the story, but it is  hilariously inept evidence to prove that “Hol­ly­wood is try­ing not to hire Lati­nos.”  Do you know who the director was who cast Ben Affleck instead of the mysterious, unnamed, better suited, equally famous Hispanic star who would have ensured the movie’s success?

Director Ben Affleck, that’s who. Yes, if he hadn’t been so bigoted against Hispanics, I’m sure he would have not cast himself in the starring role. Valdez didn’t do her homework before accusing Hollywood of ethnic bias. Ben Affleck didn’t cast a Latin actor because he is biased toward Ben Affleck, not against Hispanics. I admit, I too am biased toward myself sometimes.

Valdez’s argument calls for rigid type-casting that would mean fewer roles for Hispanic actors, not more. I watched “The Guns of Navarone” last night; Anthony Quinn played a Greek, as he did more than once. He was superb. Should I be outraged that the part wasn’t cast with a Greek actor? After all, my great uncle, George Coulouris was alive, and he was a famous Greek actor (though a bit old for Quinn’s part at the time). Of-Course-Not. What mattered is that Quinn, who was half-Mexican, played Greeks better than most Greeks.

There is no outrage, there is no bias, there is no lack of diversity. There is just a standard issue Social Justice Warrior bad idea, that if it is not slapped down every time it appears until it stays down, will lead to worse movies, rigid typecasting, and less range and opportunity for all actors, including Latins.

Count on me to do my share of the slapping, but nothing is stopping you from joining in.


78 thoughts on “Yet More Casting Ethics: Let’s Slap This Bad Idea Down For Good, Shall We?

      • Bless you! Silvera was one of my favorites, a terrific actor of indeterminate race (a light-skinned black/Jamaican) who could play anything, any ethnicity, any type: the latter day J. Carroll Naish. He often played Hispanics, and given that he was ubiquitous on TV and film, stands for the proposition that there was no bias against “actors of color” if they were good, and he was very, very good.

        I remember being shocked when he died so young.

  1. Jack: “Ethic Alarms has had several posts on another really bad idea lately that is being pushed on the culture by political correctness and affirmative action activists: the loopy assertion that ethnic roles in movies and TV should only be cast with actors whose ethnic origins match those of the characters, and that if a director casts someone else, racism and bigotry are at play.”

    Well, yes, that argument is dumb. But there’s another, less radical argument that you overlook and/or lump in with this extreme one: that minority actors are routinely passed over in favor of white actors, even for roles that are written for minorities. You list several Hispanic actors to dispute this contention, but that’s anecdotal and unconvincing, and does not take into account percentages. Some studies have found that while Hispanics make up about 17% of the US population, their representation in mainstream film and television is only about 2%. To say that prejudice doesn’t influence this is naive.

    I don’t believe there needs to be a rule that an actor much always match the ethnicity of their character, but making more of an effort to cast minorities as minorities would be a smart business decision and in many cases would improve quality by bringing authenticity to the roles.

    • “their representation in mainstream film and television is only about 2%. To say that prejudice doesn’t influence this is naive.”

      Are you talking characters, or actors? I assume characters, and so what? Want to guess if Greek characters on TV match the general population? Who cares? I don’t. How about Portugese? How do you know which characters are Hispanic? Surnames? How they talk? How do you know if 25% have Hispanic back stories? Why should anyone care what the ethnicity of a fictional character is? It’s the United States. They are citizens, and where their ancestors came from is meaningless, or should be.

      If you are talking actors, who does those studies? Do they count Uma? What difference does it make? How many Hispanic actors are in the US? I know one: Robert Gant. Does he sound Hispanic to you? (His real name is Gonzalez.) You really think he’s not hired because of his heritage? If I didn’t know him, I wouldn’t know he was Hispanic. How many actors like that are there? How many full time professional actors are Hispanic? How many work regularly?

      This is grievance-manufacturing and job lobbying.

      It’s all based on ratings and money, and I think your assumption that bias is the driver of any statistical discrepancies is false.

