Whitewashing And Diversity In Hollywood?

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Whitewashing And Diversity In Hollywood?

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Postby Ray » Wed Jan 07, 2015 7:14 pm

This is intended to begin a discussion, not be the be all end all. This thread is going to be discussing a very controversial and divisive topic. And while I'm always a bit concerned about that. I know in my heart it's nothing to worry about.

Kinda Sorta a Spinoff of the discussion of Hollywood's GITS movie.

I felt a need to talk about this, but didn't want to clog up the thread. Once again, Hollywood has decided that instead of giving a role for a complex, intelligent, Asian woman to an actual Asian Actress, they once again are taking the Easy way out and casting Scarlett Johanson (Of Avengers and Iron Man Fame) in the role of Major Kusanagi.

Here's a graph showing the percentage of roles for white Actors in Hollywood against the percentage of Non-White actors.
Image

By this graph, the only group other than whites who have any kind of Representation in Hollywood. Is Black actors, and while I don't want to downplay the contributions of Will Smith, Denzel Washington, Halle Berry, and Zoe Saldana. Where are their Asian, Latino, and Middle Eastern Counterparts?

Furthermore Why is it every single time a good role for an an Asian actor comes along it's almost ALWAYS given to a white actor?

Image

So why does this happen? Well here's my two cents.

I believe there is a craving, by the American audience for Culture in their movies. If only for exotic appeal. But Hollywood simply put, isn't willing to risk money on an unproven Asian or Asian American actor in the lead role of their summer blockbuster. So Asian actors are at best given supporting roles, and outright excluded at worst. Even from starring in the lead roles of movies and tv shows that so clearly celebrate their cultural heritage.

The American Audience has seen movies about Samurai (The Last Samurai, 47 Ronin), Ninjas (Ninja Turtles), Giant Robots in Asia (Pacific Rim, Transformers 4), Hindu Reincarnation (Cloud Atlas), a giant monster that attacks Tokyo (Godzilla 2014), and a future where China Colonized the freaking Solar System! (Serenity).

But all of these, while most of them are of good quality and enjoyable films. All have the same issue. They all star white actors in the lead roles, with Asian actors either being reduced to playing supporting roles, extras, or being excluded from the narrative altogether.

This also extends to properties that originally featured Asian Characters (Edge Of Tomorrow, Dragon Ball, The upcoming Live Action Ghost In The Shell and Akira Remakes, The Last Airbender), or were set in Asian Culture (47 Ronin), or were based on real world Asian people who contributed to society (21, Come See The Paradise). Despite the fact that Asian actors, who have history in the cultures these works are based upon, could draw upon those experiences to give us a much better performance than any White American Actor ever could.



"When is this gonna end!? At this point, you might as well make a movie about Hiroshima starring Denver!"
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And it's not just Asian Actors either! Latino and Middle Eastern Actors get the shaft too!

Star Trek: Into Darkness had Benedict Cumberbatch playing Khan, a genetically engineered Superman of Indian Sikh descent. In Batman Comics, Bane is Latino, Ra's Al Ghul and Talia are Middle Eastern. In Nolans Dark Knight Trilogy? They're all played by White People. Iron Man 3 baited us with Ben Kingsley as a darker more serious version of the Mandarin, and then the plot twist Revealed that Guy Pierce was the real villain and Kingley was an idiot sidekick.

In fact, just a few months ago, there was a huge internet uproar over racism in the Casting of Ridley Scotts Exodus. Which was not only a terrible adaptation, but cast every role for every Jewish and Egyptian Character with a white person, with the exception of Several Black People playing Nubian Slaves.

All this happened despite the fact that it's been scientifically proven real world Jewish People at the time (Roughly 2500 BC) looked nothing like Christian Bale!

Image

In response to complaints, Ridley Scott Stated.
". . . "I can't mount a film of this budget, where I have to rely on tax rebates in Spain, and say that my lead actor is Mohammad so-and-so from such-and-such. I'm just not going to get it financed. So the question doesn't even come up."

-Ridley Scott to Variety Magazine


And there you have it, right from the horses mouth. Studios aren't willing to risk money, because there supposedly aren't any well known actors of Color that could carry a big budget live action Special effects heavy movie and have it return a profit, and as much as I hate to agree with them I'm afraid I have to.

