Since starting my own blog, I’ve had less time to comment on other blogs I read. The Stranger has for a long time been one of my guilty pleasures, but I can never seem to get any satisfaction from any of the threads. No matter how hard I try, my comments are always taken in a bad way and I get this bitchy vitriol directed back at me. That is if my comment is even noticed.
Take for instance, this very compelling topic posted by Dan Savage. He posts a quote from the Washington Post on a half white, half Asian actor playing Barack Obama.
Debate over that question has been pinging around the Internet since [Fred] Armisen, a veteran cast member, donned darker makeup to portray the Democratic candidate for the first time Saturday. Armisen played Obama opposite Amy Poehler’s Hillary Clinton in a sketch satirizing the supposedly cushy treatment his candidacy has received from the media.
Then he completes his post with:
Have we reached a point where someone that isn’t black can play a black character, or impersonate a black politician, without stooping to crude racist caricature? I think we have.
I’ve been aware of this topic since the controversy over Jonathan Price playing a Vietnamese Pimp in Miss Saigon. If memory serves, Actors Equity was quite upset that an English transport was going to play this part instead of an American, and a white one at that.
I put this comment on The Stranger in answer to Dan’s question. I wasn’t referring to Saturday Night Live and I haven’t even seen the skit.
I frown on it, just because they are plenty of ethnic and mixed-race actors out there that aren’t being used because their parts are being stolen by white actors. Charleton Heston in A Touch of Evil, Angelina Jolie in A Mighty Heart, Ashley Judd in Frida. You can’t tell me there are no other actors that could have taken these parts.
The onslaught begins:
@1 there’s no actors that could have done it as well? couldn’t have drawn an audience for the price the studio paid to finance the movie? who gives a fuck?
Fred Armistan is a mixed-race actor, D. But not the right mix, it seems, for some.
For every non-“ethnic” actor who plays an “ethnic” part, there are fifty “ethnic” actors playing Hamlet or Macbeth or Henry V, somewhere in the country. “Stolen” my hairy Hungarian ass.
For every one black movie star of today, I can probably name 6-8 white stars.” Given that blacks are 12% of the total population, this seems reasonable. Is there some reason that you feel that blacks should be overrepresented in the entertainment industry?
I stand by my comment. There are very few times when a non-white actor plays a character that isn’t specifically non-white and I suppose as a person of mixed-race who has gotten rejected for Southern women roles, English roles, etc. it seems unfair that someone can don makeup to play an ethnic role.
I would like to say it’s getting better though. Famously, no lines were changed when Morgan Freedman took on the Irish role of Red in The Shawshank Redemption. Even as Asian characters become modern and very American in movies, like Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle, their race is very much a part of their character. Like many Asian Americans, I just want to be me. I don’t live every second thinking about my race, so I don’t see why I would have to portray that in film.
The film Double Happiness with Sandra Oh really captures this. If only they had better clips on YouTube. Like where Sandra Oh is playing Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire in her bedroom. Another scene, she goes to an audition and the first thing the auditors ask is can she do an accent. She launches in to a French accent and the auditors are visibly confused. The next scene we see is her playing a waitress with a thick Chinese accent. Here’s a good scene nonetheless. Rent the movie.
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