      • Jack, it’s very easy for you, as a white man, to say “who cares?” when it comes to representation in media. You and I can go to any movie theater any day of the week and see a hero on screen who looks like us. That has real-world psychological effects on people, as does not being able to see such things, whether you want to acknowledge that or not. Representation matters. Just ask black and Asian kids who were motivated by Uhura or Sulu on Star Trek.

        • What difference does it make whether a hero looks like you? How much does he or she have to look like you? When people call for more female heroes in movies, are they saying that males won’t enjoy those movies? I dispute your premise. Do I appreciate Picard more than Kirk because he’s bald? I’m dark haired and olive skinned—does Robert Redford being the lead in The Natural undermine my enjoyment of mu favorite baseball movie? Roy Hobbs was based on Ted Williams, who was Hispanic. uh-oh….

          • “When people call for more female heroes in movies, are they saying that males won’t enjoy those movies?”

            No, they’re saying that more female heroes in movies would be good for little girls. Just as minorities say more minority heroes in movies would be good for minority children.

            No one is saying minorities and women don’t enjoy white male heroes. We’re saying that for too long, those have been virtually the only options. Look at Marvel: twelve movies so far, and every single one has featured a white male lead, with only one minority-led and one female-led film in the pipeline. The media has an effect on the way people think: this reinforces stereotypes about who matters and who doesn’t matter in our society. (And I say this as a fan of nearly all of the Marvel movies.)

            • Marvel is making moves about characters who are 60 years old and were drawn as whites. The options: don’t make the movies; make the movies about altered characters, (which almost always means box office failure), or cast a black man as Thor and put him in “Norseface.” I’d have no problem with the latter, by the way, if it worked. Based on you argument in the Simone thread, you are bound to argue that no, they would have to cast the right shade of god.

              Okay, I admit, I’m messing with you…

              • There were plenty of minority Avengers Marvel could have chosen to focus on that have as much history and as much prestige as Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America did when they first started making these movies–this was hardly the A-list, at least among comic book fans. Is Ant-Man really more of a box office draw than Black Panther or Luke Cage? And that’s not even getting into the gender issue. Not saying the studio is racist–heck, they cast a black man as Nick Fury–but I am saying they could be more diverse.

                And I think the people complaining about Zoe Saldana playing Nina Simone are bananas.

                • You know what social justice is great at? Appropriation. You know what they are horrible at? Creation.

                  You want to know why Ant-Man was made before Luke Cage? The same reason Straight Outta* Compton was made before The Mike Shinoda Experience: The producers played to their target demographics. Social Justice Warriors will do anything short of actually opening up their wallets and supporting the medium to become the target audience.

                  This is a strange mixture of supply and demand and chicken and egg: “If you make what we want we’ll support you, except when you do, we won’t actually. And once you start, if you stop, we’ll complain as if we actually do support you. Think of the disenfranchised kids!”

                  It’s so…. lazy. And entitled. You want to prove how great your diversity is? Make a script, find a producer. You want to know what those asshats in Hollywood are biased for? Money. Spin them a way to make money off a black lead in a superhero movie and they’ll be there. But that would require… effort. And y’know… investment. And creativity.

                  *A small part of my soul broke when my squiggly red line failed to identify “Outta”.

                  • ” Spin them a way to make money off a black lead in a superhero movie and they’ll be there.”

                    Will Smith in the role of Hancock, a superhero whose ill considered behavior regularly causes damage in the millions.
                    The powerful superhero John Hancock has become a joke because of his alcoholism and clumsiness. He has also become the most hated man in Los Angeles.

                    • That’s a great example of doing it right! And I seem to remember that it did rather well… Let me check… Yes. Did about 100 million better than Ant Man, with a smaller budget. Go figure.

          • “does Robert Redford being the lead in The Natural undermine my enjoyment of my favorite baseball movie?”

            No, because you haven’t been taught nor are you being buffeted daily with messages that convince you the world is out to get you in every way possible.

