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  1. #1

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    Colour-Blind Casting

    I have started this thread after the issue of Colour-Blind Casting was raised on another thread regarding the casting of King Triton in The Little Mermaid.

    What do we all think of it?
    Is it acceptable?
    Is it expected?
    Should it be the best person in the role regardless of race?
    Do casting directors feel pressure to cast in such a way?

    I personally tend to not have much of an issue with it. I saw a fantastic production of Guys and Dolls in London with Sky, Nicely and many other roles played by black actors.
    However, watching the recent movie remake of The Music Man, some of the casting jarred with the 1900's Iowa town setting.

    What does everyone else think?
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  2. #2

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    Re: Colour-Blind Casting

    I'm fine with it, but I do think casting directors need to take things into consideration when it comes to history.

    The movie Titanic had nearly an all white cast because it was historically accurate, they just discovered that ONE black man was on board and he was a 2nd class passanger...we wouldn't have seen him.

    At the same time, we can't have Mammy from Gone with the Wind played by a white woman...

    But when the story is not history based, such as the Little Mermaid, they can do as they see fit. Just get ready for little kids saying, "How is Ariel white and her daddy's black?"


  3. #3

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    Re: Colour-Blind Casting

    Part of acting is to play the role. You must have the traits or be able to portray the traits of the role. If the character is written as a specific color - then that should be maintained by the actor cast.

    If the role is written as the guy being 6'3" - you don't cast a 5'0" actor. Same thing applies here.

    In many stories, the color is pretty neutral - but in others color may be part of the story as well.

    If color isn't necessarily part of the story or is ambiguous - there is no specific trait to fill.

    In the little mermaid, its all ambiguous - but I would expect some consistency in the casting for the show.
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  4. #4

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    Re: Colour-Blind Casting

    I had the opportunity to help judge a Shakespeare competition in San Francisco about 4 years ago. After all the students had gone it really surprised me when the other judges and I met backstage to determine the winner. Of roughly 40 students, 3 were black. One of the 3 performed a speech from King Henry IV, pt. One...imagine my shock when the judges all agreed that he should have done something "more appropriate" for him. I asked what that meant and they said roles like Othello or Aaron from Titus Andronicus. To think, that in this day and age, there are still ignorant fools out there like these...


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    Re: Colour-Blind Casting

    Quote Originally Posted by Exprmnt626 View Post
    I had the opportunity to help judge a Shakespeare competition in San Francisco about 4 years ago. After all the students had gone it really surprised me when the other judges and I met backstage to determine the winner. Of roughly 40 students, 3 were black. One of the 3 performed a speech from King Henry IV, pt. One...imagine my shock when the judges all agreed that he should have done something "more appropriate" for him. I asked what that meant and they said roles like Othello or Aaron from Titus Andronicus. To think, that in this day and age, there are still ignorant fools out there like these...


    --nick--
    Indeed, that is a disturbing story in the circumstances.

    But colour-blind casting can sometimes get in the way of believability in theatre and take one out of the story.
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  6. #6

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    Re: Colour-Blind Casting

    Yeah - I don't have any problem with Colour-Blind Casting in most circumstances. But I think sometimes it can really distract from the story if it is historically incorrect or if there is a character that has been portrayed in books or films as another race. As someone said above - you'd never have a white woman playing Mammy or a Black Woman playing Kim in Miss Saigon. Now comes the question of the Disney Shows - I've seen pictures of a Black Belle in Beauty and the Beast - I think that would have really confused me as a kid. And would they, for instance, cast a Black/White/Hispanic woman as Mulan if they were to put that on Broadway? I donno.

  7. #7

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    Re: Colour-Blind Casting

    Jonathon Price was famously cast as The Engineer in the original cast of Miss Siagon and there was up-roar! It seems that colour-blind casting can only work one way.

    However, I can't really agree with a black Belle in B&tB being distracting. Surely kids accept what is put in front of them, and if not I would expect them to have more of a problem with the full-sized 'objects' before anything else.
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  8. #8

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    Re: Colour-Blind Casting

    It all depends. If we are talking Disney specifically, the black actor that plays Jafar in the Aladdin play at DCA is by far the best Jafar. A bad actor sticks out like a sore thumb no matter what race they are.

  9. #9

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    Re: Colour-Blind Casting

    I think colorblindness (not the eye disorder) is stupid, and is actually a form of racism. I don't buy into it, and that goes for casting plays as well.

    I understand that actors of every color might be interested in particular roles and extending the range of their craft, and that's fine and not surprising or out of line at all, but it's inane to pretend that ethnicity and race mean absolutely nothing within the context of the stories being told. Context is a HUGE factor. This is not to say that there can't or shouldn't be stories adapted to reflect various cultures or ethnicities, but if it's insulting to audiences to pretend that a white actor could be acceptable as a non-white character (and it usually is), then it's insulting to audiences to think that a non-white actor could be acceptable as a white character. We wouldn't cast Ron Howard as Idi Amin, and we wouldn't cast Forrest Whitaker as Richie Cunningham. Sure, it might make an interesting acting experiment, but would it really be believable in the context of the stories being told?

