Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Blind Casting Characters

Blind casting is a practice in the film industry of casting for a television show or film without considering the actor or actress’s ethnicity. For example, when originally casting the roles of Grey’s Anatomy, the producers didn’t look for any specific ethnicities, rather they took the best actors or actresses who auditioned and then let them become the role. Can you imagine anyone else playing Cristina or Bailey or Meredith for that matter?

Blind Casting Icons

I bring up blind casting today because of a conversation revolving around loving an actor or an actress even if you hate the role they are playing and more. Gina Torres, for example, is a brilliant actress who’s played everything from a browncoat (Firefly) to an Eastern bloc spy/assassin (Alias) to a Goddess (Angel) and more. There was a rumor for a while that she might be cast as Wonder Woman.

Now the question is: would she make a good Wonder Woman or a bad one? Acting wise, I think she could nail it with both hands tied behind her back. Physicality? She’s got the look, the build and the athleticism to carry it off. Depth of character? Could she be a woman, given life by the breath of the gods and the love of an Amazon Queen, absolutely! But is her ethnicity wrong?

For nearly seven decades Wonder Woman has traditionally been featured as a dark haired, blue eyed, woman of Caucasian descent, although arguably she has Greek and Turkish blood in her as well. For an example of what that would look like, just check out Melina Kanakaredes on CSI:NY. Her Greek heritage gives her a patrician face, which is both aristocratic and arresting. Arguably, Gina Torres can pull it off as well.

But would some people object? Oh, probably. But then people objected to Keanu Reeves playing John Constantine because Keanu was young, American and dark haired when Constantine is late 40s, early 50s, very blonde and extremely British. But Keanu captured the spirit of Constantine and I don’t doubt for an instant that Torres couldn’t do the same with Wonder Woman.

Best Man or Woman for the Job

Until recently, I never thought about the fact that that we don’t typically see men and women of ethnicity cast in the roles that are cast ‘white’ in books, but one does leap to mind:

Denzel Washington in The Pelican Brief. He plays Gray Grantham, a character described as an older, white male in the books, but Denzel was definitely not older, white or flirting with a receding hairline. In fact, he was tone, smart and fit, with a fantastic smile and he nailed the reporter who didn’t let go of a story and who was willing to die to protect his sources. Washington and Julia Roberts also shared a fantastic chemistry that was reflective of the chemistry in the book and I list this film as one of my all time favorite book to film adaptations.

Arresting Mental Images

We all form mental images of characters, some are arguably set in stone because of the format in which we met them: comics, novels, television and more. But soap operas have proven for years that you can change ethnicities (One Life to Live’s Blair was Asian first and then later played by Kassie DePaiva), get taller, get shorter, have any shade of hair, get older overnight and even be de-aged (one CBS soap casting took an ‘older’ brother and made him a much ‘younger’ brother when it was recast). So why can’t we go with blind casting to get the right actor for the job? I would rather see a role played well and be invested and engaged in the character than in the ethnicity.

For me, it’s a question of quality, not color. What about you?

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