A side effect of color-blind casting

I have discussed before the increased trend towards color-blind casting of films and TV shows, which I see more in British productions than in American ones, along with the related issue of cultural appropriation.

In general, I favor color-blind casting and have got used to it. To see people of color playing roles where they would not normally be seen in such positions, such as the aristocracy in costume dramas of a bygone period, seems increasingly unexceptional to me.

But I started to wonder if by having such portrayals, we might be inadvertently downplaying the racist repression that existed in those times. For example, in the TV series Bridgerton, people of color play lords and ladies in England a couple of centuries ago which is not even remotely close to reality. Would some viewers leave with the impression that this was the reality of those days?

It would seem that one would have to be massively ignorant of history to fall into such a way of thinking but given that there are reportedly people who think that humans lived alongside dinosaurs because they are portrayed that way in the cartoon show The Flintstones, one cannot totally discount the possibility.


  1. sonofrojblake says

    It just goes to show you simply cannot please everyone. You can’t even please all SJWs, because the ones calling for colour blind casting will be happy while the ones demanding a true accounting of the history of racism will be screaming blue murder, or vice versa. And conservatives would be complaining either way.

    Personally I favour saying “fuck ’em” to the lot of them and casting good actors. And if that means a person of colour ends up in a role that could/”should” have been played by a white person, great. (As if anyone cares, my pick for 007 would be Idris Elba, even at his age (he’s five years younger than Craig, he’s got at least two movies in him yet..). But FOR FUCKS SAKE never, ever allow a white person to play a role that could/”should” be played by a person of colour. Never. It’s simply not worth the noise and the effort of apologising afterwards.

  2. TGAP Dad says

    Bridgerton at least included a tiny bit about 4 episodes in explaining the presence of people of color in the aristocracy. I’m guessing someone noticed it late and added it as an afterthought.

  3. Lofty says

    Let actors be whatever colour they want, I’ll judge them solely on their acting rather than their racial heritage.

  4. Bruce says

    How can we criticize the US Constitution as a slave-holders’ document when we all saw that Hamilton and all the founding fathers were non-white? That’s what US politics will debate in 2025-2035, or until the global heat death of the USA, whichever comes first.

  5. brucegee1962 says

    One thing I like about the Marvel movies is that, not only are they using all the heroes of color from the comic books, but they also are doing non-traditional casting for some of the originally white roles. Valkyrie is very blonde in the comics, but she is a WoC in the movies. Nick Fury is another obvious example, as are Heimdall and Hogun. (A good reminder that these people aren’t actually Norse, they are Asgardian.)

  6. John Morales says

    It’s pretty damn simple.

    Either it’s a faithful adaptation of some work of fiction, or it’s not.
    Either it’s accurate to historical facts, or it’s not.

    Some people don’t care, others do.

    I care.

    Anyway, regarding the show in question, I looked it up on Wikipedia:

    In regards to the historical accuracy of the show, Chris Van Dusen has said that the show “is a reimagined world, we’re not a history lesson, it’s not a documentary. What we’re really doing with the show is marrying history and fantasy in what I think is a very exciting way. One approach that we took to that is our approach to race”

    (Obviously, it’s not something I would watch anyway, but this is in contrast to the opening statement of that very article (my emphasis): “Bridgerton is an American streaming television period drama series”. Bah. It’s an ahistorical show)

  7. Silentbob says

    @ ^
    You’re basically complaining a painting is not a photograph. You miss the whole point.

  8. Silentbob says

    @ ^
    I look forward to Morales dismissing Shakespeare’s Richard the III as it’s not historically accurate, and there’s no documentary evidence that Richard ever spoke in iambic pentameter. Bah!

  9. Silentbob says

    Actually, speaking of Shakespeare, and returning to topic, did you know Olivier once played Othello in a movie in blackface? Yikes. Extremely cringeworthy by today’s sensibilities. More than a touch of the Al Jolsons.

  10. John Morales says

    Silentbob, what part of “Some people don’t care, others do.” was confusing for you?

    You want to watch a period drama which is ahistorical, go right ahead.

    (Also, Shakespeare was forced upon me in school. I hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate Shakespeare’s stuff — it’s stupid, it’s boring, it uses antiquated language, and it’s silly, for starters. And it’s fucking B O R I N G)

  11. Lofty says

    I rather enjoy a good Shakespeare comedy, re-imagined with modern dress and different actors, the words are still sharp after centuries have passed since their first airing. I have a small DVD library of different versions collected over the years, sadly lacking a classic Australian version of Twelfth Night with Geoffrey Rush but fortunately that’s now available on Youtube.