    You see, that's the real rub, because a LOT of roles in Western theater (and movies, and TV, and other forms of storytelling) are rooted in European culture, or at least have the veneer of Europeanness to them, whether we're aware of it or not. Most of Disney's fairy tale stories are perfect examples of this.

    Now, there's always some amount of leeway when it comes to stories that take place in non-existent lands or fantasy worlds or on other planets, of course. Nobody really questions the idea of Lando Calrissian being a Black man, for example. Naturally, there are roles written within various plays and films that are non-specific when it comes to details about the character, and can be played by people of any ethnicity or race. But this is not always the case, so a one-size-fits-all approach won't work in all cases.

    Rather than doing, say, a version of Cinderella that looks and sounds, for all intents and purposes, like the traditional European version of the story, as reflected in its character names, costuming, set design, etc., it would be more respectful, and more fulfilling, to adapt the storyline so that it reflects a non-European culture, or even a multicultural, multiethnic, multiracial culture like modern American or modern British culture is today. That way, there's not only creativity involved, but also a certain amount of learning (for those not familiar with whatever culture is being portrayed), and then casting becomes very natural for such a production.

    For example, let's say you were to adapt the Cinderella story so that the title character was not just portrayed by a South Asian actress, but that the character was presented as a South Asian character. If you do that, then it makes a lot of sense for that character to be played by a South Asian actress, right? Otherwise, it just becomes way too obvious an attempt at "equalizing" the arts - "oh, look at the South Asian actress playing the very European Cinderella in her very European environment." Nobody with any intelligence really buys into it. This sort of self-congratulatory "look how far we've come" nonsense has been done too many times, and it's false. Worse, it assumes that only European-originated tales are worth telling, that there are no stories worth retelling that come from outside Europe or America. And that's really insulting, as well as ethnocentric.

    Trying to get a square peg to fit into a round hole only results in a square peg uncomfortably "fitting into" that round hole. Neither peg nor hole has changed its essential nature, and it's all awkward. No amount of feel-good breeziness, false optimism, or wishful thinking can change that.

    Now, understand that I'm not talking about doing adaptations of, say, Shakespeare and molding them into entirely non-traditional productions, such as Baz Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet. In an adaptation such as that, where the dialogue and plotline stay the same but the surface details of the production change radically, there very naturally is plenty of license to cast the roles however the director likes with regard to race, color, or ethnicity. But if one were to do Shakespeare in much the same manner as either Franco Zeffirelli or Kenneth Branagh did Hamlet, where the time & place settings are clearly European and pre-20th Century (in marked difference to Michael Almereyda's 2000 adaptation), then casting should reflect the realities of those times and places. Why? Because it shows respect for the audience, and doesn't insult them by pretending that despite human history, suddenly racial and ethnic realities of our world can just evaporate into the ether like so much morning dew.

  10. #10

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    Re: Colour-Blind Casting

    ^Phew! You make some good points and of course Disney did remake (Rodgers and Hammerstein's) Cinderella with a mixed race cast but kept the traditional setting. It didn't work.

    I think that your mention of Lando is verging on a different subject - token black characters. He could have been white, black or a bizarre alien without detracting. That he was black tends to point more towards covering a base (of course I could be wrong). Ernie Hudson's role in Ghostbusters is a more obvious example of this.
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  11. #11

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    Re: Colour-Blind Casting

    Quote Originally Posted by nathan detroit View Post
    ^Phew! You make some good points and of course Disney did remake (Rodgers and Hammerstein's) Cinderella with a mixed race cast but kept the traditional setting. It didn't work.

    I think that your mention of Lando is verging on a different subject - token black characters. He could have been white, black or a bizarre alien without detracting. That he was black tends to point more towards covering a base (of course I could be wrong). Ernie Hudson's role in Ghostbusters is a more obvious example of this.

    I was going to point out the Cinderella as well. it came out when i was still young enough to not understand the world and i asked my mom, "why is the mom black, the dad white and the kid asian...."

    so clearly it was distracting...


  12. #12

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    Re: Colour-Blind Casting

    Context is everything,
    You can have a white Mammy in an all black cast of Gone with the Wind.
    The Whiz came about partly because The Wizard of Oz has no actors of color, however you change the casting from black to white for the Wiz, and the whole structure falls apart. You can change many of the of the roles in The Wizard of OZ and it won't affect the overall peice.

  13. #13

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    Re: Colour-Blind Casting

    Oh, yeah Disney's version of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella was just a bizarre melting pot. And of course, "Aladdin" in the Hyperion has been the butt of many jokes, even by cast members, because of the "varied" casting decisions.

  14. #14

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    Re: Colour-Blind Casting

    I don't the multi ethnic casting of Cinderella was an issue, the fact that it was a waste of a lot of peoples talent was.

    Casting should make sense. That's the overriding issue.

  15. #15

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    Re: Colour-Blind Casting

    Adam Pascal...Idina Menzel...Egyptians? No, but it worked for Aida. It all depends on circumstances.
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