On Television, Cinema and Race
I had... let's call it "a moment" today that almost broke into me getting myself reprimanded/fired for going on a expletive-filled rant.
So, I was chatting with a few co-workers about the bookies picking Chiwetel Ejiofor as a potential next Doctor Who. Now, despite these kind of odds-makers almost always not getting the call right, but one of my co-workers made a comment that was pretty much the same as the "Featured" comment at the link. Namely that they couldn't/shouldn't make the Doctor anything other than an English white man.
I had to walk away. Primarily because i'm so f*cking tired of hearing this kind of sh*t, in real life and everywhere on the internet. Because it's such ridiculous, asinine bullsh*t.
1.) For the sake of all things holy, Dr. Who, nor Sherlock Holmes, nor James Bond, nor Peter Parker or Jason Bourne or Indiana Jones, none of those characters' ethnicity is an integral part of the character. Think of James Bond. Now make him black. As long as he's British, what really has changed? As far as I can tell, nothing. Because James Bond isn't specifically about a white guy, it's a about a secret agent flying around the world fighting megalomaniacs with ludicrous affectations and women with painfully puerile puns for names. The only way making Sherlock Holmes or Olivia Dunham or Dr. Gregory House a different race changes anything is if you think they're going to wander around, acting like an enormous stereotype of their particular ethnicity and that every episode is going to be a "very special episode" about race.
Does this work for everything? Of course not! You can't just do a scene-for-scene remake of "Goodfellas", except now everyone's Honduran. It'd look weird, because one of the key parts of the movie is its depiction of a part of the Italian-American experience. You certainly could do a remake, but you'd largely be left with just plot points, and have to change so much in the course of making it that it'd end up a significantly different movie. But Sherlock Holmes? You could set it in the Arabic Peninsula in the 1600s, and it's still largely the same goddamn story.
2.) What I really, really, really hate about this argument is that at some point, someone always comes out and says that it's ridiculous to make the character a different race because you're subverting the dominant culture, and you'd never make the Chinese/Japanese/other largely homogenous society do this, and the dominant culture couldn't identify the character, so it'd bomb.
So, first, that's a terrible argument, because, and there's no other way to put it, it makes white people look like horrendous bigots. Because literally every other ethnic group in the nation, and people all over the world have watched movies from Hollywood featuring primarily white casts, and identified and empathized with the characters. I certainly did it, I love Bruce Wayne, Ellen Ripley and The Man With No Name. I think Jason Bourne is the best action hero of the last decade by a exceptionally long distance. None of those characters, or the people portraying them share anything even remotely close to my ethnic background. Pirates of the Caribbean and Harry Potter made billions of dollars worldwide, because a shedload of non-white people went to see movies with primarily white casts, and managed to do it without going "I just can't get into this movie, there's no Filipinos." But according to this terrible, awful argument, it's just too jarring for Caucasians to do. (There's a six-letter-word i'd like to use to describe this mindset, but I won't, because it always derails the conversation.)
I overheard my co-worker also say that it was a dumb idea to make Dr. Who black because imagine if they made Dolemite white! The NAACP would be up in arms!
Well, you could make Dolemite white, but the key here, is again, that Dolemite's blackness is a key aspect of his character. Hell, it's a key aspect of the genre he's working in. It's in the genre's damn name.
Basically, it's just mind-boggling that this is an issue for people anymore. If Tyler Perry says he's going to do a biopic of Franklin D. Roosevelt, but now everyone's black, yes, that is stupid idea and it makes no goddamn sense. But if Luke Skywalker suddenly was being played by some Latino kid? What has changed? What does his being Latino change about the story? How is anyone seriously getting annoyed by this? James Bond could be a Handicapped Gypsy, as long as he's sexy, drinks, is a British secret agent and kills people for M, it's still the same character. Bruce Wayne could be a orphaned tycoon from Bombay, it still works just fine.
I'm sorry, this turned ranty, but I do hope that perhaps Mr. Ejiofor gets his chance to play the regenerating, shapeshifting extra-terrestrial, or someone of South Asian descent, or whatever. Hell, we can even finally hire a Ginger to do it first. But if they remake Magnum P.I. or something, and hire Michael K. Williams or Idris Elba to do it, it'll be fine. Catwoman wasn't awful because Selina Kyle was black, it was awful because it was a terribly written and acted mess. And if Total Recall gets remade with The Rock in Arnold's role, it's not going to have any huge effect on the film.