How many Non-white actors can you think of, off the top of your head that you and a friend would go see? Five? Maybe six if you're lucky? Now take away all the Icons of cinema everyone knows like, Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Will Smith, and Denzel Washington.

Not many left huh?

That's a big part of the Issue, a lack of Ethnic Actors that could sell a movie like a Live Action Ghost In The Shell to the masses. There aren't enough well known Asian actors who could carry a movie like this. Even ones with fans and devoted followings. Such as George Takei, Lucy Liu, James Hong, or even Steven Yuen, would not guarantee a movie starring them in the lead would turn a profit.

Hollywood is motivated by money, and given the economy, the big studios simply do not want to risk any of said money on risky gambits. So they stick to tried and true formulas, that guarantee that a movie will not be a flop at the box office. Regrettably, that Formula usually includes white actors in the lead roles, and almost everyone else with a different complexion being excluded.

But before we point fingers, we should all take a moment to recognize that it's not just America who's guilty of miscasting. Bollywood, Japan, China, and Korea have done their fair share of miscasting too. Take Bollywood's Dear Friend Hitler it's a deadly serious movie. Starring Indian actors as Nazis. It might seem silly to you, but this is the industry norm overseas.

Image

Here's my question. What do you guys think is more important? Complex Roles for Non-White Actors? Or movies that are sure to get funded? And what do we as fans and Hollywood producers have to do to get both?

Edit: changed title
Last edited by Ray on Fri Feb 20, 2015 12:52 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Postby Bagheera » Wed Jan 07, 2015 7:35 pm

Here's my question: why are you ignoring the many roles portrayed by non-white actors in films produced and/or distributed by major Hollywood studios? Why are you blowing off Chow Yun Fat, Jet Li, Lucy Liu, etc? Why are you ignoring Asian roles that mattered?

To be clear: if you want to say PoC roles need more exposure I'm right there with you, but if you're saying (as you seem to be) that the major studies have invested no effort in PoC main leads I'll call bullshit, since there's ample evidence to the contrary. Can't you do better than that when making your argument? Because I can do better than that, and I'm a privileged as fuck cis white guy.
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Postby drinian » Wed Jan 07, 2015 7:50 pm

I'm not really here to debate; there's definitely a conversation to be had.

I just want to point out that the demographics of the United States line up within a few percentage points of the graph that you posted.

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Postby Ray » Wed Jan 07, 2015 8:12 pm

@Bags
Stop Sea Lioning me about that.

I don't blow them off. I just acknowledge that they're not as common, or as popular. I already mentioned in another thread. How Maggie Q left Hollywood to forge a successful career in Taiwan after being screwed over playing stereotypes time and time again.

The roles mattered at the time, but didn't really do much in the long run.

Yeah, they're successful, but with maybe the exception of Lucy Liu, they've never moved past the Kung Fu Genre, at least as far as American productions go. I like Kung Fu Movies too, but that can't be the only role Asian actors are allowed to be it. That'd be like every movie starring white people was like Fireproof.

Furthermore Most Studios usually consider them exceptions to the rule that Asian faces don't sell in Hollywood.

Scientific and statistical studies have shown that movies starring non-whites tend to underperform at the domestic box office, even though over 40% of regular theatergoers aren't white people.

http://blogs.indiewire.com/shadowandact/why-white-people-dont-like-black-movies

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2563561/Hollywood-place-white-men-New-study-finds-women-minorities-dramatically-underrepresented-films-television.html

@Drinian

I'm well aware.

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Postby Rosenakahara » Wed Jan 07, 2015 8:14 pm

^Basically agree with everything here, its something i used to complain about in comics a lot (like when they kicked off cassandra cain as batgirl) but i realized they would never change, movies however change with the times and i think this is something that should change too.
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Postby FreakyFilmFan4ever » Wed Jan 07, 2015 8:28 pm

White people playing foreign characters is stupid. White people with foreign names is stupid. Localizing any cultural relevance out of a foreign work is stupid.

That being said, I don’t think Hollywood's localization of GitS removes any cultural relevance from the concept of the film. Heck, Hong Kong in the manga/Oshii films wasn’t even accurately Hong Kong in real life, and might even suffer from a “Japansese Washing,” is you will, of Chinese places and cultures. (A country, may I remind everyone, Japan doesn’t like that much. In fact, most Asian countries are a bit racist against one another, and a white person conflating them all in order to serve a “white washing” argument dangerously exposes the debater’s naivety.)

