Why are Black Americans Playing Roles Meant for Africans?

by Special Correspondent Nadra Kareem

“Invictus,” a film about Nelson Mandela’s efforts to unify post-apartheid South Africa through rugby, opens Dec. 11. The film stars Matt Damon as captain of South Africa’s 1995 rugby team and Morgan Freeman as Mandela.

I’ve little interest in seeing this film, but the commercials for it caught my attention when I noticed someone attempting what I considered to be an atrocious South African accent. That someone was Freeman, an amazing actor, no doubt, but not convincing to me as a South African. A quick trip to the IMDB.com thread on the film, and I realized I wasn’t alone in my criticism of Freeman.

A thread devoted specifically to Freeman’s accent in the film began:

“HOLY CRAP…. Morgan’s accent sucks!! Not even close…. did he even try? Didnt hear to much of Matt but wow Morgan really missed the boat.”

And another poster followed up, “I came here to say the exact same thing after having just seen the commercial. Holy horrible. It sounds like Morgan Freeman in every movie he’s ever been in plus a hokey accent that couldn’t possibly be attributed to any ethnicity or area.”

After pondering how Freeman speaks in the film, I wondered why a South African wasn’t cast in “Invictus.” With Clint Eastwood as director and Damon in a starring role, would it have been that much of a gamble to cast an unknown in the role of Mandela? Then, I thought about other films set in Africa—“Hotel Rwanda,” “Cry Freedom,” “The Last King of Scotland” and “Sarafina!” All feature black Americans in starring roles as Africans. A recent exception would be 2006’s “Blood Diamond” in which Djimon Hounsou has a starring role.

I understand that casting African American film stars likely makes movies about Africa more marketable, but would African Americans be as accepting if roles designed for them were given to whites to increase a film’s marketability? Judging from the uproar surrounding Angelina Jolie starring as Mariane Pearl in “A Mighty Heart,” I think not. So why aren’t more people speaking up about the tendency of African roles to go to black Americans?

On IMDB.com, a poster who challenged the assertion that Freeman was born to play Mandela, arguing instead that an “actual South African” be given the role, received this response:

“There isn’t any South African actors that have Freeman’s acting skills though. Just because someone is from a particular country doesn’t make them automatically better for the role.”

I don’t know the ethnicity or nationality of the person who wrote this, but the idea that South Africa has no quality actors is ludicrous. But, say, we take the poster at his word. South Africa having no actors with the chops to play Mandela shouldn’t rule out the possibility of an actor from another African nation playing the role. Nigeria, for one, has a $250 million film industry, which puts it in the Top 3 film industries in the world, along with India and the United States. Clearly, Africa has its share of actors to go around. So, when will Hollywood shine the spotlight on them, and when will black Americans demand it?

links for 2009-12-02

Shopping with Squaws: Irregular Choice Gives Itself a Bad Name

squaw shopper bagby Special Correspondent Wendi Muse

I have to give companies credit for coming up with unusual names for the merchandise. One such company that comes to mind is Irregular Choice, a flamboyant Britain-based shoe company who goes all out to wow consumers. With asymmetrical heels, bizarre accessories, and designs that stop traffic, Irregular Choice is the Lady Gaga of the shoe world. The company has worked diligently to combine a little humor, a lot of fun, and heaps of quality in its lines, year after year. With its flagship NYC Soho store, it graced American shores with one of the best British invasions since the Beatles. Let’s just say I’ve always been a big fan.

But every now and then, in their attempt to be cute, they sometimes go over the border of taste. And I am not just talking about the shoe designs. I am talking about the names.

On occasion, shoes pop up with ethnic names. Take, for example, their “Latin Lady” shoe from a previous collection. The black shoe was covered in tropical fruit (a la Carmen Miranda) and, while appealing to the eye, the name seemed a little off.

For this season’s collection, the mouth-open moment came with a (hideous) purse I noticed on the site. With its blue shredded shingles and background of miniature prints of cartoon natives, the “Squaw Shopper” takes the cake, winning an A+ in offensive. Maybe if this were the 1950s and this bag were geared to children it wouldn’t be so shocking, but in 2009, the jig is up. What’s most offensive is that they used the word “Squaw” in the name. They could have named it something else that touched on the whimsical indigenous theme without resorting to an offensive term. Maybe this is some sort of Thanksgiving joke I missed?

Although, offensive bag name aside, kudos for their snarky jab at MTV via men’s shoes “Justin Bobby” and “Prattster”  (in reference to the “reality” show The Hills) and “Gangsta Grill” (referring to almost any popular rap song from 2006-07 that came out of the South).

Can anyone else think of a better name for this bag, if that’s even worth it?