            Chris is right, there’s a psychological thing going on, but it isn’t the casting. It’s malicious messaging that whites are out to get minorities at every turn, even when whites aren’t trying…that’s the sickness that pervades these issues EVERY SINGLE TIME.

  2. The Syria-born Michael Ansara followed Wallach as the antagonist in “Guns of the Magnificent Seven.” He also played the Apache Cochise, the Hawaiian Kamehameha, the Babylonian Belshazzar, the Klingon Kang, and the genie The Blue Djinn.

  3. Wait, so no Hispanic should ever be cast as Hamlet? After all, if roles can only be played by actons* of the ethnicity of the role, no matter how skilled the acton or how marginal the ethnicity is to the character then non-white actons must likewise be locked out of many great roles. Personally I think actons like Martin Sheen (born Ramon Antonio Gerardo Estevez) have done some pretty good work portraying white characters, but this sort of brownwashing (casting Hispanic actors in white roles) must surely be as offensive to Ana Vadez as whitewashing. Why do these social justice types work so hard at ghettoizing ethnic minorities when the rest of the country/world have worked far harder to create meritocracy where who your parents were matters for less than what you can do?

    *acton is a gender neutral word I just coined to represent actors, actress, other genders, and genderless who might find it offensive that the male ‘actor’ is used generically to refer to any person who acts without regard to their gender or lack thereof.

    • “Wait, so no Hispanic should ever be cast as Hamlet? After all, if roles can only be played by actons* of the ethnicity of the role…”

      No one is arguing that. That is a strawman argument.

      The argument is that minorities are underrepresented and passed over for roles already, even for roles which are written as minorities, and that this should change. One way to change that is to cast minorities as minorities. The reason this does not apply to minorities playing white characters is that white actors have no history of being discriminated against and passed over for being white.

      • ugh. Chris, if minorities demand to be cast as their own ethnicity, then that will eliminate their opportunities to be cast otherwise. You are arguing for double standards, and if white, Anglo-Saxon roles are treated the same way, then minorities will lose out. Actors fight type-casting, and you are arguing either for that, or a double standard. There is only one way to cast, and that is to cast the actor with the skills and qualities that will make the best product. Who were their parents and where their ancestors came from is so far down the relevant priority list that you shouldn’t be able to see them with a telescope.

        • It’s not a double standard, it’s a legitimate difference: whites are not discriminated against in Hollywood, and minorities are.

          But you won’t accept that basic premise, so we’re never going to agree.

          • You mean like Ben Affleck casting himself?

            The double standard is “non-Anglo-Saxon actors can be cast as anything, but white Anglo actors should not be cast as ethnic minorities, no matter what they look like. That is, by definition, a double standard. “Whites are not discriminated against in Hollywood, and minorities are” is your (misguided) justification for a double standard, but it’s its still a double standard, and dounle standards are by definition self-contradicting, unjust and unethical.

            Hispanics are white, by the way. I’M darker than a lot of Hispanics. As in the Nina Simone example, you would “progressively” divide actors into categories by shade, like a Sherwin-Williams color wheel, and keep meticulous score. Only actors of “sunset beige brown #16” should be cast to play characters of the same subtle hue. Siblings, who may differ in color shade dramatically, couldn’t play each other, or it would be “discrimination” if the lighter was playing the darker. And this is what I mean. It’s an insane idea that defies logic and fairness and eats its own so-called principles while defeating the art involved, and you don’t see it, a smart guy capable of complex critical thought. You have convinced yourself that political correctness should defeat the purpose of the artistic craft, because you have, I must assume, heard people you respect say this stuff way too often.

            • 1) I’m not sure where you got the idea that I’m one of the detractors of Zoe Saldana playing Nina Simone–she’s a black woman playing a black woman, and those complaining about her casting are going to an extreme.

              2) Hispanics are not treated as white in America, but as a distinct ethnic group. This ethnic group faces discrimination in America, including in casting. That is what matters. There is no scientific basis for classification based on race, there are only social constructs of race, and in America whites and Hispanics are considered distinct.

