Amanda Scherker has an excellent piece in the Huffington Post about “whitewashing” in films — ethnically white actors playing non-white characters. We understand now how absurd it was to have John Wayne play Genghis Khan or Katharine Hepburn play “Dragon Seed’s” Chinese peasant. Scherker’s article has a range of examples, but there are still more. Marlon Brando played a Japanese man in “Teahouse of the August Moon” and Alex Guinness played another in “A Majority of one.” Shirley MacLaine played an Indian in “Around the World in 80 Days.”
As I mentioned yesterday, this is especially timely as the trailer for the upcoming film about Moses shows a cast of white actors playing Middle Eastern characters and the director has announced that he will next make a film about David.
I am in favor of color-blind and even gender-blind casting unless it is inconsistent with the storyline. It’s fine to cast a man as a woman in both versions of “Hairspray,” but the racial themes of the film make it impossible to be race-blind in casting. In the case of Biblical stories, I believe every effort should be made to use actors who are ethnically Middle Eastern.