It’s pretty bad that we can’t get Egyptians to play characters in the Exodus movie. It’s stupid that Hollywood even thought that making an Akira film.

Also, I will point out that you, Ray, are pretty the only one who see the Asian characters in Cloud Atlas as the “Supporting Cast.” Nothing in the narrative designates them as such, so stating such might only come from your own culture’s tendency to see it that way even if it’s so obviously not presented in that way. I don’t pretend that racism isn’t a problem in Hollywood, but I will also rightfully and accurately point out that Cloud Atlas doesn’t suffer from that and isn’t even a Hollywood film. In fact, its probably because of its racially diverse main cast ensemble that, in part, made Hollywood nervous about producing it to begin with.
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Postby Sachi » Wed Jan 07, 2015 8:30 pm

View Original Postdrinian wrote:I just want to point out that the demographics of the United States line up within a few percentage points of the graph that you posted.

This is the point I want to bring up. White actors are most commonly used in Hollywood because, despite America being an incredibly diverse nation, America is still primarily white. Ray, you use Bollywood casting an Indian actor as Nazi's as an example miscasting. Is this truly a miscast that results from industry racism, or is the industry using what they have to work with given the demographic over there? Should they have paid however extra it would cost to get authentic Germans to play the Nazis when it really isn't that terribly important for something that's just a movie? Although film is an art, it's also a business that has money tunneled through it.

The film Exodus as an example of a film that had tons of money invested into it, which necessitates the success of the film in being able to earn back those dollars; the easiest way to do that is to appeal to the lowest common denominator/the majority demographic that is white America and use big name actors that will draw an audience. Otherwise, if you can't guarantee success, you can say goodbye to a huge chunk of your finances. If you're making a film and you put its artistic integrity first, than you also have to accept that you're not gonna get a huge budget to work with and that the film won't be seen by as broad of an audience.
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Postby Ray » Wed Jan 07, 2015 8:49 pm

@Freaky
I was the same as you.

Then you find out the Wachoski's first choice for the actress playing Sonmi. Was Natalie Portman. . .

Edit: What killed Cloud Atlas wasn't the casting, it was the distracting overuse of Yellowface, which a lot of people, including yours truly, have major issues with (and for good reason, Breakfast at Tiffany's still gives me nightmares). But to be perfectly honest, I don't know how the directors would have gotten the reincarnation plot line across without it.

Kyle Kahlgren talks about it in detail here:
http://blip.tv/brows-held-high/brows-held-high-cloud-atlas-part-2-6707900


@Sachi
That's kindve the point I was trying to make. Maybe "miscasting" was a bad choice of words. I don't think Ridley Scott, or The Wachoskis, or Rupert Sanders are intentionally Racist or closet Clansmen or something like that. They just want to make the most profitable film they could make.

Personally, I wish they'd just ignore source material with non whites, and come up with their own ideas rather than white wash ethnic roles and butcher the source material.

Artistic Integrity will ALWAYS take a backseat to profit.
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Postby schwarzstahlhelm1993 » Wed Jan 07, 2015 8:56 pm

tl;dr

Just wanted to point out there's plenty of Latino actors in Hollywood doing both major and small roles. Salma Hayek being my favorite for her obviously notorious assets, and others like Luis Guzman and Danny Trejo.

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Postby FreakyFilmFan4ever » Wed Jan 07, 2015 9:03 pm

View Original PostRay wrote:@Freaky
I was the same as you.

Then you find out the Wachoski's first choice for the actress playing Sonmi. Was Natalie Portman. . .

That’s a meaningly factoid, considering that it isn’t at all what the Wachowski’s ended up actually achieving in the end. There’s no need in referencing things that aren’t in the movie when we’re discussing the movie itself. This isn’t a “DotA argument” in as much as me criticizing you turning a blind eye to what the artists actually achieved in the finished product. If you want to discuss things that clearly aren’t in the movie, clearly are not the movie, and clearly don’t represent the movie, then make your own movie that mimics these moral flaws being properly accomplished and achieved so you can argue against them in any way that you wish. But if we’re discussing the film that undoubtably and inarguably exists before us, then we need to discuss the things that are that are undoubtably and inarguably in it.

