Sometimes, I really, really love Louis C.K. He is far from perfect, but he tends…
By Guest Contributor Aymar Jean Christian, cross-posted from Televisual
Note: To see Part 1, which featured a breakdown of several of the box-office performances of several leading black actresses, go here.
III. The State Of The Black Leading Lady
It’s hard to be a woman in Hollywood. It’s hard to be black in Hollywood. So, obviously, it stands to reason it’s hard to be a black woman. It can be boring to hear — “black women have it tough, huh, what else is new?” — but it’s true!
One good place to start is New York‘s new “Star Market,” which is a great resource for people wanting to know more about how stars are made and unmade by the throngs of publicists, casting directors, producers and studio execs in Hollywood. One theme from the feature rings clear: it’s much tougher for women. The 2000s haven’t been bad to black actors and actresses: stars like Will Smith and Queen Latifah rose in power; 22 actors and actresses were nominated for and 7 won Academy Awards — in the previous 70 years, only 36 had been nominated and 6 had won. But the overall picture for black women is less rosy than for their male counterparts: most black-led independent and mainstream films are centered on men.
It’s hard to assign blame. Surely, the industry’s partially at fault: too few black/women directors, screenwriters, people above/below the line. But the industry also responds to what America wants, and year after year, movies led by white/men top the box office. Every once in awhile, something shakes the conventional wisdom — Sex and the City, or films by Sandra Bullock , Tyler Perry and Will Smith — but the conventional wisdom more or less remains because Hollywood is congenitally cautious. Once again, who’s to blame? Most films fail, and job security is hard to come by, so how much can we blame industry workers for not taking risks? I don’t know. Let’s talk about it.
by Guest Contributor J Chang, originally published in Init_MovingPictures
While there is a tension between the actor’s craft and the necessity for verisimilitude in mainstream entertainment film and television, we’ve noted that cinematic verisimilitude is critical for enjoyment of a film. In the case of race, that means casting actors who would believably appear the race of the character.
Of course, I then devoted an entire entry this this series to analyze the fact that producers, filmmakers and actors ignored this requirement for cinematic verisimilitude by donning prosthetics and face paint to play characters not of their own race. I also noted how this practice, dubbed “colorface”, was steeped in a history of racist practices, both in its historical origin in minstrel shows and in its denial of casting of actors of color.
But, the racism present that resulted in white actors playing characters of color was not only a product of individual attitudes towards race in the industry, but a result of systemic racism. The kind of racism that suggests to producers, investors, directors and casting directors that people of color can’t lead a film, which leads them to cast a white actor, not because they necessarily because of a lack of talent, but because they were afraid for their bottom line. The kind of racism that results in less actors of color joining the A-list. The kind of racism that causes audiences to ignore films not featuring A-list actors of color at the box office, further causing actors of color not to get cast. This is not the fault of any individual or cabal, but rather reflective of the racism present in society as a whole.
But, of course, we’ve still made some progress. While colorface still does occur (its modern incarnation often uses much less face paint), it is more commonly and widely deemed unacceptable and we are even less likely to see horrifically stereotyped caricatures in mainstream film and television. Read the Post Casting & Race, Part 3: The Race Lift
by Guest Contributor J Chang, originally published at Init_MovingPictures While it’s still relatively new news,…
by Guest Contributor (and frequent commenter) J Chang, originally published at Init_MovingPictures
Ever since news of The Last Airbender’s casting broke, there’s been a lot of commotion in the Asian American community about casting and how it seems that Asians are losing to white people in playing Asian characters. Now, there are issues present in the overall casting scene that people are picking up on here, but before I go further in depth on how race fits into casting, I want to lay down some groundwork for the discussion so that we know how to properly frame the arguments.
The Actor’s Craft
First and foremost, we need to acknowledge what the actor’s job is. As an actor, I’m aware of the theoretical paradox that we are placed in when playing a role. An actor is essentially taking on the role of someone that they are not. This artifice even extends to the rare case when an actor is playing themselves, as they are still “playing” a character on a stage or in front of a screen, rather than being themselves in real life.
In acting, even core identity matters such as sex, sexual orientation, ethnicity, of the actor, shouldn’t matter. Only that of the character. The actor’s job, their craft, is to play a character that is certainly not themselves. I’m not saying that an actor’s actual identity won’t influence the way they play their character, but that ideally, a talented actor will overcome their own identity to play the character believably.
But this is speaking only of the actual job of acting and not the negotiating between the actor, the audience and the medium.