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JLeslie's avatar

Do you think it's ok to portray someone as a different race, ethnicity, or gender, in a true story with historical significance?

Asked by JLeslie (54494points) March 20th, 2017 from iPhone

I’m sure you have heard of the musical Hamilton. There has been some controversy over the production specific looking for minority actors. The idea of representing the characters by many different ethnicities and races that varied from the actual figures in history seemed to be readily accepted, but when it was put out there that they exclusively wanted someone who was not caucasian to fill a spot, there was some backlash.

Aside from Hamilton, there have been arguments about actors darkening their skin for a part, that it borders on “black face” which is widely accepted as offensive.

Lastly, is it different when a white person is portrayed by a minority than if a minority is portrayed by a white personal or another minority?

I saw the movie Hidden Figures recently and I would not want the black women portrayed by anyone except women who come across as black women. It’s important to the historical significance of what those women did. Maybe one day it won’t matter, but for now it does to me.

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24 Answers

ARE_you_kidding_me's avatar

It irks me whenever characters are changed for diversity or political correctness. If the character was not of a defined ethnicity then I don’t care one bit. If the person is the best actor to fill the role then I don’t care either.

zenvelo's avatar

The “backlash” was a while ago. And it showed a lack of understanding of what the playwright was doing in the casting.

It ”...is part of the play’s message that Alexander Hamilton’s journey from destitute immigrant to influential statesman is universal and replicable (and comparable to the life stories of many of the rappers who inspired Hamilton’s music).

As President Obama said: “With a cast as diverse as America itself, including the outstandingly talented women, the show reminds us that this nation was built by more than just a few great men—and that it is an inheritance that belongs to all of us.”

Your attempt to compare “Hidden Figures” is faulty, in that the racial characteristics of the main figures in that move is central to the story.

kritiper's avatar

Yes, so long as there are no added negatives connected with the facts.

SergeantQueen's avatar

If the race, ethnicity, or gender of the character is vital to the story, then it shouldn’t be changed. If they are changing it just for the sake of having a minority on set, they can do that (although that is kind of a dumb reason). They can hire whoever they want to play whatever part they want, they are the ones paying the actors.

dappled_leaves's avatar

You asked the same question here before Hamilton was known.

Hamilton is its own kind of thing. It’s obviously not a documentary. They are intentionally casting people of colour as a way of expanding constitutional history to show that it belongs to all Americans. This is not history; this is art. And I think that this has worked: I see so many kids now engaged with these historical characters, and with America’s history, who otherwise believed that it could never truly be theirs. I heard that they were thinking of casting a woman as Hamilton in other cities. I think that’s great.

Suggesting that people should cast white actors as black historical figures as some bizarre tit-for-tat retaliation is creating a false equivalency. People are not, and have never been, oppressed for being white in your society. There is no imbalance to redress for white people. White people do not need better representation in the media in your society. They are already very well covered.

JLeslie's avatar

@zenvelo I agree that Hidden Figures and Hamilton are two different things.

During the backlash of the casting for Hamilton, I argued that a “Caucasia” person could audition if they passed for a different race or ethnicity. No one really checks these things, it’s based on how we identify ourselves mostly. Although, I guess the “ethnicity police” might freak out if you were found to be an ordinary 6th generation European-American white person passing yourself off as Hispanic or black. I think that shouldn’t matter though. If I dye my hair darker and pass for Latina, why can’t I play a Latin woman? Sofía Vergara had to dye her hair darker to get casted in Hispanic parts, and she is Hispanic. She wasn’t getting casted when her hair was her natural dirty blonde.

JLeslie's avatar

@dappled_leaves Wow, I don’t remember asking that at all. LOL. Thanks! I saw Hidden Figures recently and it got me thinking about that topic again.

dappled_leaves's avatar

@JLeslie Hamilton cannot be compared to Hidden Figures at all. There is a reason Hamilton has a multicultural cast. The multicultural cast is the entire point of the production: it’s about inclusion, about making history more accessible.

Ask yourself what reason anyone would have for casting white women in Hidden Figures, and you’d come up with some pretty ugly answers.

Darth_Algar's avatar

I think it all depends on the artistic purpose of the production. In Hamilton there’s a specific artistic purpose behind casting minority actors. That’s valid. However in, say, (going back a ways) the old TV show Kung Fu there wasn’t really any valid artistic reason to cast a white actor as the lead role (a Chinese character originally developed for and by Bruce Lee).

JLeslie's avatar

@dappled_leaves Um, that’s what I said. Hidden Figures and Hamilton are two different things.

However, it’s nice to think 100 years from now it truly won’t matter, because race will be so irrelevant. Here’s hoping anyway.

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

I have directed stage plays. When I audition actors, I do not consider their race at all. I choose the strongest actor for each role. I chose an African-American woman to play Cleopatra, a Greek. She was best at the audition, and she was excellent in performance.

I do not need to add my voice to the explanations for Hamilton’s multicultural cast. It is part of the message of the show.

I am glad the previous question was linked above. Here is one of my answers in that thread.

Patty_Melt's avatar

Cleopatra was Egyptian.
Your casting was not quite so far off as you thought.

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

Cleopatra was the last of the Greek rulers of Egypt, the Ptolemies.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cleopatra

Patty_Melt's avatar

Now I am really confused. I thought her mother was Egyptian, and that though Greek in origin, her father was born in Egypt. Those things together would make her Egyptian, in my mind.
What parts do I have wrong, all?

Brian1946's avatar

I’d be fascinated to see Denzel Washington cast as Hitler or Mel Gibson as MLK, Jr.

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

@Patty_Melt I do not know anything about her mother. I suggest the Wikipedia article linked above for a rough idea of the information known about her.

I’m not sure if you’re alluding to nationality, but they did not have an idea of nationality at that time.

gorillapaws's avatar

I agree with @SergeantQueen. If race is an important component of the character/plot, then I think it’s reasonable to cast with race/gender in mind. If it’s not central to the story, then I don’t think it matters.

For example, they cast white people to play Egyptians in the film “Gods of Egypt.” They rightfully caught a lot of flack for that. I mean the story is about Egyptians in Egypt, having Europeans makes no sense. Whereas, they could cast a black man to play the next James Bond and that would be great if they had the right actor.

dappled_leaves's avatar

@Patty_Melt More information on Cleopatra’s background here. Maybe that will be helpful.

LostInParadise's avatar

Imagine what the reaction would be if there was a movie portraying Jesus as he almost certainly would have looked like, with dark skin and curly hair. Mary’s pure white skin is another fiction.

Patty_Melt's avatar

@dappled_leaves, okay, that is clearer. I thought there were more wives of Egyptian line during those few generations. My understanding was the Greek was mostly bred out of her line by the time it came to her. Her behavior would certainly lend to the notion that she was influenced toward Egyptian beliefs, and practices.

Darth_Algar's avatar

Whether Cleopatra was more Greek or more Egyptian, at any case she wasn’t black.

(Now, having said that, I afford a lot of artistic license to live theater.)

MollyMcGuire's avatar

True stories should be true.

Darth_Algar's avatar

I prefer to think of them as “alternatively true”.

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