First off Happy Chinese New Year. Now that festivity is done with let’s move on. I had an idea to do a series of blog posts about diversity in the entertainment business. For one it’s an important issue that’s only going to get more important with someone like Donald Trump as “Leader of the Free World”. And for a second reason I’m hoping that me actually sitting down and thinking about these things will make sure that my own creative output is more aware of diversity and the importance of representing everyone.
So to start off I have been thinking about the issue of white washing in Hollywood and on our TV screens. It seems to be an issue that affects any white country and if we are being perfectly honest the almost identical problem could be said to be true of countries like India and China who prefer to cast Indian and Chinese actors respectively for their own television and movie businesses. It doesn’t seem to be something that is talked about much in non-Western countries, it doesn’t seem to concern people. So are peoples objections to white washing based on the idea that people are fed up with seeing Caucasian men and women dominate the entertainment business in the Western world or is that in countries we see as more culturally diverse we expect a more culturally diverse cast?
My penchant for keeping myself anonymous means that my own ethnicity is I think completely unknown to you. Does my own ethnicity affect my view point on this issue of white washing in Hollywood? Is it possible for me to look at the situation completely objectively? I certainly hope so. A brief flick through my Netflix account (let’s remember I live in the UK at the moment so I’m stuck with the range Netflix provides in the UK) and I can see a few films with an entirely black cast. It’s not many but there are a few there. They are rated just as evenly as the others and they pop up in my suggestions based on movies I have watched, these can be movies that have had an all-white cast so clearly Netflix isn’t racist and doesn’t think I am.
I must confess I haven’t watched many of the suggestions because they usually pop up for films and TV shows I didn’t particularly enjoy. So where do I stand on ethnic diversity in film and TV, and more importantly literature? Well I have to say I was slightly miffed at the casting of Emma Stone as Allison Ng in Aloha. The character is based on a real-life woman, who was half Asian. So it comes as quite a surprise that they would decide the whitest woman in Hollywood, no matter how talented an actress she is, should take on the role. I mean sure we are all pretty sure that if they cast Meryl Streep as Krypto the Superdog she’d still knock it out of the park but that’s Meryl Streep…
I haven’t watched The Last Samurai because the idea of Tom Cruise playing protagonist seemed absurd. Maybe I missed the reason there’s a white guy running around as a samurai because I haven’t watched it but I think I’ll live. And there’s the casting of Jake Gyllenhaal, an American of Swedish decent, as Dastan, the Prince of Persia… There is really no need for these poor casting choices. I’m sure there were people abound who would not only act the part but look the part. The only logic I can find for the choices is that the directors want to have big names in their films to draw audiences. The trouble is how do we get an ethnically diverse group of big names if no-one is given the chance to begin with?
However, with all that said I’m not really okay with the exact opposite happening. I don’t really think it makes sense to have a cast of entirely one race when it’s white people so why would I think differently when it’s an all-black cast or an all-Asian cast? I know a lot of people praise projects like The Whiz (if you haven’t heard of it, it’s an all-black Motown reimagining of the Wizard of Oz). Surely that doesn’t solve the problem, wouldn’t it have been better to remake the Wizard of Oz with a more diverse cast? Asians are still excluded from The Wizard Oz… though I’m not saying ooh here’s a good idea lets cast an old Asian guy with a long white beard as the Wizard… because that just seems racist too.
This leads me to I suppose what is my over-arching feeling on diverse casting. Casting choices need to make sense. I want to see a representation of life on my screen, that means a diverse cast and logical characters not stereotypes. I don’t want to see a token black guy just so the movie company can point to him when they are called racist. I want the character to fit in, to make sense. People don’t often talk about the issue of white washing in literature until the book is turned into a film. Is that because until then we can imagine the characters exactly how we wish? I don’t think so, I think the writer steers you to what a character looks like. My aim is to have a diverse story, which is actually a little tricky when you consider that I only have three humans… I have two white British people and an Israeli, that’s only a little bit diverse. I have to just aim to have diversity in my aliens because I’m sure I’m not the only one who has noticed the lack of diversity in the alien humans from a galaxy far far away even if it was a long time ago…
What do you think about racial diversity in the entertainment industry?
In part two of my look at diversity I’ll be thinking about gender, so if you want to help push me in any particular direction let me know your thoughts about gender in the entertainment industry.