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The Hollywood vs Social Media "You Can’t Play That Part!" Casting Debate


WyattSheepMask
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This has been kicking around an awful lot lately, and it's reared it's head again today.

The BBC have been criticised for casting Charlie Heaton, most famous for playing Johnathan Byers in Stranger Things, in an upcoming remake of The Elephant man in which he is to play Joseph Merrick. It has been described as "a missed opportunity" by the charity Scope who also mentioned that "a massive pool of disabled talent has been overlooked". The BBC has said that it was "in the process of casting disabled actors in a variety of key roles". (Full Story - https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/newsbeat-45340361)

This is on top of recent stories involving (obviously, this is not a definitive list, just recent examples):

* Scarlett Johansson having to step down from the role in which she was to play a trans man (https://edition.cnn.com/2018/07/04/entertainment/scarlett-johansson-transgender-role-trnd/index.html) as well the 'white-washing' controversy that surround the Ghost In The Shell live-action adaption in 2017

* Ruby Rose being cast as Batwoman and then having to take a Twitter hiatus due to not being Jewish and "not gay enough" (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-australia-45166592)

* Jack Whitehall receiving backlash for his casting as Disney "first gay character" in the upcoming Jungle Cruise (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/newsbeat-45171052)

* Dwayne Johnson received criticism for playing the role of a character who has a prosthetic leg in his recent blockbuster Skyscraper, which some described as "offensive" due to Johnson not having a prosthetic leg in real life (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-44852182)

Obviously, Hollywood has had a massive change in attitude in recent years with the Sexual Harassment scandals, the #MeToo movement etc, but is this going too far in the over direction and people are now losing sight of what an actor actually is?

I saw Bradley Cooper in The Elephant Man, playing Joseph Merrick, when it had it's London run 3 years ago which came off the back of a 13 week run on Broadway in which Cooper received high praise for the role, even receiving a nomination for a Tony Award for Best Actor. I cannot remember a single thing about how Cooper should not have played that role due to not having a disability. When we talked about this recently in one of the other threads, I mentioned about how if Dallas Buyers Club (a film which won two of the main awards at the Oscars that year) were to be made now, would Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto be hunted down for not having AIDS or being trans in real life, because they can't possibly be able to portray a person with AIDS or a transgender character on screen?

the 'white-washing' controversy makes sense, as it should be common sense that black actors play black roles, Asian actors play Asian roles etc. but has it now got to a point that the power of social media is actually damaging the industry and people are becoming blind to the art of acting.

What are your thoughts?

Edited by WyattSheepMask
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similar with the Rock / Skyscraper issue. 

I am mixed on it. Surely the role should go to the person best suited in terms of ability, not disability. If Adam Hills was a mainstream hollywood actor, he could have done the gig. 

But acting is acting. If they had employed someone who was disabled to play the elephant man, but they were shit at acting, what would that have proved? I do think there should be more people of disability in roles for sure, but just giving them lead roles beyond them seems wrong as well

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The whole positive descrimination thing annoys me somewhat. Should the role have gone to a disabled actor? Yes, if a disabled actor happened to be the best person possible for the job.

In the whole Scarlet Joahanson case, it was reported that people from the LGBTQ community were upset that a trans actor wasn’t playing a trans role. By the same token, should the lead role in Top Gun have been played by an actual pilot? Should Luke Skywalker have been played by a real Jedi? As mentioned above, it’s called acting for a reason - people pretend to be something or someone they aren’t.

In Joahansson’s case, there was an opportunity to tell an important and informative story and draw attention to the issues it was dealing with, by casting a competent and marketable actor in the lead role. Now it could be assumed that a small minority who are getting upset on everyone else’s behalf will ensure it’s less-remembered and seen by fewer people who may have otherwise given it a look.

Often in such cases, those that make the noise and grab the headlines represent a tiny proportion of the group of people they claim to represent, and present an opinion not shared by the many. It’s how modern media works, unfortunately.