              3) Ben Affleck casting himself as the lead in Argo is one particular instance of whitewashing. I’m not sure why you think it’s not whitewashing just because his motive was vanity rather than hatred against Hispanics; I assume it’s because you think racism is defined by hatred, but most racism is much more subtle and casual than that.

              That said, no individual instance can be pointed to as that big of a problem. It’s the trend that’s the problem. So if, say, one or two Biblical movies were made starring white actors as characters from the ancient Middle East (and yes, Middle Easterners are ALSO treated as a distinct ethnic group from whites), that wouldn’t be a problem. But when nearly EVERY Biblical movie is cast this way, then it starts to look like casting directors are biased toward whites and against Middle Easterners. When one prominent director comes out and says he wouldn’t make any money if he cast a guy named Mohammad, then that’s confirmation that Middle Easterners won’t even be considered for roles that are based on characters of their own ethnicity.

              You say that the art is all that matters, but routine whitewashing does impact the quality of the art. For one thing, it detracts from its authenticity. This is not the only thing that matters in art, but it is one element that, if routinely neglected, becomes a negative trend. Then there is the impact of the art on society. Seeing a minority group constantly portrayed by whites sends the message that white people are universal or the “default,” and other races do not matter as much. If the purpose of art is to reach people, more diversity in casting could help reach a larger audience.

              • 1. I apologize: I was debating with deery about Zoe and you about Afghans at the same time, and got confused. Although I think both positions are equally invalid.

                2. We have two Hispanics running for President; claims of discrimination against Hispanics are exaggerated wildly for political advantage. Illegal immigrants are discriminated against correctly. Not being able to speak English has consequences, and should. Hispanic advocates want a piece if the victim spoils, but unlike blacks, they don’t have much evidence of the bias they claim.

                3. The claim was the his casting was evisence that Hollywood “didn’t want to hire Hispanics.” What I was correctly pointing out was that Affleck would have cast himself whether the character was Hispanic, French or Martian. No bias was involved. Obviously.

                I find whitewashing like “The Impossible” wrong, and wrote about it: a Spanish woman and her family’s heroic story was mutated into the tale of a blonde Brit. But there is no reason that Ben Affleck couldn’t play a Hispanic American, and suggesting that this casting would traumatize anyone is a fantasy. Come on.

                  • Ok, so it wasn’t an example of bias, and it didn’t hurt the film, or the audience, or young Hispanics. So why is it whitewashing? Or is this just a pejorative slur for “cast a good actor with more star power than any Hispanic actor and who fit the director’s vision of the role, who played the part well and contributed to the success of the movie”?

          • Does anyone remember that professor that said that she wasn’t a sexist racist, couldn’t be a sexist racist, because white men hold a position of privilege in society and thus can’t be discriminated against?

            Whatever happened to her? Oh yes: She was canned.


            Because it doesn’t really matter what you THINK words SHOULD mean, words still mean what they ACTUALLY mean. And while I’m not sure that this actually should have cost her her job (although the argument could be easily made) I get a kick out of someone being hoisted on their own petard like this.

        • There is only one way to cast, and that is to cast the actor with the skills and qualities that will make the best product.

          I have never seen such patience in the midst of repeatedly poor, unmanageable argumentation. The various arguments seem to me to be subsets of affirmative action and, as such, are beating a dead and putrifying horse. Not that affirmative action is dead, unfortunately, but the arguments in favor of it have been sufficiently answered. There have been role models and fence-busters in every area, including every immigrant group. I don’t hear anyone mentioning, much less championing, earned merit.

          Instead, it is the trend now to promote race over ethnicity when neither are pertinent to the achievment in acting or any other area. Pushing for special interests (for a false sense of “level playing field”: what happened to that awful race-race video we saw recently?) has only one result — further division and competition, not between white and black, but among the non-white. “Black” is apparently supposed to cover a multitude of nationalities and ethnicities, but it does not do so, and it cannot be forced to do so. People tend to adhere to their respective heritages and individualities. Adding Hispanic to the “me first” outcry is only asking for more elbowing in an already crowded group of wannabe actors. Not least, it also encourages hopefuls to join the jostling throng who are being made to think that race or ethnicity trumps talent .

