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07 August 2012 @ 04:33 am
The Issue of Race in Casting  
I'd mentioned before in my review of the recent 5 minute Cloud Atlas trailer that I had promised myself I wasn't going to see the film if Natalie Portman got cast as Sonmi-451 as the early rumors had suggested. Primarily because the character is Asian and I wasn't about to hear the directors justifying casting a non-Asian actor. Since that rumor, Doona Bae, a Korean actress, has been cast as Sonmi-451. I breathed a sigh of relief. And then the official Cloud Atlas movie site went live. The site features the main actors made up in each of their multiple roles. This website has all the portraits laid out with the actor and character names.


I understand that the directors for this movie are going for a heavy reincarnation theme. It's the crux of their interpretation of the novel. As such, they are giving multiple roles to each actor, possibly to help the audience trace who will become who. Fine. Fair enough.

Only. I have super uncomfortable feelings about the casting of Jim Sturgess, Hugo Weaving, and James D'Arcy as Asian characters. Particularly since the very white actors are made up to look Asian. This feels wrong. This feels very much like the olden days of Hollywood employing white actors to play roles like Charlie Chan in heavy makeup. How is this so different from the old practice of actors doing blackface which is now very rightly deemed racist? Why is it okay that three white men have been cast as Asian characters when there are more than enough male Asian actors out there?

So fine. The directors can argue for that the casting of Sturgess, Weaving, and D'Arcy in these particular Asian roles was necessary for the sake of the reincarnation theme. But if this is the case, why isn't Ben Whishaw, who is playing Frobisher, not playing Luisa Rey who is Frobisher reincarnated as the novel dictates? Why aren't we seeing Whishaw dressed up as a woman with make up to darken his skin since Luisa Rey is Latina? Oh, wait. Doing that has been deemed racist. But apparently donning makeup to slant Caucasian eyes to make them look more Asian is perfectly fine.

I do wonder if anyone else will have an issue with this or if this will be more or less looked over. From hearing Sturgess talk in the trailers, he's obviously playing Im with his own British accent, thank god. If Weaving or D'Arcy end up doing Asian accents, I may have to light something on fire.


I recognize I should probably wait until I actually see the movie before I make any conclusive statements. But the fact does remain that seeing the three actors made up as they are strikes something ugly inside of me.

EDIT: This blogger writes about it much more eloquently.
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aelfgyfu_mead: sketchaelfgyfu_mead on August 7th, 2012 12:08 pm (UTC)
Wow. Those pictures are . . . I'm not sure what the word is. Surprising. Creepy. Disturbing.

I liked what markdelabeast said: "if they’re going to cast someone with ambiguous features, why not just get someone that’s multi-racial?"
formerly lifeinsomniacjoonscribble on August 7th, 2012 11:07 pm (UTC)
markdelabeast's point is a good one. This casting feels lazy or most likely driven by a desire to sell tickets with known actors.

But still. The offhanded way this racebending is being done is highly disturbing.
The Writer They Call Tay: Dresden: Harry confusedawanderingbard on August 7th, 2012 01:31 pm (UTC)
I confess to know absolutely nothing about the plot of the book or movie, but if they are reincarnations of the characters, do they have to look alike? Couldn't they have cast the appropriate ethnicities for that section of the movie? And we could all marvel at how this Asian actor is matching perfectly with Hugo Weaving or whatever? It looks like they've whitened Halle Barry up for one of her roles, too, which is not cool.

I can see their point of view (in terms of keeping one actor for a series of characters to keep to the theme, not using the same white actor for multiple ethnicities), but there is absolutely no call for white actors playing Asians in this day and age.

Edited at 2012-08-07 10:37 pm (UTC)
formerly lifeinsomniacjoonscribble on August 7th, 2012 11:11 pm (UTC)
Couldn't they have cast the appropriate ethnicities for that section of the movie? And we could all marvel at how this Asian actor is matching perfectly with Hugo Weaving or whatever?

This is what I would have loved in a Cloud Atlas movie. The book is so wonderfully subtle and so much of that is getting killed in the film it seems for the sake of spoonfeeding the audience. Which...maybe I can understand. But there HAS to be a better way to convey reincarnation than using the same actors over and over again using make up.

And to this point, I frankly did not even recognize James D'Arcy in his Asian get up and most likely would not have known while watching the movie, which would have defeated the directors' whole point
The Writer They Call Tay: RJ: Juliette balconawanderingbard on August 8th, 2012 03:03 pm (UTC)
There are so many actors out there that would love to stretch their muscles by trying to create a linear performance with another or even several actors. It would have been cool to see each character played by a different actor, but matching up with the others.