View Original PostSachi wrote:This is the point I want to bring up. White actors are most commonly used in Hollywood because, despite America being an incredibly diverse nation, America is still primarily white. Ray, you use Bollywood casting an Indian actor as Nazi's as an example miscasting. Is this truly a miscast that results from industry racism, or is the industry using what they have to work with given the demographic over there? Should they have paid however extra it would cost to get authentic Germans to play the Nazis when it really isn't that terribly important for something that's just a movie? Although film is an art, it's also a business that has money tunneled through it.

The film Exodus as an example of a film that had tons of money invested into it, which necessitates the success of the film in being able to earn back those dollars; the easiest way to do that is to appeal to the lowest common denominator/the majority demographic that is white America and use big name actors that will draw an audience. Otherwise, if you can't guarantee success, you can say goodbye to a huge chunk of your finances. If you're making a film and you put its artistic integrity first, than you also have to accept that you're not gonna get a huge budget to work with and that the film won't be seen by as broad of an audience.

There’s also a point to made about approach to the material. Cecile b. DeMille’s film The Ten Commandments is white washed the hell over, but the common visual aesthetic in that time period of American filmmaking was left over from the works of German director Michael Curtiz, and the German Expressionist films that inspired him. As a result, Hollywood’s visual style in the 50’s wasn’t interested in realism at all. The first thing you see in the film is a red velvet screen with gold titles on it that reminded you that you were watching the grandest, most obvious production of all. Actors would project their voices even if they were talking to people standing only inches away from them. Sets were built to be massive and grandiose rather than authentic to a time period. So of course their casting would be based on grand Hollywood stardom rather than authentic casting decisions.

This sense of realism that America demands from their movies now didn’t come until the Neo Italian Realism film made during WWII, which finally bled over into the United States in the 60’s with Italian made Spaghetti Westerns like The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly starring American actor Clint Eastwood. (You’ll find quick that America doesn’t have much of a claim to historic film movements. It cherry-picked everything it knows from other countries.) Since then American audiences have demanded more and more realism, Hollywood began with more gritty looking sets and authentic looking performances. (You’ll notice actors don’t broadly project in most scenes in a movie anymore. Rather they tend to mumble and whisper a lot.)

With that in mind, the lack of authentic casting decisions in their historic foreign films leaves Hollywood’s hunt for realism in their movies in a sort of “Uncanny Valley.” Unlike The Ten Commandments where the movie’s expossionistic-inspired aesthetic constantly points at its own grand facade and revels in it, Exodus: Gods and Kings realism aesthetic resulted in their casting decisions leaving much to be desired in order to fully obtain that goal.
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Postby Bagheera » Thu Jan 08, 2015 2:53 am

View Original PostRay wrote:@Bags
Stop Sea Lioning me about that.


I am not sea lioning you, you're just continually blowing off the point. I am not claiming you don't have a legit gripe here, but your refusal to acknowledge counterexamples and continual lack of nuance in your arguments isn't helping your case.

Yeah, they're successful, but with maybe the exception of Lucy Liu, they've never moved past the Kung Fu Genre, at least as far as American productions go. I like Kung Fu Movies too, but that can't be the only role Asian actors are allowed to be it. That'd be like every movie starring white people was like Fireproof.


Lucy Liu, and Chow Yun Fat. And, as I noted in the other thread, Memoirs of a Geisha was nominated for 6 Academy Awards, and received three, meaning it was both critically and commercially successful (even if it was controversial) and was very much not a kung fu movie. Same (to a lesser extent) with Anna and the King. Are these typical of Hollywood productions? No. And yes, whitewashing is an issue (though one less pronounced now than in ages past; it's rare to see white folks playing Asians nowadays, for instance), But these movies do exist.

View Original PostRay wrote: Personally, I wish they'd just ignore source material with non whites, and come up with their own ideas rather than white wash ethnic roles and butcher the source material.


I'm actually completely on board with you here.
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Re: Whitewashing And Diversity In Hollywood?