  12. John Morales says

    No worries, Lofty. I don’t mind people’s kinks, as long as they don’t hurt others or force them on others.

    (That said, I’m damn sure Shaky has tormented generations of students in English-speaking countries, who had to put up with that shit)

  13. Lofty says

    @John, Yeah, I could download it but it’s poor quality copied from the limited edition VHS tape it was originally released on. We used to borrow it from our local library back in the day. Now I only need to see it again every couple of years or so, for that I’ll watch it on youtube.

    I’ve asked the Australian Film & Sound archive if they plan to release it, answer was maybe. I could have got access to it for study purposes if I was in a suitable educational institution but I’m not. They’ve released some other classic Oz stuff that I’ve acquired. Not as if I’m obsessive about that sort of thing anyway.

    BTW I was almost scarred for life by W.S. too, had to write an essay on Macbeth to get through my matric English exam. Fortunately my partner introduced me to the comedies and put that right. Chalk and cheese, ya know. I’ve always enjoyed clever language.

  14. John Morales says

    [Heh. I did Hamlet for mine, back in 1977. Got a “B”.
    And that’s another thing — I wanted to study English (you know, grammar, lexicon, syntax, that sort of stuff), and instead I got that guff. Also, I took Spanish at the last moment, thinking I’d ace it as a fluent native speaker, and got a barely passing grade — because literally 50% of the marks on that exam were based on some prescribed text I’d never read.]

  15. Rob Grigjanis says

    John @8:

    Either it’s a faithful adaptation of some work of fiction, or it’s not.

    By your own personal definition of ‘faithful’. In Fleming’s books, James Bond is a white, racist, homophobic misogynist man who smokes heavily. Would departure from any of those traits be unfaithful?

  16. steve oberski says

    The 1995 film adaption of Richard III with Ian McKellen, Maggie Smith, Robert Downey Jr. (as the dissolute Rivers he just had to play himself) based in a 1930 fascist Britain, although not a comedy, is one of my favourite Shakespeare adaptions.

  17. flex says

    I was thinking the other day about how there isn’t any really, 100% ‘faithful’ adaptation of any creative work into another media. The nature of the change, even if the same creator is making the change, necessitates changes in the creative work.

    I know that might sound a little confusing, but, for example, when Dvorak wrote his Slavonic Dances he did so first for piano four-hands, then created an orchestral version. The melody in both versions is the same, but there are so many differences that these versions are really enjoyed differently. The instruments, the players, the audience, even the space they are intended to be played in, are different. They could be considered separate works. Or, the orchestral version could be considered an adaptation of the piano four-hands version.

    To go further, it is not uncommon for a piece of classical (or other) music to be adapted by another composer or conductor. One of the more famous examples of this is Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. Many people who have heard the piece don’t know that the most commonly played version was orchestrated by Ravel. Mussorgsky wrote a piano piece which is not all that commonly played, but the Ravel orchestration is famous. But Ravel was not alone in orchestrating this piece, there are more than a score of other classical orchestrations including ones by Leopold Stokowski and Leonard Slatkin. That’s not to mention the non-classical versions like the one from the progressive-rock band Renaissance. These are all interesting to listen to, and bring new interpretations to the music.

    Theater is the same way, the same plays are put on by different theatrical troupes, and often accentuate different parts of the same play. So we can enjoy, and discuss, different performances of Shakespeare, Shaw, or Gilbert and Sullivan, pointing out the things we like in each as well as the things we hated.

    It is easy enough in literature to read the original. Unless you don’t understand the language, then you need someone to make an adaptation, or translation if you will. And we can discuss the merits of various translations. For example, I have several translations of Beowolf, some in verse, some in prose, and I will re-read the version I feel like reading when I want to re-read it.

    So why are we upset when someone re-makes a movie?

  18. Rob Grigjanis says

    flex @21: I don’t think Renaissance did Pictures. Emerson, Lake and Palmer certainly did.

    What’s often most problematic and/or controversial is adaptations from book to film. They’re such radically different media that it’s almost impossible to avoid offending a large number of the book’s fans.

  19. Rob Grigjanis says

    John @22: I remembered there was an earlier thread on the subject, but had forgotten what a ridiculous waste of time it was.

  20. flex says

    @23 Rob Grigjanis,

    Doh! I had to get out my old albums, but you’re right. ELP did the cover of Pictures at an Exhibition, Renaissance did a cover of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade. As popular as ELP was, I think Annie Haslam was a far better lead vocalist. Anne had amazing pipes.

  21. flex says

    Back to a relationship to the OP.

    @23 Rob Grigjanis,

    What’s often most problematic and/or controversial is adaptations from book to film.

