Thursday, December 02, 2010

Two totally, completely, absolutely unrelated stories


This story about the (ex-)casting director of the Hobbit's already a couple days old, but I wanted to respond to one part of what's been the popular response. It comes in the headline on Salon, actually:

A woman says she was denied a job as an extra for not being light-skinned -- was it wrong or just authentic?

Clearly, "authentic" is being deployed problematically, here. First, this is a fictional myth, and so the standard of authenticity is highly interpretive. But more importantly, "authentic" shouldn't be used to cover-up or ignore the racist politics of the source text. And, headline aside, Salon gets this part right:

The kerfuffle over "The Hobbit's" tactless casting call -- with its obvious and utterly unnecessary skin tone limiting of would-be applicants -- serves an uncomfortable reminder of the not-so diverse realm of the Tolkienverse. [...] As my colleague Laura Miller says, 'There's a criticism that there's a crypto racial thing in the darker-skinned orcs and the southern men.'

My only disagreement would be with the "crypto" part. Really? "Crypto" makes me think that it's subtle and/or unintentional. And I don't think it's either.


This story, which is about the racialized casting of Victoria Secret models, is a bit older but hasn't, as far as I can tell, gotten as much play.

The Victoria Secret Fashion Show, which aired last night on CBS, opened with a complete line up of light skinned models.While dark skinned models were sprinkled throughout the show, they seemed to have lined them up so they could all be part of the “Wild Things” segment of the show [...] Yes, wild things… that included tribal dancers and all the models of color in the show.

I'm not aware of CBS or Victoria Secret's response to the complaint that dark-skinned models were uniformly exoticized - and that the white models were uniformly not - but I wouldn't be surprised if the same defense of "authenticity" were made.

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