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Postby Tankred » Thu Jan 08, 2015 4:30 am

View Original PostRay wrote:In fact, just a few months ago, there was a huge internet uproar over racism in the Casting of Ridley Scotts Exodus. Which was not only a terrible adaptation, but cast every role for every Jewish and Egyptian Character with a white person, with the exception of Several Black People playing Nubian Slaves.

All this happened despite the fact that it's been scientifically proven real world Jewish People at the time (Roughly 2500 BC) looked nothing like Christian Bale!


The commonly held belief that race was anything like it is in Egypt today is comical, Ray, though I'd argue what you put there is more relevant than when people talk about Cleopatra, because Cleopatra's family was macedonian. So it doesn't really matter what actors you put in those roles about earlier egypt, because before the Ptolemaic dynasty finding someone who looks the part is signicantly harder and almost impossible.

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Postby Ray » Thu Jan 08, 2015 4:48 am

To play the Strawman for a minute.

Aren't those films just the exceptions that prove the rule? How many more roles in American productions have you seen any of the actors in these films in after the success of these movies? If they really were as popular and successful in theses movie as you say they were (and at least one of them was). Then why weren't any of these actors called up to Play Kusanagi in GITS? It's not like they're booked solid till next decade with Multi-Film deals like Scarjo.

I've already posted that link to the study showing the "Racial Empathy Gap" between White and Non White Theatergoers. Short story? Apparently non white people will go see a movie with a white person in it, but unless it's an Icon like Will Smith or Denzel Washington, it takes a lot more to convince a White guy to give a movie without a Straight white male lead a chance. Regardless of the movies overall quality in terms of story, genre, production value, acting etc. And that's perfectly understandable, everyone wants to see someone who looks like them onscreen.

But isn't it kindve sad a mostly white audience either cannot or actively refuses to empathize with a character in an otherwise good film just because he/she is played by an actor who looks different from them? It's the same reason Anime is popular globally, but live action Japanese Film has yet to move beyond Hardcore Otaku and the occasional college art house. It's easy to empathize with a simplistic cartoon dubbed over by an English voice, but a lot harder to empathize with a real Japanese person playing a real Japanese speaking character. A white guy can project himself into a cartoon Japanese person, more so than a live action one.

The Audience votes with its money, and we're not voting for ethnic actors.

Now, things might be changing for the better. Since more and more films with whitewashed roles are underperforming domestically, and not just Exodus. If GITS underperforms, maybe, just maybe, it'll make Hollywood think about being more inclusive. It won't happen overnight, but eventually if more and more movies with Whitewashed characters/source materials underperform. Hollywood will have to address the problem and start being more inclusive, if they want to maintain their Bottom line.
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Postby Bagheera » Thu Jan 08, 2015 5:34 am

Honestly, I think framing it in white/non-white terms is misleading and oversimplifies the issue. You talk about icons, but there are a lot of black icons out there. I mean, like, dozens. Same goes for Latinos. Fewer Asians, but there are fewer ethnic Asians in America to begin with so that's to be expected.

I actually think comparing Asians in film to blacks and Latinos in film is more instructive. Look at those black icons: they are not starring in movies about Africa, or even movies about the black experience in the U.S. They are starring in films about . . . stuff. Same shit as everyone else. In short, they are being cast as Americans, and not as Africans or even as blacks. Now look at the examples I gave in the other thread: Jet Li is enormously successful . . . as an Asian. Memoirs of a Geisha is a hugely successful film with a bunch of awards . . . about Asian experiences in an Asian country. Asian actors and Asian films are clearly allowed to be successful, as Asian actors and Asian films. But they are not allowed to be successful as Americans or as part of American films. There are exceptions -- Lucy Liu, and to a lesser extent Chow Yun Fat, Pat Morita, and others -- but as a trend they haven't broken through the way blacks and Latinos have.

The problem isn't whitewashing. Whitewashing is a symptom of what's going on, not the source of the problem. The problem is one of integration -- Americans like Asians as long as they're foreign, but they don't like them as Americans. And as long as Americans think like that there's no way Hollywood can fail to follow suit, because they're in this business to make a living. Can't do that if you're trying to sell people a product they don't want.
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Postby Oz » Thu Jan 08, 2015 5:57 am

In my opinion the argument over casting according to race is as irrelevant as film criticism that only focuses on a feminist perspective: they have nothing to do with quality of cinema as long as the makers get to execute the film's vision well enough with the resources they are given. Turning film into another battleground for social issues just distracts the audience from enjoying the film itself.

