“Colorblind casting” is a new term to come out of Hollywood, and it deals directly with the intentional casting of multiracial characters in an attempt to be more “progressive” as filmmakers.
But a new piece in the Atlantic written by Angelica Jade Bastien argues that while the theory, in principle, may be a noble one, the execution isn’t doing much good.
One of the most high-profile examples of so-called “colorblind casting” comes in the form of Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
— The Atlantic (@TheAtlantic) December 26, 2015
The original trilogy used a whole lot of white people to tell the main story. You had Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill, a white guy); Han Solo (Harrison Ford, another white guy); Tarkin (Peter Cushing, yet another white guy); and Obi-wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness, you guessed it, another white guy).
Fast forward 38 years, and movie audiences now get The Force Awakens, which features two main characters in Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaacs) and Finn (John Boyega), who are of Cuban/Guatemalan and Black/British ancestries, respectively.
Furthermore, the star this time around — as opposed to Carrie Fisher/Leia Organa, who was a main star but not “the” main star — is Daisy Ridley, an English actress.
In the case of TFA, the “colorblind casting” thing has worked out well, mainly because the story is a compelling one and in keeping with what rabid Star Wars fans expect.
But Bastien argues in her piece that the practice may be doing more harm than good. Here’s what she has to say.
“Colorblind casting might land a few promising actors prestigious roles, but it isn’t a sustainable strategy: It neither addresses the systemic problems that exists behind the camera nor does it compel Hollywood to tell more racially aware stories.”
In other words, it is a form of “window dressing,” where Hollywood can “look” progressive without actually changing anything about the opportunities that it makes available in front of and behind the camera for the majority of non-white actors and actresses.
You can read the rest of Bastien’s piece here — she has some points that are well worth making — but there is one point that perhaps requires a bit of pushback, and that is the idea that Hollywood needs to be telling more “racially aware stories.”
Does Hollywood need to offer more opportunities for talented minority filmmakers? Absolutely. But does every point need to make a “statement” of some kind as Bastien’s theory postulates? Not in the least.
In fact, it could be said that making a point of telling more “racially aware stories” would do more harm than good. Why?
For the simple fact that any time you set out to do something of such scope, you almost always end up coming across as pandering, preachy, and forceful.
If Hollywood wants to make a difference in the lives of other races/ethnicities/minorities, it will worry less about the message it wishes to convey to the audience and more about giving viewers fully fleshed-out characters and compelling stories.
Considering that four of the year’s most successful films were all remake/sequels to existing franchises, it’s hard to see Bastien’s suggestion as a sustainable model.
— K. Steven Blake (@kstevenblake) October 21, 2015
Sure, Mad Max, Creed, Star Wars, and Jurassic World (together grossing $3 billion at the box office) did a fine job of colorblind casting and telling great stories, but they represent a very small part of the movies made each year, and in each case, they focused on story arcs and characterization ahead of “messaging.”
That’s what made them successful.
But what do you think, readers? Is “colorblind casting” a good thing or a bad thing? Is it necessary or unnecessary? Share your thoughts in the comments section.
[Image via Warner Bros.]