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12 minutes ago, Hannibal Scorch said:

Surely the role should go to the person best suited in terms of ability

Not saying this is what you're doing, but the problem is, all too often, this line is only trotted out when someone who isn't a white, male actor gets cast. A black man gets cast in a historically white role, and people talk about "we should be casting based on ability, not ticking boxes" - there's this unspoken assumption that a white male actor getting a role always earned it on merit, whereas any minority is always there to fulfill some imagined quota. 

I think it's maybe going a little too far to say that an able-bodied person shouldn't play John Merrick - because then would the next step be to say that this disabled person shouldn't get the role because they don't have the "right" disability, to the point we end up with absurdly specific narrow-casting?

For me, it comes down to visibility - it can mean a lot to be able to see "yourself" on screen in a light you don't often get to. Growing up in a very rural, white, monocultural environment, it was only when my mixed race cousin was born that I started to become aware of a lack of black faces not just in my day-to-day life, but in the TV and movies we watched together. Years later, it meant the world to her to see someone that looked like her as a Doctor Who companion.

In that respect, I'm all in favour of greater visibility being given to minority actors and minority roles - and maybe that's a little hard to square with me thinking that creating a fuss around The Rock not actually having a prosthetic leg is all a bit silly, because presumably there are little disabled kids out there starved of that visibility too.

So I guess it comes down to what matters more - speaking as a consumer, visibility is key; for a disabled kid or a gay kid to see a positive portrayal on-screen, to me, is more significant than if the actor playing the part is actually gay or disabled. But, from the point of view of Scope, they're not just rallying for visibility but for work for disabled actors - which is admirable, but maybe harder to get enthused about as a consumer.

 

An interesting one for me was the "whitewashing" argument around Tilda Swinton in Dr Strange, being cast as a historically Asian character - but The Ancient One in the comics was rooted in racist colonial ideas of Asian mysticism, so maybe not casting an Asian actor was actually preferable in this case, so as not to play into that stereotype? But then maybe casting a white person plays into equally racist colonial ideas of a white Tibetan precursor race? It's all very confusing.

 

It's also worth noting that a lot of these decisions come down to the bottom line. You don't get a big film made without a name actor attached, so the system perpetuates itself.

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2 minutes ago, BomberPat said:

 

 

It's also worth noting that a lot of these decisions come down to the bottom line. You don't get a big film made without a name actor attached, so the system perpetuates itself.

exactl. Skyscraper would have been a direct to DVD low budget film without The Rock in it

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There are times when getting someone who can act who has the disability to do the role, Marlee Matlin is a fine example of that. However with the Elephant Man you will not find an actor who has even similar problems. I have a disability, I wouldn't care if someone played someone with the disability as long as it was done well.

Also why should only gay people play gay people. Kenneth Williams and Charles Hawtry showed great performances as straight men, so why can't it work both ways.

Also Robert Llewellyn played a man with one leg brilliantly in Bottom.

Acting is about playing something you are not.

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I remember reading around the time of the latest Scarlett Johansson controversy that part of the problem is that trans/gay/disabled actors aren’t getting the chance to show whether they might be the best people for the roles - they’re not even getting in the audition room. Of course it’s a whole other thing if you audition without discrimination and the most suitable person still happens to be cis/straight/without disabilities but if nobody else is getting the option to prove they could be as good there’s an underlying issue.

Not sure I understand this Elephant Man one, though, wasn’t Merrick’s condition incredibly rare? What kind of ‘disabled’ do Scope have in mind?

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Just now, HarmonicGenerator said:

Not sure I understand this Elephant Man one, though, wasn’t Merrick’s condition incredibly rare? What kind of ‘disabled’ do Scope have in mind?

Not really an excuse. Jonathan Glazer cast Adam Pearson in Under the Skin by contacting the talent agency Changing Faces. No reason why this couldn't have happened here.