If there's a problem, I would say it is wider than the mere question of casting. Whenever Hollywood tries to remake something that is originally from a foreign country, they end up doing something completely different and something that doesn't really have anything to do with the original culture or the original work. They usually misrepresent the original culture/work in a drastically simplified way that doesn't really favor anyone.
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"Often I get the feeling that deep down, your little girl is struggling with your embrace of filmfaggotry and your loldeep fixations, and the conflict that arises from such a contradiction is embodied pretty well in Kureha's character. But obviously it's not any sort of internal conflict that makes the analogy work. It's the pigtails." - Merridian
"Oh, Oz, I fear I'm losing my filmfag to the depths of Japanese pop. If only there were more films with Japanese girls in glow-in-the-dark costumes you'd be the David Bordwell of that genre." - Jimbo
"Oz, I think we need to stage an intervention and force you to watch some movies that aren't made in Japan." - Trajan

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Postby FreakyFilmFan4ever » Thu Jan 08, 2015 8:30 am

To an extent, we're also missing that these are American films. So ultimately these films will be nothing more than America's opinion of other countries. Now, withing terms or equal opportunity casting and authenticity, I would prefer a non-whitewashed Exodus film. But at the same time, we should realize that that our American films are NOT the be-all-end-all of filmmaking. Each country has their own interpretation of similar works, even counties from which the story originates.
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Postby Nuclear Lunchbox » Thu Jan 08, 2015 2:06 pm

View Original PostOz wrote:In my opinion the argument over casting according to race is as irrelevant as film criticism that only focuses on a feminist perspective: they have nothing to do with quality of cinema as long as the makers get to execute the film's vision well enough with the resources they are given. Turning film into another battleground for social issues just distracts the audience from enjoying the film itself.

I was waiting for someone to say this. Not because I want to rip it apart-- but because I actually agree with it. Sometimes I just want to go to a film and enjoy it without worrying about the Bechdel Test or how many black or asian or gay or female or trans actors a film has, and just to watch the film and enjoy it.

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Postby Bagheera » Thu Jan 08, 2015 3:43 pm

View Original PostNuclear Lunchbox wrote:I was waiting for someone to say this. Not because I want to rip it apart-- but because I actually agree with it. Sometimes I just want to go to a film and enjoy it without worrying about the Bechdel Test or how many black or asian or gay or female or trans actors a film has, and just to watch the film and enjoy it.


Being aware of these things doesn't require one to pick fights over them. And of course, people who aren't white guys probably have different perspectives on the matter.
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Postby FreakyFilmFan4ever » Thu Jan 08, 2015 4:01 pm

What I find hilarious are people saying that Jesus should never be played by a black man. In my opinion, that’s just as historically inaccurate as casting a white guy as Jesus. And honestly if a black majority community want to film a Jesus movie and cast themselves doing it, then that’s fine. We need to realize when it’s the artist’s expression of the story, and not the sense of realism in the story.

Again this is why I think modern white casting in films don’t work that often. Our aesthetic tends to be leaning towards realism, and casting a bunch of white people as obviously non-white characters falls too short of being either an expressionistic piece or a piece in realism.

EDIT: Outside of casting and aesthetics, let’s get into the real gritty discussion of racism in Hollywood: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/01/05/bradford-young-selma_n_6419254.html
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Postby Ornette » Thu Jan 08, 2015 7:50 pm

There's an interesting point that Chris Rock brought up in his recent letter about movies with black lead roles that would also apply to asian lead roles (emphasis mine):

Chris Rock wrote:I think they've been better in the last few years, too — a little more daring, a little funnier. But look, most movies suck. Absolutely suck. They just do. Most TV shows suck. Most books suck. If most things were good, I'd make $15 an hour. I don't live the way I live because most things are even remotely good. But when you have a system where you probably only see three movies with African-American leads in them a year, they're going to be judged more harshly, and you're really rooting for them to be good a little more so than the 140 movies starring white people every year.


So part of what all of this has to do with may be that they didn't want to risk GiTS being treated more critical than if a big name white female lead played the Major.
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