I'm sort of disappointed that the actors themselves think this is okay, too. I would feel really uncomfortable in yellow face. Like, just horrified. They might not have had much choice, but they still agreed to it.
formerly lifeinsomniacjoonscribble on August 10th, 2012 10:17 pm (UTC)
It would have been cool to see each character played by a different actor, but matching up with the others.

Others have commented that this would have been a better route. I think the directors are going for a purely visual link, though which is... a choice. Have to wait and see if it works, I guess.

I'm sort of disappointed that the actors themselves think this is okay, too. I would feel really uncomfortable in yellow face. Like, just horrified. They might not have had much choice, but they still agreed to it.

Yeeaaahh....I'm curious if any of them are going to get asked about their feelings on this. If it becomes a larger issue. I remember Jackson Rathbone was asked about the whitewashing when he got cast in Avatar: The Last Airbender. His response was less than endearing.
The Writer They Call Tay: MERLIN: Merlin finds you weirdawanderingbard on August 10th, 2012 10:36 pm (UTC)
If they do the stereoptypical 'Asian' accents, I don't think I could sit comfortably and watch it. I would squirm like crazy. And these are actors I generally like and respect. It's just icky. But maybe it won't be so bad in the end. We'll see, I guess.

formerly lifeinsomniacjoonscribble on August 10th, 2012 10:37 pm (UTC)
Ahaha! Merlin's face in your icon!!

If they do the stereoptypical 'Asian' accents, I don't think I could sit comfortably and watch it.

Judging from the trailer, Jim Sturgess is just using his regular British accent. I really hope the others take his lead.
The Writer They Call Tay: MERLIN: Hard night studyingawanderingbard on August 10th, 2012 10:41 pm (UTC)
Ahaha! Merlin's face in your icon!!

Colin Morgan's facial gymnastics are a constant source of joy for me. I love iconning him.

Judging from the trailer, Jim Sturgess is just using his regular British accent. I really hope the others take his lead.

That's something at least. If you're supposed to be speaking a language other than English, it shouldn't matter what accent you're using.
formerly lifeinsomniacjoonscribble on August 10th, 2012 10:43 pm (UTC)
Colin Morgan's facial gymnastics are a constant source of joy for me.

His facial gymnastics alone are reason enough for him to be an actor.
The Writer They Call Tay: Merlin: Thumbs up!awanderingbard on August 10th, 2012 10:44 pm (UTC)
I think British actors take courses on doing insane things with their faces. See also: Cumberbatch, Andrew Scott, Michael Fassbender, Tom Hiddleston et al.
formerly lifeinsomniacjoonscribble on August 10th, 2012 10:47 pm (UTC)
It's probably a standard course at all drama schools. Making Faces 101.
The Writer They Call Tayawanderingbard on August 10th, 2012 10:52 pm (UTC)
And then you graduate to the next level, which is taught by Gary Oldman.
formerly lifeinsomniac: Poole Wants Teajoonscribble on August 10th, 2012 10:55 pm (UTC)
My guess is that you do one course in the Fall and a related one in the Spring.

Making Faces 101: Comedy
Making Faces 102: Drama
Advanced Making Faces: Tragiocomedy (Instructor: Gary Oldman)

Your usage of Colin Morgan icons had me rewatching a Merlin episode. I'm so susceptible.

Merlin: The last time we held this tournament (whispers) three men died.

Arthur: Really?

Merlin: And that was just the first day.

Arthur: Thanks for that, Merlin.

Merlin: And on that second day... (shakes head)
The Writer They Call Tay: MERLIn: All wet from saving the dayawanderingbard on August 10th, 2012 10:59 pm (UTC)
And then you graduate, polish your cheekbones and start your life as an obscure British actor known only to Tumblr.