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3 minutes ago, BomberPat said:

Given that we don't know for sure what conditions Merrick had, I do struggle with that one - it feels even more disrespectful to cast a disabled actor as "close enough".

There's a group that analyses unnamed disabilities in past fiction and does essays on them. Can't bloody remember the name of them now, but pretty sure they could help out in cases like this. Unless I imagined them.

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2 hours ago, WyattSheepMask said:

This has been kicking around an awful lot lately, and it's reared it's head again today.

The BBC have been criticised for casting Charlie Heaton, most famous for playing Johnathan Byers in Stranger Things, in an upcoming remake of The Elephant man in which he is to play Joseph Merrick. It has been described as "a missed opportunity" by the charity Scope who also mentioned that "a massive pool of disabled talent has been overlooked". The BBC has said that it was "in the process of casting disabled actors in a variety of key roles". (Full Story - https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/newsbeat-45340361)

This is on top of recent stories involving (obviously, this is not a definitive list, just recent examples):

* Scarlett Johansson having to step down from the role in which she was to play a trans man (https://edition.cnn.com/2018/07/04/entertainment/scarlett-johansson-transgender-role-trnd/index.html) as well the 'white-washing' controversy that surround the Ghost In The Shell live-action adaption in 2017

* Ruby Rose being cast as Batwoman and then having to take a Twitter hiatus due to not being Jewish and "not gay enough" (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-australia-45166592)

* Jack Whitehall receiving backlash for his casting as Disney "first gay character" in the upcoming Jungle Cruise (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/newsbeat-45171052)

* Dwayne Johnson received criticism for playing the role of a character who has a prosthetic leg in his recent blockbuster Skyscraper, which some described as "offensive" due to Johnson not having a prosthetic leg in real life (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-44852182)

Obviously, Hollywood has had a massive change in attitude in recent years with the Sexual Harassment scandals, the #MeToo movement etc, but is this going too far in the over direction and people are now losing sight of what an actor actually is?

I saw Bradley Cooper in The Elephant Man, playing Joseph Merrick, when it had it's London run 3 years ago which came off the back of a 13 week run on Broadway in which Cooper received high praise for the role, even receiving a nomination for a Tony Award for Best Actor. I cannot remember a single thing about how Cooper should not have played that role due to not having a disability. When we talked about this recently in one of the other threads, I mentioned about how if Dallas Buyers Club (a film which won two of the main awards at the Oscars that year) were to be made now, would Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto be hunted down for not having AIDS or being trans in real life, because they can't possibly be able to portray a person with AIDS or a transgender character on screen?

the 'white-washing' controversy makes sense, as it should be common sense that black actors play black roles, Asian actors play Asian roles etc. but has it now got to a point that the power of social media is actually damaging the industry and people are becoming blind to the art of acting.

What are your thoughts?

 

1 hour ago, BomberPat said:

Not saying this is what you're doing, but the problem is, all too often, this line is only trotted out when someone who isn't a white, male actor gets cast. A black man gets cast in a historically white role, and people talk about "we should be casting based on ability, not ticking boxes" - there's this unspoken assumption that a white male actor getting a role always earned it on merit, whereas any minority is always there to fulfill some imagined quota. 

I think it's maybe going a little too far to say that an able-bodied person shouldn't play John Merrick - because then would the next step be to say that this disabled person shouldn't get the role because they don't have the "right" disability, to the point we end up with absurdly specific narrow-casting?

For me, it comes down to visibility - it can mean a lot to be able to see "yourself" on screen in a light you don't often get to. Growing up in a very rural, white, monocultural environment, it was only when my mixed race cousin was born that I started to become aware of a lack of black faces not just in my day-to-day life, but in the TV and movies we watched together. Years later, it meant the world to her to see someone that looked like her as a Doctor Who companion.

