More Casting Ethics Madness: “Colorism” And Will Smith

Perusing the Ethics Alarms essays on casting ethics (there are a lot of them), I think I finally understand the rules. It’s wrong to cast a black actor to play a black character when the original character was white, but if the black character is playing a white character as white, that’s OK. Casting an African-American actor to play a fictional Arab sheik in “Ben-Hur” is fine, but casting a black Samoan-American as fictional black icon John Henry is unacceptable. It’s wrong to cast an abled actor to play a disabled character, wrong to cast a cis actress to play a real life woman who pretended to be a man, wrong to cast that same actress to play an animated heroine who was originally drawn as Japanese, but brilliant to cast black and Puerto Rican actors to play Alexander Hamilton and the Founders. Oh! I nearly forgot! It’s wrong to cast a white actor to replace a black actor who replaced a white actor playing the role of a white character.

Clear?

Now we have a casting ethics controversy that has raised its empty head before: Will Smith is on the verge of being cast to play Serena and Venus Williams’ father Richard in a film, and critics and social justice warriors are calling it “colorism,” because Smith isn’t as dark and the tennis stars’ dad.  Black sports writer Clarence Hill Jr tweeted, “Colorism matters..love will Smith but there are other black actors for this role..” Another indignant political correctness warrior  (in Great Britain) wrote, “Why are they whitewashing the dad with Will Smith? Colourism is constantly subconsciously fed to us and we just eat it up…”

“Colorism” is unethical because, the BBC tells us, because

“It can lead to a lack of representation in film, TV and fashion, particularly in Hollywood and Bollywood, as well as discrimination at work or on dating sites, and even to serious health problems from skin bleaching creams.”

Except, you know, casting Smith as Williams isn’t colorism. It is “casting a prominent actor for the role who will put fannies in the seats-ism.” Who cares how dark or light Richard Williams is? What does his skin shade have to do with the reason he’s worthy of a film portrayal? Would Venus and Serena be better or worse athletes if he were the shade of Will Smith?

The “colorism” argument has come-up before, in the controversy over The Rock playing John Henry, and when not-sufficiantly black actress Zoe Saldana was cast to play singer Nina Simone, and wore dark make-up to resemble her.

I’m pretty sure that I’ve finally figured out what’s going on. Just as rape isn’t about sex but about asserting power, so the progressive complaints about casting aren’t truly about race, or color, or fairness, or white-washing, or any of the supposed justifications for manufactured outrage. They virtually always for the purpose of asserting and cementing the power to bend others to their will, to establish the precedent that whatever they demand, even when it is the opposite of what they may have demanded in the day before, even if it is obvious that they are making up the rules as they go along, must be accepted. It is the equivalent of an abusive boss ordering a subordinate to strip, get down on all fours, and bark like a dog.  They do it because they can.

The only way to end this nonsense is to defy it, but as we have seen in most of the casting controversies, since actors are generally too shallow and too cowardly to articulate ethical principles much less take a stand in favor of them, the actor who is the target of the complaint usually grovels an apology and withdraws. I’m hoping that Smith is made of sterner stuff, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

 

13 thoughts on “More Casting Ethics Madness: “Colorism” And Will Smith

  1. Ok, let’s take on casting stupidity head on. The ethics are a muddled mess. First all casting choices are fine depending on what the director is trying to say if it is part of their message. But if they are trying to do a true to life message casting true to race is a must. If you are trying to say this is everyone’s story, non traditional casting is fine.

    The problem as I see it is some times the project is not served by sticking to using niche actors, I see this all time, actors who look the role but are horrid in their level of talent or training. My main issue currently is the move to only cast gay and lesbian actors in gay and lesbian roles. I worry as their are many more gay actors then their are gay roles, and many classic gay actors and modern actors have proven they can play straight, and straights playing gays. My problem with sticking to this casting is it could eventually sideline great gay actors from straight roles, and their are not enough gay roles to cover the overwhelming numbers of gay actors, this could lead to a shortage of straight actors for roles and an over abundance of actors for gay roles. It is stupidity for gay thespians and their supposed allies to call for it but they are.

    The question is who is the best actor for the role, and if the role does not require race,gender, age as an issue in the story then give it to the best actor, I would love to see color blind casting when ever possible, and I also have seen actresses play men and actors play women brilliantly, it is art something not all can understand. If the story or message is best served by who you cast deal with it. Problem is political correctness makes these decisions more volatile then ever. Causing me to worry are the better actors losing out. Hollywood and The theater world are getting better at representation, but we need to tread carefully as their are many actors that may get lost in the political snafus.

  2. This is actually kind of scary. I think you see some of this in Spike Lee’s movies where lighter skinned black people would discriminate against darker skinned black people. So, even within the black community, there was this sort of discrimination.

    This controversy suggests that “we” still have not gotten beyond that; even worse, its okay to discriminate amongst black people based upon how light-skinned or dark-skinned they are.

    -Jut

  3. “Colorism” is just another device of the Left to stifle speech, and feed the outrage machine they use to justify their calls for free speech restrictions.

  4. Jack wrote:

    “I’m pretty sure that I’ve finally figured out what’s going on. Just as rape isn’t about sex but about asserting power, so the progressive complaints about casting aren’t truly about race, or color, or fairness, or white-washing, or any of the supposed justifications for manufactured outrage. They virtually always for the purpose of asserting and cementing the power to bend others to their will, to establish the precedent that whatever they demand, even when it is the opposite of what they may have demanded in the day before, even if it is obvious that they are making up the rules as they go along, must be accepted. It is the equivalent of an abusive boss ordering a subordinate to strip, get down on all fours, and bark like a dog. They do it because they can.”

    Bingo! This continual, unfolding and ever-expanding power play is what ALL of the Left’s manufactured offense and outrage is about. And they ARE getting away with it, from Confederate monuments to Columbus to “RACISM!” etc., etc. ad nauseum. And they do want to be our bosses.

  5. Unfortunately, Will Smith’s portrayal of Bennet Omalu in Concussion never hit the par, but I don’t think that was because of the blackness of the character. I think the media would tear apart Smith for his acting before they would do so for his color. I don’t know that he ever hits par with the more serious roles. As for the colorism debate, when it comes to portraying actual people, I think Hollywood can only do so much in their balance of good acting and embodiment of the person. Will Smith should play this part at his own risk, but the criticism shouldn’t come from his color.

    • Chris, Smith’s a movie star in the old mold, and he’s pretty much judged that way. He wasn’t bad in concussion; it wasn’t a very challenging role, except for the accent, which critics care more about than they should. He’s an amazing story: a rapper with no acting experience who has become competent in drama (“Enemy of the State) while showing a natural aptitude for comedy.

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