          The fact is that non-“white”ness is already on the casting director’s register of such personal data as performance credits, training, age, voice, special skills, references and so on. It comes under the category of Appearance, which is always more than any picture provides; in other words, it is already an integral part of whatever is needed to fill any and every role. It’s a hobby-horse that needs to be put out to pasture, not for its age, for its infirmity.

  4. The Austrians are next. Surely an Austrian actress could have been found who would have played Maria von Trapp far better than Julie Andrews! Come to think of it…were there any Austrians in “The Sound of Music”?

    And I think it’s a requirement that Britons of a certain age play Hitler: Guinness, Hopkins, Basehart. I don’t know of a single Austrian who’s ever been cast as him.

  5. It all started with Jesus. The ultimate white guy playing the role of an ethnic character. For centuries he has been portrayed in art and on screen as light skinned and small-nosed, with wavy light brown hair. When I was little I had a Children’s Bible that was illustrated and Jesus was as white as white could be.

    • “For centuries he has been portrayed in art and on screen as light skinned and small-nosed, with wavy light brown hair.”

      And for the first 3 centuries, he wasn’t portrayed at all in any mass amount. Cultural memory fades fast, and given that the ‘dark ages’ were nigh, it’s pretty easy to see that when Christian art depictions of Jesus did begin to flourish, the uneducated Europeans at the time turned to what they knew (and assumed the rest of the world looked like).

      But you know those white supremacist 4th century types. They needed to keep the black man down and it was useful to portray Jesus as white to aid in that effort.

      Well, I mean when they weren’t having to avoid Visigoths and all…

      • The whole issue has never made sense. Even as a kid, I knew those blonde blue-eyed paintings were guesses, and likely bad ones—kids know that nobody knows what any Biblical figures looked like. But Jesus is at best half mortal–never as sure whether he was 50% Mary, or just and implant, so he could presumably look like anything from Rita Hayworth to an armadillo. If God wanted an early test run of his Brad Pitt model, why not?

        And there’s this, which always seemed sensible to me…

  6. Lisa, I think you have highlighted the one place where this issue concerns me. The Jesus Movie, which was closely based on the Bible, cast a white bloke as Jesus but used Semitic people for most other rolls. The specific reason I was disappointed in this is that I had a young Australian Aboriginal boy tell me he couldn’t take Jesus’ role in a Sunday school class dramatisation because Jesus was white. A great teaching opportunity to be sure, but a bad misconception shared by many. Funnily enough, I don’t object to Jesus being presented as a whitey in an all white culture; he is after all, the Saviour of ALL. In a multi-cultural society like Australia – that’s the country with the Kangaroos, not a wall dividing us from Slovenia, I like to see more diversity in representing Jesus, but it’s for theological reasons not some sort of ethnic bias. I’d also like to see five wise men, just to get a discussion going!

    I am involved in Stable on the Strand, Townsville’s Christmas celebration. We have a manger scene amongst other things and it has been fun to have Aboriginal, Torres Islander, Indian, Asian and yes, even whitey baby Jesus’ in the manger.

    What concerns me far more is that in most paintings supposedly of Jesus, as in the one you shared, he is represented as a namby-pamby woos who looks like he’d burst into tears if someone said hello to him! Pretty far from a tradie who took on the establishment head on and flogged people out of the temple with a rope whip!

    • Lisa and Paul get to the heart of the issue: constantly whitewashing characters has real psychological impacts on people, from a very young age. Jesus is perhaps the best example, but hardly the only.

  7. I wonder if as many Bible Belt Americans would worship this guy:

    Reconstructed from real skull of a man of the same ethnicity, sect and time as Jesus was believed to have lived. He is coifed and clipped as was the custom of the time. For some reason they just seem to be more comfortable with the angelic looking white guy who looks like a Portlander rather than a Palestinian Jew.

