Posted on April 19, 2016
A large, very vocal population of rightly concerned people have been loudly pointing out that Hollywood has a tendency to cast white actors in the roles of minority characters.
This is a brand new practice that started just the other day in 1931 with a white man playing Charlie Chan. And if that sounds like racism squared then you heard me correctly.
It’s easy to point out the problem, but fixing it is an order of magnitude more difficult. So let’s look at it Choose Your Own Adventure style:
Do you want Hollywood to make a big budget version of Ghost in the Shell?
If No, set yourself on fire, you fake nerd.
if Yes, please deposit $200M to make the movie and another $400M to market it.
Did you just bet your entire company and personal fortune on this movie?
If No, disembowel yourself with a fake katana from the Kill Bill souvenir shop.
If Yes, please list all the female Asian actors who can open a movie that must make a billion dollars worldwide to keep you from having to file for bankruptcy.
You see the problem? We’re in a situation where, from a purely practical sense, we have to choose between getting the movie made at all and honoring the ethnicity of the source material. The fix isn’t as simple as getting the part to Ming-Na Wen (I know her heritage is Chinese but so is Lucy Liu’s and they both come up when you google Japanese actresses in Hollywood. Which, by the way, also feels racist.)
Of course, the other solution would be to just have a Japanese studio make it and then let Hollywood remake it with a bigger budget and… oh, yeah… Scarlett Johansson in the lead.
The truth is that the number of actors who can open a big movie is only shrinking as the internet gobbles up everything in its midst. Sometimes, I feel like we should just be grateful they didn’t rewrite it so Tom Cruise could star or even just put him in a dress.
The fact that a studio is willing to bet that much money on a movie with a female lead is, in its own way, a tiny step forward.
Having said that (I love playing my own Devil’s advocate. It’s the only time I get to argue with someone whose opinion I truly value) what about Guardians of the Galaxy?
GotG had a budget of $170M and made $750M worldwide in theaters. Who opened that movie? Chris Pratt, a guy known for playing a chubby but lovable imbecile on an under-appreciated TV show, everyone’s favorite SF girl but painted green, a talking raccoon, a tree with a one word vocabulary and an ex-professional wrestler.
You’re telling me that motley crew can open a movie of similar budget and scope as Ghost in the Shell but an Asian actor cannot? I think the root of the problem, like most of the problems in Hollywood, lies squirming in the brain pan of the executive where the cowardice of the “manager” elbows the vision of the leader out of the way.
It’s the ultimate game of CYA. When the movie fails you can say, “Hey, I gave it to Costner. What else could you want?”