Quoted: Graeme McMillan on the Painful Truth About Black Comic Heroes


When it comes to superhero fiction, there are certain iconic archetypes; Superman is the iconic whitebread hero, Batman the iconic OCD loner. But did you realize that Iron Man’s James Rhodes is the accidental iconic black superhero? We’ll explain. [...]

He’s A Sidekick At Heart
If there’s one rule for black superheroes, it’s that they’re never the stars of the show (Or, at least, not for very long; attempts like Black Lightning or the Milestone books are always, sadly, done in by falling sales). Yes, you could make an argument that Black Panther contradicts that, but I’d just invoke the “He’s the exception that proves the” clause and move on quickly*. [...]

He’s A Replacement

And how did Rhodey get his start as a superhero again? Oh, that’s right; he replaced Tony as Iron Man. Just like John Stewart got his start replacing Hal Jordan as Green Lantern. And John Henry Irons, replacing Superman back when he died. Oh, and don’t forget Monica Rambeau, Marvel’s second Captain Marvel. Or, hell, the Justice Society of America’s Mr. Terrific or Johnny/JJ Thunder, the Legion of Superheroes’ Computo and Invisible Kid, DC’s Mister Miracle (and, for that matter, Manhattan Guardian) or even The Spectre (And, again, who can forget Black Goliath, who replaced Hank Pym’s original White Goliath – except, of course, the “White” was silent in his name). Even the characters that aren’t actively replacing existing characters somehow manage to be replacing people we haven’t seen – DC’s Vixen and Marvel’s Black Panther are both continuing long lines of heroes. When do we get to see white superheroes picking up the mantle of black characters? Only once – and even that was the result of a retcon to offer political commentary (Captain America, who it turned out was following in the footsteps of an earlier black Cap – who not only never called himself Captain America, but also was unknown to Cap when he took up the shield. So maybe that doesn’t count after all).

Graeme McMillan, Why James Rhodes Is Comics’ Ideal Black Hero, published at io9 (click the link to read the full article)

“Buppies,” Tatyana Ali and the Value of Making a Web Series

By Guest Contributor Aymar Jean Christian, originally published at Televisual

For my first post on black web series, including links to shows, click here.

From my Wall Street Journal post:

“Doing a Web series, working in this new medium, you have a little bit more autonomy, an ability to tell the story you want to tell,” Ali told me in an interview.

With a little help from Will Smith’s Overbrook Entertainment, Breece and Ali (and producer Aaliyah Williams) brought their show to BET. The result is “Buppies,” premiering Nov. 24 on BET.com. The show is BET’s first original Web series. It’s not the first Web series to feature a predominately black cast, but with BET’s promotion of the show online and on TV, it is arguably the most high-profile.

“BET was definitely not a part of my plan at all,” says Breece. “But a lot of black people flock to the Web for content. I just feel like it’s the new frontier.”

Full the full post, visit the Wall Street Journal’s Speakeasy: here.

Some thoughts and more quotes from the interview below.

One of the things Ali and I discussed in the interview was how we’re in a moment where  TV networks have to realize the value of black content for capturing audiences of all races. Though I’ve written before that this may or may not happen, there are signs it may — as I mention in the article, Idris Elba, Don Cheadle and Aaron McGruder are all developing shows. Ice Cube, Ali noted, is following the Tyler Perry model with his show for TBS, Are We There Yet?, based on his movie. Ali (with Martin Lawrence, Bentley Kyle Evans, and Raphael Saadiq) are pursuing the same model with Love that Girl.

“I remember working on Fresh Prince,  we had a very wide audience, because the story was good,” Ali told me. “It’s about relatable characters, and relatable characters come in any color, any age. I mean, the Golden Girls is airing constantly and I watch it every day! I can completely relate to them.”

Buppies is an intervention in that arena. When show creator Julian Breece was shopping the idea around to network a few years ago, before Grey’s Anatomy he said, the networks weren’t looking for shows like that or they wanted to change it substantially. Breece and Ali — brought together by producer Aaliyah Williams – took the web in part to tell their own stories — also in part because it’s manageable and affordable. Ali seemed especially proud that Buppies could include gay characters, and Breece could write them mostly outside of corporate influence. A lot of the black web series I’ve seen have gay characters as leads, actually, which is really interesting: this doesn’t happen on TV, almost at all.

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Open Thread: On Tiger Woods, Race, and Violence Against Men

by Latoya Peterson

So, details are still emerging about what happened to Tiger Woods. TMZ alleges that Wood’s injuries stem from domestic violence, not the accident:

We’re told he said his wife had confronted him about reports that he was seeing another woman. The argument got heated and, according to our source, she scratched his face up. We’re told it was then Woods beat a hasty retreat for his SUV — but according to our source, Woods says his wife followed behind with a golf club. As Tiger drove away, she struck the vehicle several times with the club.

