The Truth About Casting – In Black and White

You’ll have to forgive me. Sometimes I forget exactly how racist and stupid people can be. Don’t get me wrong, because I’ve never lost sight of how racist people can be, or how stupid for that matter, but sometimes I do slip up, and forget how racist and stupid they can be at the same time. But as I foolishly trolled the Internets, reading the reaction of some people to the desire of black actor Donald Glover to be granted an audition to play Spider-Man, I was reminded of the depths to which some people sink—wallowing in a bottomless pool of festering racism and putrid stupidity that all but screams to be put out of its misery with a blunt blow to the back of the head. This seemingly endless stream of pure dumb-assishness is not that different from people’s reactions to the rumors of Will Smith being considered for the role of Captain America. Between both of these “news stories,” I read comments and posts that made me shake my head in disbelief while mumbling to myself, “Some peckerwoods sho am ig’nant.” There were people who claimed that casting a black actor to play white characters like Spider-Man or Captain America would be like casting Steve Martin to play Nelson Mandela, or some other white actor to play Martin Luther King.

Part of me really doesn’t want to address this level of stupidity, but then part of me feels the need to educate some of you dumb fucks running around out there, sucking up oxygen and wasting precious other resources. First of all, Spider-Man and Captain America are not real people, you dumb-ass pieces of shit. These are fictional characters portrayed by real people, and subject to interpretation. In the book Moby Dick, Captain Ahab is missing a leg. Does that mean he had to be played by an actor missing a leg? Of course not. But by the thinking of people opposed to black actors playing white characters on the grounds of “that’s not how it is in the book/comic,” then Gregory Peck should have chopped off his leg to play Ahab.

But to be perfectly honest, those small-minded fanboys looking to preserve some sort integrity in their myoptic world of pulp entertainment only bother me so much when they claim dumb things like “Kingpin can’t be played by a black guy, ‘cause he’s white in the comic.” Sure that sounds stupid, and borders on racist, but I can let it slide, because most of the people saying this are already burdened with the life-crushing pressure of being a dumbfuck. But when someone makes some lame comment, like the one I read today, about Steve Martin playing Nelson Mandela, I get a bit pissed. The joker who posted that comment is an idiot who probably doesn’t know how stupid and racist he really is.

The fact of the matter is that the film industry (and entertainment industry as a whole) has a long tradition of white performers playing  people of color. Al Jolson (above left) performing in blackface is one of the most notable examples, but it goes much deeper than that. Al Jolson doing a minstrel show is one thing, but white actors playing real life people of color is something else. Take actor Jack Oakie, who appeared in the western Tomahawk, where he played a character named Beckwourth, who was modeled after real life explorer and mountain man James Beckwourth. Look at the picture of Oakie (left) and compare it to Beckwourth (right).

Now let’s take a look at legendary Apache warrior Geronimo, who has been portrayed by many actors over the years, but never more ridiculously that the time he was played by Chuck Connors, in the 1962 epic Geronimo overflowing with white actors in redface. And of course, just as Jolson was one of many white actors to don blackface, Connors was among a long list of palefaces to portray Native Americans.

And let us not forget the case of all-American John Wayne playing Genghis Khan.

The point I’m trying to make is that for over a century, white actors have been playing people of color, and often times real life people of color. So, when idiots on the Internets say that casting a black actor as Spider-Man is the same as casting a white actor as Martin Luther King, they are both wrong and stupid on multiple levels. They may think they are being funny, or making some profound point, but Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra, Ben Kingsley as Ghandi and Jack Palance as Fidel Castro occupy a long list of examples that prove white actors get to play whoever or whatever they want. “Color blind casting” has been a long tradition in film that has worked to serve white performers in some of the most inflammatory and offensive ways you can imagine to play real people.  So is it really that wrong to apply the same practices in an effort to possibly make a movie better by casting black performers in fictional roles as characters who would otherwise be white?

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