    • “I wonder if as many Bible Belt Americans would worship this guy”

      Given that his appearance is 10,000 times less relevant than his teaching and ministry, I’d say yes, they probably would. You’re just being silly at this point, as well as revealing, over several posts now, what must be a crippling hatred of Christianity…

        • I know right. Lisa is quietly attributing racism as a key reason people worship what she assumes is their exclusive version of Christ.

          Lots of bigotry in that statement.

          • Actually, it is a reference to the fear and mistrust of the Middle Eastern looking man in the Bible Belt. Their is an assumption that anyone with that “look” is Muslim. If he showed up one day in Alabama looking the way he would have really looked, he’d have a hard sell to explain who he really is…

            I don’t hate Christianity, but I am not a Christian. I think religion has been one of the most divisive things man has invented. I also think religion is used disingenuously by clergy and world leaders to control people.

            • “I think religion has been one of the most divisive things man has invented. I also think religion is used disingenuously by clergy and world leaders to control people.”

              I have heard people saying things like this my whole life. But I really fail to see the value in observations like this.

              Do you also find politics, philosophy, and world-views equally distasteful as religion? Because all those have been as if not more divisive than religion and often have been used ‘disingenuously’ by their respective ‘clergies’ to control people.

              If you don’t, then I’d submit you have a subtle double standard.

              • Yes, I do agree those things (and many more) are used to manipulate and control people. However there is something different about religion, in most cases, it demands unquestioning faith with threat of eternal damnation for those who are of another group or abstain. It touts itself as perfect, all knowing and all powerful. Many, if not most, of religion’s devotees consider their particular dogma to be inerrant. While admitting it was written by man with god’s inspiration. This allows for interpretation of scripture twisted to the convenience of the leader twisting it. Philosophy, politics and world-views do not have that eternal perfection/eternal torture hold on their followers.

                • “Philosophy, politics and world-views do not have that eternal perfection/eternal torture hold on their followers.”

                  And yet, it seems, the adherents of worldly philosophies / political schemes seem to rack up a greater kill count and misery index than do the followers of religion. At least if history and statistics are a useful guide….

  8. I will say I would have preferred a Mongolian or hispanic Khan if possible. I don’t think the movie Khan had enough magnetism to build his empire. The ethnicity would have been secondary if the actor was right, but nice if available.

      • “Look what they’ve done to my car!”

        As I understand it, Ricardo Montalban ad libbed the term “fine Corinthian leather.” There’s evidently no such thing and certainly no one at Chrysler, never mind anyone involved with those dreadful K Cars had ever heard of such a thing.

      • I think mariedowd may be speaking of Benedict Cumberbatch as Khan, at least I hope so as Ricarrdo IS Khan. And I don’t think he was a ham, more that he was willing and able to push the character to where he is almost a Shakespearean villain.

        Oh by the way you left off Rita Hayworth, born Margarita Carmen Cansino ,she was half Spanish.

        • Thanks…she was in my head somewhere, because I meantioned her in a comment without even thinking about the Hispanic connection. Which also got me thinking: nobody talked about Hayworth being “Hispanic,’ she was just Rita Hayworth, an incredibly talented, vivacious, beautiful actress. Nobody thought of Ted Williams as Hispanic—nobody cared. Same with Raquel Welch. How is the current obsession with ethnic bean-counting and labels progress? How does it help the culture, or Hispanic-Americans? How is separating yourself from your fellow Americans a benefit to the country, unless the objective is to get jobs by group membership rather than merit, like Justice Sotomayor, or Marco Rubio.

        • I meant ham in the best way, with love. Some actors can be over the top without losing credibility—Cagney, Brenner, Bette Davis, Nicholson, Brando, George C. Scott—and I put Riccardo in that category: always vivid, always sharp, always with an extra flair. Loved him…appreciated him more over time.