The only agreed upon statements are that Tiger Woods was in a one-car accident close to his home.

Sister Toldja has an interesting take on the situation, noting:

If the story is as it appears, I want to give Woods credit from trying to walk away from the fight. Whatever he did or didn’t do with another woman, he did the right thing by attempting to get away from his wife when she started throwing blows. It’s a hard thing to do, but it’s what a man has to do in a society that ultimately condones and sometimes encourages violent retribution from spurned women. I have a huge problem with this and I will get in to that later this week. [...]

The image of the violent, angry wife is often associated with Black women, but it was Tiger’s stereotypical blond trophy wife who bloodied his face and ran up on him with a golf club. In fact, Woods himself revealed that he bought in to that stereotype when he told a friend that his wife had “gone ghetto” on him.

Oh. The. Irony.

There is a SMALL (but loud) group of Black men that seems to believe that White women are a safe haven from the loud, angry, emasculating Black woman. That White girls will lay down, submit and put up with foolishness a man offers them. If any good can come from this incident, I hope it’s the the death of that notion which is incredibly offensive to both Black and White women. I know plenty of Black and “ghetto” girls who would have handled that situation very differently than Mrs. Woods. I also know that she’s not hardly the first White woman to beat her man’s butt.

Do I think Tiger married his wife BECAUSE she was White? I highly doubt it. I would, however, place a considerable bet that non-White women were not a consideration for him when he was shopping for a woman. I know that he didn’t expect what he got on Saturday and the fact that he called it going “ghetto” just puts a sour taste in my mouth. Tiger put a very real distance between himself and the Black community years ago and to hear him describe such negative behavior using a stereotype associated with Black life isn’t surprising so much as it is simply unfortunate.

Elin Woods didn’t go “ghetto” on her husband; she went human, she went woman, she went wrong*.

The “she went wrong” part refers to using physical violence against men in a dispute. I wonder if gender or race (though it’s probably both) is playing a role in why the coverage about what happened to Woods is related to infidelity.

Discuss amongst yourselves.

Stuff black folks don’t do: Creating our own oppression

By Guest Contributor Tami, originally published at What Tami Said

I’ve been thinking about Max Reddick’s post, “Oh, the places we could go…,” which we crossposted last week on Love Isn’t Enough:

A couple of months or so ago at the end of the summer, my wife and I planned a trip with a few other African American couples we know just to have one last bit of fun before summer ended. When we first conceived of the idea, we bandied about several suggestions, but all of them seemed so absolutely done.

Someone suggested a cookout at the beach, but I was beached out, and I don’t particularly find the beach all that fun. Of course, Disney and/or Universal Studios in Orlando were offered, but we go to Orlando several times a year already so that was out. And in that same vein, someone suggested Busch Gardens in Tampa, but that too was voted down.

Then my wife suggested that we go somewhere and do something none of us had ever done, something unlikely. And we finally decided on a destination and an activity. But on the eve of our trip, one by one the couples and families called us to say that they had to cancel, that they would not be going. And each couple and family proffered the same excuse: “We all talked and decided that that’s just something black folk don’t do.”

Evidently, all of the black folk got together, or at least enough to form a quorum, and decided that black folk didn’t do such things. Read more…

I thought about this–what black folk don’t do–while driving to and from Washington, D.C. this week. I love a good road trip. Driving allows a glimpse of the country and the way people live in a way that flying over does not. There are so many hidden treasures to be found–kitschy shops, little towns nestled in the mountains, frozen in time. Of course, you also see the bad, not just charming Americana. But the bad–the urban blight and rural poverty–are as much a part of the American story as the good. Perhaps we would be better at governing our country if we took time to stretch our legs in another person’s space from time to time–stand on a corner in a city deserted by industry or have lunch in one of those picturesque old-fashioned towns with flags lining mainstreet. It’s all America.

When I was a kid, I had this dream of driving cross-country in a really cool convertible. I haven’t achieved that dream exactly, but, in our 20s, my girlfriends and I took annual 10-day road trips during the summer. We piled in a rented minivan and did it on the cheap. We slept five or six to a room and ate at inexpensive local places. Our goal was exploration. We’d pick a direction–east, south or west–and plot points along the way where we might want to spend a day or two. If we saw a sign for a little-known historical sight or the world’s biggest ball of twine along our route, and seeing it struck our fancy, we’d head off down the trail. On the way to New Orleans, we took a detour to see the campus of Ole Miss, because of its place in civil rights history. On the way to Vegas, we toured the Painted Desert and Petrified Forest. I count that time touring the country with my girls among the best times in my live. We had a ball, learned a lot and saw amazing things. There was one night, driving through Texas and New Mexico on a desolate, dark road with the moon shining full, tinting everything blue, that I will never forget.
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