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Author Topic: Changing a character's race
Jeff C.
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Recently, news hit that the kid from Chronicle (a black dude by the name of Michael Jordan) was up for the role of The Human Torch in the new Fantastic Four reboot. Well, as you can imagine, fanboys the world over went crazy.

I'm curious, though, about what you guys think. On the one hand, diversity is great and allows for many great possibilities. Sometimes that change can prove a positive one; sometimes people don't even notice. Then again, most people know who the Human Torch is and that he's a white guy, so will it annoy them that he would suddenly be black? The Invisible Woman is his sister, so does that mean she'd also have to be cast as a black woman? If so, doesn't that mean that a white woman can't get the job, even if she's good for the role? And what would happen if a studio decided to cast a well known black character as a white person? What if Nick Fury was recast, or War Machine, or Storm? Would the outcry be different? If Shaft was suddenly cast as Tom Cruise, how upset would the African American community be?

These are some of the questions I've noticed pooling around the internet lately. Personally, I don't really care if the Human Torch is black, because, frankly, I don't care about the Fantastic Four, especially since the movie rights aren't owned by Marvel.

But what do you think? Is it okay to change a well known character's race for no apparent reason? Should we even be talking about race at all? There's talk of James Bond becoming black once Craig is done with the role. How do you feel about that?

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Lyrhawn
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He's a good actor. I liked him on Parenthood and in Chronicle.

You know it's funny, Donald Glover has a whole thing in his stand up routine when people were rumoring he'd play Spiderman. Half the people loved it and half of them hated it. And the he said a lot of people were like "what if Michael Cera played Shaft?" His response was twofold 1. I'd LOVE to see him play Shaft. 2. Why the hell do people always bring up Shaft like he's a black hero?

I think minorities would complain that, never allowing races to change doesn't really allow for the many many centuries where black and other minorities simply weren't written into heroic roles. In other words, black and other races only get a couple decades at best of roles to play, but everyone else is white. That's not really fair.

Unless the character's race is inherently tied to the plot (as Storm's is, by the way), I don't really thinking changing it is that big a deal so long as the actor used in spot on for the role. Making Nick Fury white for shits and giggles is silly because Samuel L Jackson absolutely nails the role.

If they have a badass black British person to play Bond, that's fine. I think Chiwetel Ejiofor would be a sweet Bond, actually, after seeing him play The Operative.

I think changing the race just to change the race might be silly, but I think excluding awesome minority actors just cause is just as silly. If the actor can justify playing the role, then okay.

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happymann
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Wait a minute. Nick Fury started out white.
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Aris Katsaris
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quote:
The Invisible Woman is his sister, so does that mean she'd also have to be cast as a black woman?
If only. If only. But unfortunately I'm reasonably sure they'll make Johnny Storm black but keep Sue Storm white, making them merely "adopted" siblings -- because the racist assholes that are deciding this wouldn't want her to have an interracial marriage with Reed.

It's nowadays okay to have black people in our teams, but not to actually be married to them, it seems.

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TomDavidson
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Here's the thing: I think a black Superman would be fantastic. I firmly approve of Miles Morales as Ultimate Spider-Man. But I actually disapprove of making the Torch black without also making his sister black, because the whole point of the Fantastic Four is that they're a family. The visuals need to reinforce this, too; the whole point of Ben Grimm as an outsider is that he's the one who looks like he couldn't've been born right into the group. If they made Sue black as well, I'd be okay with the change.
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SteveRogers
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quote:
Originally posted by Lyrhawn:
If they have a badass black British person to play Bond, that's fine. I think Chiwetel Ejiofor would be a sweet Bond, actually, after seeing him play The Operative.

I've seen multiple rumors that Idris Elba has been considered for the role.
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Foust
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It doesn't matter at all, unless race is directly connected to the character.

For example, Captain American needs to be a basically Aryan white guy; he is the "best" of mid-20th century American's image of itself, and part of that is being white.

Of course the Human Torch's race can't be changed without changing his sisters race.

Donald Glover would have made a fantastic Peter Parker.

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BlackBlade
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Electro is black in the upcoming Spiderman film.
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Samprimary
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quote:
Of course the Human Torch's race can't be changed without changing his sisters race.
adoption?
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Olivet 2.0
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So, um. How do you guys feel about


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Casting possibly the whitest actor on the planet as a character who was, for some, an iconic example of Trek's theme of racial equality? (I didn't realize this until a trekker friend who is also an Asian POC mentioned it. I used to think of Khan as a kind of typical dark-skinned bad guy, maybe even sort of racist, until it was pointed out that he was also considered the intellectual equal, if not the superior, of the white protagonists. I didn't realize how huge that was for some people.)

Even though Benedict Cumberbatch is completely awesome and riveting to watch, he is also practically carved from vanilla ice cream. But, would it have been worse to have a dark skinned person play the infamous Sikh superhuman cum terrorist?

