Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Idris Elba, Mickey Rourke, and how race matters in casting

The Thor movie trailer has come out and, predictably, some fans are protesting that Idris Elba, who is black, shouldn't have been cast as a Norse god, all of whom are white. Elba as Heimdall is pictured below:

Thankfully, most responses have been supportive of the Elba casting. That said, a lot of them still miss the point of casting him. Take this summary of the issue by Monika Bartyzel at Moviefone:

At some point we all have to realize that changing the skin color of a fictional character is not an affront to anyone, and should be seen no differently than a different hairstyle, a modernized wardrobe or any of the other changes that fall on fictional figures...

Unfortunately, it's precisely this kind of fallacious "color-blind" theorizing that allows critics of the casting-decision to turn around and accuse the author of the Moviefone critique of being a hypocrite:

Could Bartyzel be any more of a hypocrite? She thinks it’s wrong to put whites in the roles of non-whites [she criticized a decision to cast Mickey Rourke as Genghis Khan in another film] but more than acceptable to put non-whites in the roles of whites. In fact she says it’s “racist” to object to putting non-whites in the roles of whites.

Which is a fair enough response - in spite of the fact that most of the arguments on the site are racist gibberish - given how terribly Bartyzel articulated the reasons for opposing the Rourke casting but supporting the Elba decision.

But Bartyzel is ultimately right, even if she goes about explaining it the wrong way. What it actually comes down to isn't color-blindness - as if that's possible or even desirable - but representation and power. We should support decisions like casting Michael Clarke Duncan as the Kingpin or Elba as Heimdall because a) actors of color are under-represented in Hollywood film and TV, and b) the source texts of comic book adaptations are often 50 or more years old, and so were made for all-white audiences and, predictably, feature all-white casts. (And, often, these are subtly racist texts that were produced for an explicitly racist audience. Reproducing those texts exactly, just for the sake of creating a faithful adaptation, means reproducing those racist politics or representation, too. Fidelity for its own sake is often a bad idea.)

Hollywood is full of these kinds of adaptations and full of films populated by exclusively or almost exclusively white casts. What Hollywood is not full of - aside from the films created by Tyler Perry and a few other films marketed specifically for black-audiences (films that often still manage to find space for white actors, mind you) - are meaningful roles for non-white actors.

I'll simplify it, even, and say that representation is power. It's empowering to see images of heroes that look like you, that you can imagine to be you, and disempowering to feel that you either can't identify with them or actively disidentify with the people who look most like you. There are plenty of white male superheroes, wizards, demigods, and so forth, and comparatively few black men playing similar roles - virtually none once you remove any that have been played by Will Smith.

Idris Elba isn't stealing from a scarce supply of white male fantasy roles, but he is contributing to a scarce list of black male fantasy characters. And that's valuable and interesting in a way that, say, Sam Worthington as Heimdall would not be.


Anonymous said...

Using evil to prey upon evil.
I realize the horrific days of people planning monsterous acts like the Holocaust are behind us. But that doesn't mean still are not scams in the economy besides The Skim, which the gods view as necessary for positioning's sake.
Just as clone hosting selected disfavored whom the gods wanted to ensure had no chance to ascend before The End, so did being invited into the 21st century real estate scam ensure as of yet undetermined punishment elements.
They instructed people whom they wanted to condition about when the stock market would top out and told them when they should shift their asset base into real estate instead.
And they told them when to sell before they tanked the real estate market as well, timing all based on the level of confidence they wanted each to understand.
The victims may cry "Why would this happen to me." but their behavior in a prior life would answer this:::It didin't happen to anyone who didn't deserve it. IRONICALLY, SOME WHO ENTERED CLONE HOSTING AND PLANNED THIS ECONOMIC EVENT BEFORE THEY LEFT WERE REINCARNATED SPECIFICALLY FOR THIS EVENT.
The God's poetic justice can be a beautiful thing indeed, even if they are evil immoral monsters.
But as we approach The End the gods decide to compromise their values and integrity to ensure everything is positionable.

Both the public and the private sector host $400k overpaid employees. The difference?
The public sector preys upon the disfavored rejects from motherlands, people too disfavored to stay reproducing with their own blood. Corporate preyed upon the more favored purebloods from their motherland through sourcing and therefore incurr more evil in the eyes of the gods, for their lives have more value. Yet another great example of the god's "reverse positioning".

They point the finger at me and claim I participate by shopping at WalMart.
Now this is something I have yet to understand, for they ALL engage in this sourcing due to cheap Asian labor.
It is the essence of life in the United States, and it is not by accident. Overconsumption of the Earth's resources is due to the same reason:::Institutionalized evil.
And Walmart has a very straightforward business model; rest assured I pay a margin on each and every product I purchase at Walmart independantly, including my $3 box of American made Cherios and my 68 cent can of Campbell's tomato soup.
INCIDENTALLY, it seems to me we pay THE SAME PRICE FOR SHIT THAT WE DID BEFORE SOURCING BEGAN. The difference is being pocketed by corporate and the $400k employees who are recruited into playing a part in this evil.
The gods intentionally set this up to ensure the onus falls upon the preditory capitalist and less on the ignorant public.
Trash at the top just as there is trash in the ghetto.

The Gods send clues about this situation frequently.
I requested the "Pineapple Express" be "turned on" and we have the carnage in SoCal.
Evident the gods are malicious, vindictive immoral monsters, I don't live in SouthernCalifornia, and they did this in a region poorly equipt to harness this resource as is NoCal courtesy of the Sierra Nevada range.
Now this is a clue about me and who I am, since you need it spelled out.
Welcome to hell. They're been lying to you all and you did things you never should have. You're all fucked.

Nathan_Plastic said...

What the fuck was that about?

James said...

I don't know Butchie instead.