    I see two places where controversies arise, adaptations from book to film (as you say), and re-makes of the same film. Which I think leads to an insight into how people perceive things. I suggest that generally (and I’m not saying this applies to everyone), people visualize for themselves the characters in a story. But we don’t visualize them the same way, and we certainly don’t immediately put actor’s faces on the people we visualize when we read a story. While we often complain about the parts of the story which were dropped, I think a good bit of the dislike of a film (or video) by the fans of a book is that the images on the screen do not match the images we formed in our heads.

    I remember there was a controversy when the movie of “The Hunger Games” came out where one of the characters was black. I don’t think it was just racism which fed that controversy (although there may have been some of that). I suspect, and the interviews at the time confirmed it, that the readers had read the description of the character, and didn’t visualize a black child as that character. From what I understand the novel is fairly clear that the character was black, but the readers didn’t visualize the character that way. So it was a shock for the viewers who had read the novel. I’m not saying it was a bad shock, it was probably good that they were confronted with this discrepancy. Some of them may have learned something.

    But my point is that people appear to use vision as their primary sense, and when a visual image doesn’t match their expectations it jars. So people who love a book will rarely be satisfied with a movie, if for no other reason than their expectations, the visual images they create while reading a book, will never match the same images the director and crew of a movie provide.

    Oddly enough, I can occasionally get the same feeling of disjointedness from illustrations in a novel. For example, I’m familiar with Cruikshank’s illustrations of Dicken’s and sometimes I’ll see an edition with someone else’s illustrations, say Phiz, and it just doesn’t look right. Sometimes the illustration doesn’t match the image I have in my head, and that also can be jarring.

    I think the same thing happens when a movie is re-made. People who are familiar with the original movie have learned to associate a specific actor’s face to the role. Having a completely new cast is unfamiliar and jarring. So there is criticism. Plot elements, I suggest, are minor in comparison to the differences in the images we are familiar with from the previous movie. For example, I like the Brosnan remake of “The Thomas Crown Affair” a lot better than McQueen version, but I don’t know if that’s because I saw the Brosnan version first. I dislike the Depp version of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”, but it may be because I saw, and loved, the Wilder version, “Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” first.

    I think my point is that we should expect disagreements over color-blind casting, not just because the source material may have called out characters with different appearances, but because those appearances will be far different than we would normally expect. We may rationalize this unexpected jarring feeling by saying, “it doesn’t match the source material”, but no adaptation does match the source material.

    What we should do is evaluate each creative work on it’s own merits. Recognizing that while creative works always rest on, and refer to, previous creative works; when a creative work shatters our expectations it is a cause for reflection rather than irritation.

    And now the bread I took out of the oven a half-hour ago should be cool enough to try. Cheers!

  22. Rob Grigjanis says

    flex @26:

    Anne had amazing pipes.

    No argument there. “Mother Russia” still gives me chills.

  23. Holms says

    #12 Silentbob
    Yikes, and not just for the blackface. What it is with Shakespeare’s leading roles that causes otherwise good actors to indulge in the most hyperbolic, scenery-chewing overacting? I suppose it would be the reverence many have for the Bard, but whatever it is, actors all seem to be thinking to themselves ‘must emote harder!’

  24. Silentbob says

    @ ^ Holms

    Well, I’m glad you get it Holms. Based on past performance I would have half expected you to ask what’s wrong with blackface.

    You’ll be aware, I’m sure, one of your fellow transphobic bigots is publishing a book of her bigoted thoughts on trans people, and a sympathetic review in the right wing press used this image as an illustration. A cis man playing a bizarre caricature of a trans woman. Why do you suppose they would do that? The review had nothing to do with the portrayal of trans people in film. There are plenty of openly trans people in the UK -- activist Paris Lees for example. This is what an actual trans woman looks like. It like reviewing a book attacking the civil rights movement and illustrating it with a picture of the Black and White Minstrels.

    The answer, of course, is transphobia. But I hardly need explain that to you.

    My point is a cis man putting on drag to perform a caricature of a trans woman is offensive in the same way as a white man putting on blackface to perform a caricature of a black man. And in the same way we should welcome greater racial diversity in movies and TV -- both in terms of characters, and actors, and the roles those actors are allowed to play -- so we should welcome greater representation of LGBT people. It would be good to see not only more trans characters, not only trans characters played by trans actors, but trans men and women playing cis men and women respectively.

    Now report back to TERF HQ and tell them I said so. Let’s have Laverne Cox in a biopic of Rosa Parks. That’d put the wind up your hateful mates, wouldn’t it.

  25. Holms says

    Why would you think that?

    And no I don’t know what some unspecified transphobic bigot is writing, you’d have to tell me who you’re talking about for me to know, as I am not among that group.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *