Category Archives: casting

Race + Theatre: On The Tony Awards 2013

Theatre Diversity Gap infographic

• On New York City stages during the 2011–2012 season, African American actors were cast in 16% of all roles, Latino actors in 3%, Asian American actors in 3%, and other minorities comprised 1%. Caucasian actors filled 77% of all roles. Caucasians continue to be the only ethnicity to over-represent compared to their respective population size in New York City or the Tri-State area.

• The percentage of minority actors rose to 23% this past year, a 2% increase from the year prior. While a significant jump, this level is fairly consistent with levels of minority representation which have consistently remained within the low twenty percent range. The last time representation hit 23% was during the 2007/08 season.

• African American actors increased by 2% compared to last season.

• Latino actors remained at 3% for the third straight year in a row.

• Asian American actors increased slightly from 2% to 3% this past season.

• Only 10% of all roles played by minority actors were non-traditionally cast. This remains the same as last season.

• African Americans were far more likely than any other minority to be cast in roles which were not defined by their race.

• For the second year in a row, the not-for-profit sector lagged far behind the commercial sector when it came to hiring minorities. The opposite was true in the four years preceding this shift, where actors of color were once more likely to find employment within the not-for-profit sector. While total number of minority actors in this sector increased by 3% from 19% the year prior, this is still far below the industry average and is the second year in a row that minority employment among the not-for-profit companies fell below 20%.

• This past season, African Americans and Latinos on non-profit stages increased 1% and 2%, respectively. Asian American actors, however, have been at their lowest point, 2%, for three years in a row now. This is a substantial drop from where they were six and five years ago (4% and 7%, respectively).

“Where’s The Diversity? The Tony Awards Look In The Mirror” by Jason Low of LeeandLow.com, June 6, 2013

Read the full report from the Asian American Performers Action Coalition here. We have the list of last night’s individual winners (performers) of color under the cut. Black actors and actresses, at least, had a good showing in top categories, but four wins can’t negate the facts.

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Chromatic Casting: Doctor Who

By Arturo R. García

The debate regarding Doctor Who and race and gender reopened in a major way on Saturday when Matt Smith announced he will leave the show after this year’s Christmas special, meaning the search is on for the Twelth Doctor — an especially crucial role, according to series canon, since this would be the Doctor’s final regeneration.

Naturally, it’s not just showrunner Steven Moffat looking for a new Doctor, but fans and bookmakers.
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Race + Film: A Black Johnny Storm: What Happened to Color Blind?

Actor Michael B Jordan and The Human Torch.

By Guest Contributer TajRoy Calhoun

There was a rumor that actor Michael B. Jordan was in the running for the role of Human Torch Johnny Storm in the up-and-coming reboot of the Fantastic Four. The response was deafening.

A blog on entertainment website IGN – which, through a good amount of traffic, managed to make it to the front page of the site (I say this to note how much interest – from both sides – has been generated by this topic) – described it well:

“I thought the Internet was going to explode […] I’d like to think that the support was enough to overshadow the retorts, but it wasn’t.”

The problem: Michael B. Jordan is black. And Johnny Storm isn’t (or, possibly, wasn’t).

I’m not going to call racism – hang my head and lament the continued existence of racism in America and the excessive amount of it in nerd culture. I”m simply going to ask: why is this casting choice a problem?

Johnny Storm has previously only ever been portrayed as white – but that does not mean he is defined by that portrayal. Until 2001 whenDavid Oyelowo portrayed Henry VI, no black actor has ever portrayed an English king in a major Shakespearean production. There is a first time for everything.

Like the characters in Shakespeare, who can be played by actors of any race because their identities exist beyond such base and socially-constructed aspects such as race, nothing about Johnny Storm’s identity hinges on him being white.

“What if Storm or Black Panther were played by white people”, you will hear some say, in defense – but these characters are different; their race does factor into their identity. Similar to Shakespeare’s Othello, unique in the Shakespearean pantheon as being a character whose story centers on the fact that he is of a different race than those around him – to make the Black Panther anything other than black would be to fundamentally change his character and his story.

Johnny Storm is no Othello. He is Romeo. He is King Lear. He is Hamlet. He can be played as easily by the white Laurence Olivier as by Oyelowo.

Another thing you will hear people say: in an attempt to deflect accusations of racism, you will likely hear people, rather than saying “Johnny Storm isn’t black, he’s white”, say something like “he’s blond-haired and blue-eyed, which Michael B. Jordan isn’t”. The idea being that, “it’s not that we don’t want a black actor – we just want an actor who accurately embodies the character as he is portrayed in the comics.

As one person put it: “Unlike literary figures, where they only exist in our imaginations, comic book characters are visual represented. We grew up reading and looking at comic books. By changing a characters’ appearance, they are no longer the characters readers grew up seeing in comic books.”

This would be a sound argument – if the people that used it stuck to it; if, in all cases, they defended it as fervently as they do now. But that is not the case. One need not look any farther than Chris Evan’s portrayal of the character in the 2005 adaptation. If you want to bring up the fact that Michael B. Jordan isn’t blond – well neither is Evans, at least not in that portrayal. Yet there was no such rabid complaints about his inaccurate portrayal. And this is true for a great number of comic book characters portrayed in film.

Aside from their race, most actors don’t look like their comic book counterparts. With some exceptions I don’t believe we’ve gotten a single Bruce Wayne in cinema who looks like the comic book Bruce Wayne – black hair, sharp-featured square face, broad-shoulders, pale skin – Michael Keaton was the closest. Yet we haven’t heard criticism of these actors not accurately representing the characters we grew up with. Likewise, there has been no criticism of the casting of the fair-skinned Henry Cavil as the habitually olive-skinned Superman.

File:Spider-Man actors.jpg

Tobey McGuire and Andrew Garfield as Spider-Man

And the two actors we’ve gotten to play Spider-Man look nothing alike aside from their race. Different build, hair color – hell, they even have different skin colors (though both are racially “white”) – and neither looks exactly like the comic book Spider-Man. Most fans adore Andrew Garfield’s Peter Parker for more accurately representing the spirit of the character (I too am a fan) but with the exception of his build, he (arguably) looks less like the comic book Peter Parker than Tobey McGuire (I say arguably as it can be hard to measure what the “definitive” image of a character is in comics, as some of the more subtle features can change from artist to artist – this brings in the argument that, owing to this fact, the image of comic book characters are naturally malleable, and not only do they need not be held to hold, but cannot be – though I will not go further in that argument here).

With certain exceptions (Hugh Jackman, Robert Downey Jr.), fans have had to make due with casting choices that failed to capture the image of the character they grew up seeing – and yet no complaints (or, at least none of such volume and fervor as today) have been made – because as different as those actors may be to their character, they were at least white.

As I have stated above – the recasting of a black character such as Storm or the Black Panther (or, I have seen someone bring up – Django) would be a completely different subject, as these are characters whose race informs and is an integral part of their character – these character’s race influences their portrayal, their actions, their stories – you could not tell story of the Black Panther, as it is in comics, if he wasn’t black. To change his race, it would be necessary to also change his story.

And I do not make this argument for one-side either. I would argue that Captain America (the Steve Roger’s Captain – though I would love to see an Isaiah Bradley film) is a character that should only be portrayed as white – I believe his race is integral to his character. Same for Bruce Wayne – a man from old money, raised in privilege, forced to confront the darker and bleaker aspects of life. To change their race, I argue, would also necessitate the changing of their character.

Image of Johnny Storm via Deviant artist DoOp.

With Johnny Storm, however, we have an example of a character whose race does not inform their character. And, again, I am not arguing for one-side either, when I say that there should be no problem with Johnny Storm being cast as black. Although I would bemoan the loss of an opportunity for a colored actor to have a role, if my argument is to hold any water I must also say: if there is a colored character whose race does not inform his identity, it should be alright to cast color-blind.

But at the same time, if those on the other side wish to cry foul of color-blind casting for Johnny Storm, they must also cry foul when color-blind casting is used to place white actors in traditionally colored roles. With that being said – where was the massive fan outcry when the white Tom Hardy was cast as the Afro-Latino Bain? Or having the “Indian” Khan portrayed by the white Benedict Cumberbatch in the newest Star Trek.

Though many – understandably – did, I, personally, did not have a problem with these casting choices (outside of bemoaning the loss of an opportunity for a colored actor to have a major role in a blockbuster Hollywood film). As much as the thought of a Latino or Afro-Latino Bain gives me goosebumps (the good kind), Tom Hardy did fantastic as the character – and there was, really, nothing keeping him from giving a full, accurate portrayal of that character. Although the character of Bain was based on Edmond Dantes from Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo - a character who, despite almost always being portrayed as white, was based on Alexandre Dumas’ own father, French general Thomas-Alexandre Dumas, who was black – Bain, like Johnny Storm, is a character whose race does not intimately define his character. It is merely a detail – like the color of Bruce Wayne’s hair, or the exact shade of “white” of Peter Parker.

This is the same for Khan – though it goes further than him simply, again, being an example of a character for whom his race does not inform his identity. While in his backstory he is described as being from India, he was originally portrayed by Ricardo Montalbán, who, despite his great skills as an actor, did nothing to try and disguise the fact that he was Mexican. Thus, from day one a precedent had been set for the raceless casting of this character, and thus I see no problem accepting Benedict Cumberbatch’s portrayal of this “Indian” character. To do otherwise would be to say – while neither Montalbán or Cumberbatch are Indian, Montalbán has greater right to the role simply by virtue of not-being-white. And I believe that is wrong.

Just as wrong as saying that any other non-blond-haired-blue-eyed actor has greater right to the character of Johnny Storm than Michael B. Jordan, simply by virtue of being white. There should have been just as much outcry for the “racebending” of Bain and Khan as there is now for Johnny Storm  But there wasn’t. Because there has never been a problem with racebending – while there are many who, unlike me, are adamantly against the casting of white actors as Bain and Khan, their voices were, unfortunately – and like the voices of many who wish to discuss race in America – largely unheard outside of niche media. Hell, I’m still confounded by the relative lack of outcry for the racebending of the actors in Shyamalan’s The Last Airbender. I cannot make this statement with certainty, so I do apologize – I am not relying on hard statistics, merely my own memory and experiences – but I believe that more attention, and a greater vocal outcry, has been generated by the controversial over the rumors of a black Johnny Storm then by the entire cast of that movie - and the racist remarks made by some of those cast members.

But – with the exception of those sadly niche places like Racialicious and Racebending and Afro Punk, for whom discussions of these order are their market – the world was strangely quiet.

And in many places the casting was defended. Not due to the “racelessness” of these characters – as I argue was the case with Khan and Bain, and here and now Johnny Storm – but with an argument for color-blindness. I do not wish to talk about color-blindness – just as I did not wish to talk about racism. I simply wish to ask: what happened to that color-blindness?

Now they are making the same argument that only people of color (and our allies) were making before: a vocal argument against racebending. And its getting attention. It might even have an impact.

Because now that “racebending” is happening to white characters it is suddenly a problem. And whether the voices are in greater numbers or just louder, or simply the ears listening more attuned, everyone can hear their cries.

Bringing Back Wonder Woman

Editor’s Note: Sometimes, it’s a good thing to give people room to express their own pop-culture crushes. So, I’m going to give the floor this Friday to guest contributor Crunkista, who has a postful of love for the iconic Wonder Woman. –AP

By Guest Contributor Crunkista, cross-posted from Crunk Feminist Collective

Dear privileged Hollywood women,

As lovely as Aphrodite, As wise as Athena, with the speed of Mercury, and the strength of Hercules...she is only known as Wonder Woman.

As lovely as Aphrodite, As wise as Athena, with the speed of Mercury, and the strength of Hercules…she is only known as Wonder Woman.

We need you. It’s time. You can no longer remain silent. You must act. You must step up. White men alone cannot decide the fate of the Wonder Woman movie.

As I write this, I understand the sad truth that many people (ie too many of our young) today do not know Wonder Woman: her power, strength, ideals or her significance to women’s empowerment and history. So, strap up. I’m about to blow you away with some knowledge.

In 1941, a psychologist named William Moulton Marston began writing comic books under a pseudonym.  Marston, a respected Harvard-trained lawyer and Ph.D. was one of the few men of his era that believed in the untapped potential of comic books to teach children right from wrong and elicit positive change. He asked, “If children will read comics, why isn’t it advisable to give them some constructive comics to read?”[i] Marston, known as a flamboyant opportunist/marketing guru, also had very controversial beliefs about human psychology and was utterly obsessed with the ability to determine when a subject was not telling the truth. He was convinced that one could test for deception by studying subject’s physiological reactions (primarily changes in blood pressure) and is credited with the invention of one of the first lie detector tests.

