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Movie Mom

Movie Mom

Who Should Play Non-White Characters?

posted by Nell Minow

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.”

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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.

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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.

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