That’s Anne Boleyn on the photo above. No, really, it is. Well, okay, it’s really British actress Jodie Turner-Smith portraying King Henry the VIII’s doomed second wife, whom most people don’t realize was black. That is, of course, because she wasn’t black, just like Martin Luther King wasn’t Chinese and Genghis Kahn wasn’t a Hassidic Jew. However, a new TV mini-series, which premiered last week in Great Britain, cast Turner-Smith because no white actresses were available to play the role. No, that can’t be right. No white British actress were qualified to play an English historical figure? That can’t be true either. What’s going on here?
“It is the first time a Black actress has portrayed the Tudor queen onscreen,” the New York Times helpfully informs us. Really! The factoids we get from the Times! Why not, I wonder? Wait, wait, don’t tell me: has a man ever played Anne Boleyn in a serious historical drama? How about an octogenarian? An actress in a wheelchair? A dwarf? How about a moose? A block of cheese?
“We wanted to find someone who could really inhabit her but also be surprising to an audience,” Faye Ward, one of the show’s executive producers, said in an interview. Surprising, or confusing? Surprising is a piece of cake, as another doomed queen, but from France, would have said. Casting Woody Allen as Anne would be surprising. What’s the objective here?
The Times feature rapidly descends into a hybrid of Authentic Frontier Gibberish crossed with Wokish.
“Although race does not figure overtly in the show’s plot, the program makers adopted an approach known as “identity-conscious casting,” which allows actors to bring “all those factors of yourself to a role,” Ward said. For Turner-Smith, that meant connecting her experiences with the ways in which Anne, who was raised in the French court, was an outsider and suffered at Henry’s court.“As a Black woman, I can understand being marginalized. I have a lived experience of what limitation and marginalization feel like,” Turner-Smith, 34, said in an interview. “I thought it was interesting to bring the freshness of a Black body telling that story.”
Interesting! I bet it was interesting, since she got a plumb role without any of the usual qualifications an actress would normally require for the role (except for that little race thing, she’s also 30% older than Anne was when she died). Inhabiting the role and revealing the figure’s emotions as “an outsider” is called, if I recall, “acting.” Saying that one must, or needs to be a member of a historically marginalized group to play a real life woman who felt “marginalized” for a completely different reason is nothing but weak rationalizating. Be honest.
It’s stunt casting, that’s all. Just admit it. The idea is to cause buzz and publicity, yes, and controversy. That’s all! Mission accomplished! The casting will be defensible if the show works, which is theater-speak for “justifies its existence by entertaining the audience and makes money.”
I’m not concerned about historical accuracy. It’s not as if there aren’t too many films and TV series about Anne Boleyn to count where she is not portrayed as a historical anomaly. Is this stunt an oblique reference to Ms. Markle? If so, cheap,cheap, cheap, but again, if it works, it’s A-OK with me!
Except for one little thing. In The United States and Great Britain, white actors and actresses are being told that they can’t even be cartoon voices for white fictional characters (See: “The Simpsons”). Directors are being told by activists that autistic actors have to be cast as fictional autistic characters, and white actors can’t play Ko-Ko in “The Mikado,” and American Naomi Watts was whitewashing when she played a real life Spanish woman in “The Impossible.” But a black actress is cast as Anne Boleyn as the New York Times fawns, and actors “of color” are cheered for playing Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr in “Hamilton.”
Nope. Uh-uh, sorry, can’t have it both ways. Unethical, like all double standards. Ethics Foul.
Either any actor of any set of characteristics can be justifiably cast as any character, real or fictional, if the casting works, or the once inclusive and creative concept of non-traditional casting has become one more of the rapidly multiplying ways to discriminate against men and whites.
If the actors whose careers and livelihoods are threatened by this discrimination disguised as “antiracism” meekly accept it, they are not just fools, they are incompetent citizens.
The same is true of audiences.