Along with this obsession for the truth, Marston loved Greek mythology and believed in women’s overall higher moral compass. He alleged that women were innately “less susceptible than men to the negative traits of aggression and acquisitiveness, and could come to control the comparatively unruly male sex by alluring them.”[ii] This controversial ‘girls run the world’ prediction was very much ahead of his time. In a 1937 interview with The New York Times he claimed –

“The next one hundred years will see the beginning of an American matriarchy–a nation of Amazons in the psychological rather than physical sense,” adding that, “women would take over the rule of the country, politically and economically.”[iii]

Marston, a complicated man, was very much interested in bondage and the relationship between dominance and submission. He believed that the fairer sex would basically be able to control men through sexual governance. In his wildly sexist and heterosexist worldview, the world would be a better place if women ran it — mostly through the use of their sexuality of course. Sexually satisfied men would then happily submit to women’s power and we would all live in peace. (Side note: I don’t really hang with many white men, but this one definitely would have been invited to some of my parties. Did I mention he was poly? In 1941?)

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Retrolicious–Mad Men 6.9: “The Better Half”

Hosted by Tami Winfrey Harris and Andrea Plaid

Pete: "Wanna play 'Father Abraham'?" Joan: *direct side-eye*

Pete: “Wanna play ‘Father Abraham’?”
Joan: *direct side-eye*

To paraphrase One Chele from Black ‘n Bougie, it’s Tapback Season…at least on Mad Men. Don, Roger, and Peggy try their luck to get back with former and sort-of current lovers with varied results. Tami, Renee Martin from Womanist Musings and Fangs for the Fantasy, and I chat about this bit of silliness, the joys of “Father Abraham,” and the joy of talking about how the show handles racism with like-minded  folks. Tami kicks off the convo…and, yes, spoilers.

Tami: Can I say how glad I am that we have this space here? I have always found the poor racial analysis of Mad Men by viewers and recappers even more problematic than anything the show has done. And now, in this season, where Weiner and Co. have made some egregious racial missteps (cough…Mammy Thief…cough), I’m even more glad to have a group of intelligent and racially conscious people to discuss the show with.

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Meanwhile, On TumblR: Red-Carpet Bossness, Accurate Maps, And Memorial Day’s Origins

By Andrea Plaid

Let’s start off this post with appreciating the bossness captured in this photo:

Michelle Thrush and Misty Upham

According to People Of Color With Killer Fashion:

Focus on the two ladies:  Michelle Thrush, from the  Cree Nation in  Canada in the black dress, and  Misty Upham from the Blackfeet Nation in the USA in a light dress. Misty says they are the first Native Americans to walk the Cannes red carpet. Also, the man right behind Misty is Puerto Rican actor Benicio del Toro.   They are doing so for their movie, Jimmy P. Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian.

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Table For Two: Star Trek Into Darkness

By Kendra James and Arturo R. García

Image via Collider.com

You know why we picked the poster for the 3D showings of Star Trek Into Darkness? Because that’s about two more dimensions than the story ended up having. Set phasers to spoilers under the cut, as we talk about Khan, Sulu, Uhura, and where the franchise might go after this — assuming the fan backlash doesn’t sink the new film series.

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Watch: Fruitvale Station Has A Trailer And An Opening Date

By Arturo R. García

When last we left Ryan Coogler’s Fruitvale, it had earned both the top prizes and a distribution deal at the Sundance Film Festival.

Now known as Fruitvale Station, the film is continuing to win acclaim, this time at the Cannes Film Festival. As star Michael B. Jordan, who plays Oscar Grant, the victim of a police shooting on New Year’s Day 2009, told the Associated Press:

“It’s electric. It’s like March Madness. It’s that time of year where everyone’s just in it, talking about movies.

“I don’t want to be that ignorant American who comes over here and expects everyone to love it: ‘Oh, you got to love it because it’s hot over there. I want people to be excited about it because it really affects them.”

The trailer above offers a glimpse into not just the events leading up to Grant’s death, but the world he was trying to rebuild with himself, his mother (Octavia Spencer), his partner Sophina (Melonie Diaz) and their daughter Tatiana (Ariana Neal). One thing that did strike me from the footage so far: we’re going to get at least some interpretation of how the shooting was captured on video by witnesses, and the police response.

Fruitvale opens on July 26, which places it in a relatively slow week in the middle of summer blockbuster season. The only “major” film opening that week appears to be Hugh Jackman’s The Wolverine. According to Movie Insider, the other films of note debuting are the Cate Blanchett/Alec Baldwin/Louis C.K. project Blue Jasmine and Blackfish, a documentary that uses the story of a killer whale responsible for the deaths of three trainers to shed light on how orcas are treated in captivity.