Hehe! I got Mum hooked on Merlin a few months ago and we watched our way through the DVDs. Now we're anxiously waiting Series Four to come out on DVD, as it aired before Mum got interested in it. She's not very good at remembering what she's seen, so I always like to chain things together as much as possible. I was rewatching Who the other day and she recognized Bill Patterson from Wives and Daughters, which we watched years ago and was extremely proud of herself for picking him out after so long a time. ^_^
formerly lifeinsomniac: HalDominosjoonscribble on August 10th, 2012 11:02 pm (UTC)
My mom and I often play the "Oh THAT Guy!" Game whenever we watch British media. It's a fun side game to the "If Actor A had a love child with Actor B, It'd be That Actor" Game.
The Writer They Call Tay: BB: just a yoawanderingbard on August 10th, 2012 11:04 pm (UTC)
Oooh, I love both those games! The Poirots and Marples are the best for the first one, though. Surprise!Damian Lewis was in the one I watched last night. He was so young! ^_^
X-parrotxparrot on August 7th, 2012 09:56 pm (UTC)
...Yeeeeah, that is not cool and I would expect better from a movie made in the 21st century. >.> (and even from the purely aesthetic standpoint, the faux-Asian makeup looks weird and creepy, at least in those pictures, since it's just the eyes that are changed...)

And why don't they get more mixed-race actors, that's an excellent point...
formerly lifeinsomniacjoonscribble on August 7th, 2012 11:17 pm (UTC)
And why don't they get more mixed-race actors, that's an excellent point...

I know! I'm guessing casting after awhile became an issue of who was going to draw in the most amount of audience members.
Shezan: Agrippashezan on August 8th, 2012 09:44 pm (UTC)
....as it ALWAYS is.

I think people should chill on this one. These are multiple parts, only a fraction of each from a different ethnicity. I don't see anyone complaining that Lucy Liu has been cast as Watson in "Elementary".
formerly lifeinsomniacjoonscribble on August 8th, 2012 10:00 pm (UTC)
I don't see anyone complaining that Lucy Liu has been cast as Watson in "Elementary".

Actually, I've seen a lot of people on LJ who have an interest in this show complaining about the casting. It does lean more toward the genderbending, however, which seems to stem from the fear that making Watson a woman is an attempt to start some sort of romance with Holmes.

But I have read some other bloggers contemplating the issue of making Watson a bit of a servile doormat and then having that role be played by an Asian woman.
Shezan: Agrippashezan on August 8th, 2012 09:50 pm (UTC)
The blogger seems to think people of different ethnicities don't have different types. That's insane. What's wrong is not to say most sub-Saharan people are black, but to say that being black is bad. (In fact I think there's an unpleasant element of racism implied in the idea that it could be harmful to notice different physical attributes between, say, Swedes and Japanese. Yes, there IS a visible difference, AND IT'S ALL FINE.)
formerly lifeinsomniacjoonscribble on August 8th, 2012 10:06 pm (UTC)
In fact I think there's an unpleasant element of racism implied in the idea that it could be harmful to notice different physical attributes between, say, Swedes and Japanese. Yes, there IS a visible difference, AND IT'S ALL FINE.

I agree. But what I'm not comfortable with is the yellowfacing as a practice itself. There's a history of it in films and while the directors might be trying something for the sake of their vision, all I can say it better be something pretty spectacular because they are asking a large community to swallow not an insubstantial amount of bitterness that this outdated practice brings up.

Again, I realize I should hold off judgement until I see the film because perhaps the directors have found a way to make this somehow okay. If they're allowing the reincarnation theme to trump the race element then...well, again I have to see the film to make a call. Because I go back to my argument as to why then we aren't getting the same actors playing Frobisher and Luisa Rey.
Astoundingly fond of avocados and rainy weather.: SPN_D+B_Securityguardian_chaos on August 8th, 2012 11:47 pm (UTC)
I honestly don't understand why this sort of thing happens. Variety is interesting. Monotony is not. Movies should mix it up a little.

I also don't understand the point of having the same actors play different parts throughout the movie, reincarnation or not. A good actor can easily mimic another actor playing a future or past version of him/herself. I'm going to step into Sherlock Holmes territory and say that part of what makes me like that fandom so much is because there are so many reincarnations of the same characters, spread out into so many different places: books, shows, movies, etc. Finding the similarities and differences in each version of the characters, though they're ultimately the same people in so many ways, is half of the fun.

I'm worried this is going to be Shyamalan's Avatar: The Last Airbender all over again.
formerly lifeinsomniacjoonscribble on August 10th, 2012 10:12 pm (UTC)
I also don't understand the point of having the same actors play different parts throughout the movie, reincarnation or not. A good actor can easily mimic another actor playing a future or past version of him/herself.

I agree so much with this. But I think the directors are going for a purely visual sensibility. Although I don't now how successful they are since I didn't even recognize James D'Arcy in his Asian make up until someone pointed it out.

I'm worried this is going to be Shyamalan's Avatar: The Last Airbender all over again.

Oh MAN. That movie was utterly butchered before it even got released because of the whitewash casting. Akira might be going the same way.