        • Yes, I liked the drama and passion of Mr. Montalban. On the TV episode, the drama didn’t fully click, but the magnetism did, even for a kid. In his movie it was a fuller package with both Shakespearean and Moby Dick riffs. Mr. Cumberbatch doesn’t carry epic scenes as well, and didn’t have the previous Joachim and Marlena to enrich his character’s background and motives. (I suspect Mr. Cumberbatch might have been good for a recast of Data)

    • The most important aspect of Khan is that being marooned for 20 years on a desert planet will convert even the most advanced genetic humans from technologically endowed supermen into a 1980s Hair Metal band without question…

  9. There’s the whole ‘change your name so they won’t know you aren’t white’ history in showbiz. And the current Rep. front-runner (won’t type that name!) makes great fun of Jon Stewart for it, leading to the Drumpf business. But that was what started blurring certain lines about who was what ‘kind’ back when looking good, acting well and a lucky break was what made it happen, and your name didn’t matter. Except *if* it did, the studio (or you) would change it. I think that’s a tangent, but related here. Not as many performers with more ‘ethnic’ names were getting stardom, but there are more stars with heritage that doesn’t ‘match’ their current performing name than all of us know.

    The identity issue is also something. Seeing someone up on screen who LOOKS just like you has real power if that isn’t something you see in your current world. Or even FEELS like you, even if they don’t match your look. “Ring of Keys” in Fun Home made me stop breathing and cry on the Tonys, and I’m not a young lesbian growing up in smalltown PA. But I had that type of BAM- identification- as a kid when I didn’t fit the molds around me. But adding more types of folks to casting IN GENERAL is bettering that, and quotas on who can play what won’t help it as much as I think some think it will. As a white hetero woman, there were things I grew up not fully understanding until someone of a different background showed me. It’s not as cut and dry when there are lots of options to look around and see as yourself. So it’s a far more personal experience that we can’t always understand OR culture for others.

    • Then there’s that Jesus guy again.

      Thought Yeshua was just too Jewish, so his PR guys got him in good with the Greeks changing things to Yesous. But some of his later PR guys felt that was still a little too ethnic and just not white enough, so, in compromise, not going fully anglicized with “Joshua”, they settled on Jesus.

      Been a hit ever since.

  10. Just last week I had a very interesting discussion about this very issue in my Beginning Directing class. We were talking about casting strategies and how important (or unimportant, as the case may be) “look” is, and—inevitably, no doubt—someone brought up the production of The Mountaintop at Kent State University last fall, in which a white actor played not merely a role written for a black actor, but a well-known historical figure: Martin Luther King.

    One of the first students to raise his hand to get into the conversation was an African-American man, who started with “I’ve got something to say.” Everyone kind of giggled. But his second sentence was a lot more interesting: “I’d like to see that production.” He wasn’t being facetious or ironic. No, he argued that if Dr. King’s vision were to come true, then skin color wouldn’t matter. And until that happens, then looking at King’s struggle as a man seeking justice rather than as a black man looking to improve the lot of those like himself reformulates the issues at play. I don’t know if he’d read the commentary by the director at Kent State—he was certainly aware of the case—but what he had to say was a very close approximation of the director’s stated rationale. Of course, playwright Katori Hall didn’t see it that way, and that brings up a boatload of other issues not necessarily germane to this topic.

    Ultimately, it’s been my experience that people like being righteously indignant. I may have mentioned this before (if so, apologies for the repetition), but one of my favorite casting stories was from a production of John Millington Synge’s The Well of the Saints. All the characters are Irish peasants. I cast a young West Indian man as one of the townspeople. I remember sitting at lunch with colleagues after the show opened. One person objected to the casting because “he didn’t look Irish.” Another didn’t like the fact that a minority actor was blithely cast as a peasant. Remember, all the characters are both Irish and peasants. So it’s don’t cast the best available actor because he doesn’t fit the stereotype, and don’t cast him because it would be stereotyping him to do so. Sigh.

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