In that respect, I'm all in favour of greater visibility being given to minority actors and minority roles - and maybe that's a little hard to square with me thinking that creating a fuss around The Rock not actually having a prosthetic leg is all a bit silly, because presumably there are little disabled kids out there starved of that visibility too.

So I guess it comes down to what matters more - speaking as a consumer, visibility is key; for a disabled kid or a gay kid to see a positive portrayal on-screen, to me, is more significant than if the actor playing the part is actually gay or disabled. But, from the point of view of Scope, they're not just rallying for visibility but for work for disabled actors - which is admirable, but maybe harder to get enthused about as a consumer.

 

An interesting one for me was the "whitewashing" argument around Tilda Swinton in Dr Strange, being cast as a historically Asian character - but The Ancient One in the comics was rooted in racist colonial ideas of Asian mysticism, so maybe not casting an Asian actor was actually preferable in this case, so as not to play into that stereotype? But then maybe casting a white person plays into equally racist colonial ideas of a white Tibetan precursor race? It's all very confusing.

 

It's also worth noting that a lot of these decisions come down to the bottom line. You don't get a big film made without a name actor attached, so the system perpetuates itself.

 

Recently had this debate on another thread, primarily regarding the Scarlett Johansson trans casting.

Initially, it was @Keith Houchen who raised the question, and as I said to him at the time, because I knew it was him asking, I knew it was being asked in good faith. But, as Pat has said above, the problem isn't people like Keith - it's those who say "they're actors! Their job is to fake it!" who also have a problem with Idris Elba being cast as James Bond or Jodie Whitaker being cast as The Doctor.

Also, this argument is losing sight of the fact that representation isn't just for representation's sake; it has a very specific purpose, which isn't just to tell people that (in the trans case) trans people exist, but also to create opportunities for trans people so that they too can have their place in society which has thus far been denied. There are already lots of non-trans roles that trans actors aren't being cast for, so why deny them the few opportunities they do have? There's no shortage of cis roles which cis actors can play.

Additionally, what message does it send to trans people to cast a cis person in a trans role? It's effectively saying: "Oh, you can be represented just as well by someone who hasn't lived your experiences and doesn't understand what your life's about, and we'll decide that for you." We already accept that a white man performing in blackface is hideously offensive for numerous reasons; why's the logic any different for trans people being played by cis?

In the other thread, Keith summed it up perfectly: it's the difference between representation and tokenism.

EDIT: We also extended that debate to recent white-washings of Asian roles; again, the problem is that Asians are already under-represented in lead or significant roles in Western media, and a bigger problem is that, whenever a rare Asian lead role comes up, it's not Asian actors being cast in those roles. Specifically, it's not Asian actors from the producing country's available talent pool, e.g. in the case of Ghost In The Shell, an Asian-American actress, or, in the case of, say, the Tekken or King Of Fighters movies, Asian/Asian-American martial arts actors.

@BomberPatAs to Tilda Swinton in Doctor Strange, I've heard that argument before, and it still doesn't wash. I understand that subverting the role from the racist, Western-constructed Fu Manchu model of masculinity was important, but they could easily have subverted the role by casting an Asian woman. Could've been Gong Li, Michelle Yeoh, Lucy Liu or Zhang Ziyi or whoever. Even better, cast a young Asian female, to imply agelessness too. 

Edited by Carbomb
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21 minutes ago, Scott Malbranque said:

I'm in the vast minority, but Idris Elba shouldn't be Bond. And I'll tell you why. It will be devastating to my marriage.

I actually agree with you, but mainly because I just don't think he's all that suave - just don't see it. If I was casting a black Bond, it'd be Chiwetel Ejiofor who's both suave and bad-ass.

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Peter Dinklage us getting pelters as well. Not Filipino enough and not the right kind of dwarf. They should be thankful Herve Villechaize isn't also played by The Rock

 

https://metro.co.uk/2018/08/30/game-of-thrones-peter-dinklage-responds-to-whitewashing-claims-for-new-hbo-movie-7895135/

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