My head is spinning about it. I have no idea what it's like to be a person of color, and I don't feel i have standing to speak about it. I DO remember how precious every depiction of competent woman on television was for me growing up -- from super heroes like Wonder Woman and Isis to Charlie's Angels and Police Woman. It made the empty-headed ditzes and "ugly" smart girls easier to stand.

I'm currently undergoing a self-imposed and painful privilege check, to the point that, despite looking forward to seeing Into Darkness for MONTHS (it promises to be fun, and Reginald Vanillabottom is... I love looking at the things his weird face does), I have not seen it yet, and have kind of lost interest in doing so.

I'm just curious what you guys think. (I don't expect it will help me, because some things you just have to think through on your own. But still.)

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Shanna
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So Nick Fury is black now which everyone loves because Samuel L Jackson is phenomenal in the role. Ultimate Spider-Man with half-black, half-hispanic Miles Morales is selling well. They cast a black actor as Heimdell in Thor and the reactions included a few angry comic nerds, some happy Idris fans, and mostly a movie-going audience that may have spared a second to think, "Hmm, black guy in a Norse universe" before remembering this was a superhero movie with aliens and there was an awesome fight scene to focus on.

I remember thinking awhile back, during all the talk of a Justice League movie that if the executives were smart, they'd do a second Green Lantern movie which utilized John Stewart.

There's obviously interest in diversifying the superhero genre in film. I hear talk of rebooting Blade or giving Black Panther a movie. Still, it remains that the most recognized, marketable heroes are white. So either the industry markets the lesser known superheroes of color, or they need to ask themselves if its really necessary to Superman's character that he be white.

With Miles, they didn't keep the Peter Parker name and then just change his skin color. They gave him his own backstory, but are writing the series in a way that they're hitting all the emotional elements that make Spider-Man resonate with audience. His story is still one about youth and balancing responsibility with the danger his superhero work poses for his family.

In a way, I could easily see a similar reboot for Captain America. Its 1940s racist America and when looking for a test subject for a super-soldier serum, scientists recruit young black man as their guinea pig. It works better than expected, but instead of getting a soldier willing to fall into the ranks under white officers, our new Cap becomes a natural leader. While the serum changes him physically, his bravery and quick-thinking are all him and slowly earn him the respect of the soldiers out on the battlefield. He's the perfect counterexample to Hitler's Aryan nonsense.

Or reboot it during modern times starting with a young Hispanic boy whose family can't afford college so he enlists in the War on Terror. His bravery helps inspire patriotism in an apathetic America.

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BlackBlade
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STAR TREK SPOILERS**************


I feel like in a truly post-racial society, when I see Samuel L Jackson do a great job and become Nick Fury, I should be able to see Benedict Cumberbatch, also do a great job and become Kahn.

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Olivet 2.0
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I agree. But we are not in a post-racial society. Not even close.
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Aris Katsaris
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STAR TREK SPOILERS

Um, the previous guy that played him had also been white. He was a Mexican of Spanish ancestry.

...I guess Mexicans and Spanish don't count as white for Americans, but he had looked white to a Greek like me.

Now, certainly I wish that the role had been given to an Asian guy -- but it's not as if the previous guy had been Asian either.

[ May 18, 2013, 06:51 PM: Message edited by: Aris Katsaris ]

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Jeff C.
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The thing that made Nick Fury okay was that they based his character off of the Ultimate version which was modeled after Sam Jackson. In other words, the change already existed in the comics so it wasn't a huge deal. Johnny Storm has always been white, so for them to change him just for the film would cause more of a problem. Also, unless his sister is also black, and you make hum adopted, you're then changing the content and backstory.
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Stephan
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Should have stopped at the words spoilers. Thank you to those who tried to warn me, scrolled right past your posts, and got stuck seeing one that didn't bother to be so polite. Couldn't make it just 16 more hours or so before seeing it.

I enjoyed my years on this message board. Farewell.

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Aris Katsaris
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Apologies, Stephan, it was mere carelessness on my part (I've been out of touch with the fandom and I didn't even realize they weren't advertising that part, so I didn't realize what the spoiler *was*).

I have now edited my post.

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Olivet 2.0
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SPOILERS

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Montalban faced discrimination for his ethnicity. So much so that he helped start a foundation to help change depictions of Hispanics in Hollywood. He was usually cast in ethnic parts. It was something of a hard-fought victory for the (very progressively-minded for their time) Star Trek creators to even have a non-barbaric POC villain, one with intelligence and somewhat sympathetic motives. It was a very calculated decision on the part of the people involved to make the leader of the superhumans non-white, even if he was played by a Latino of European origin.

As such, the character became important and ground-breaking for the Geek POC community, and while I have no standing at all to speak for that community (as my mixed ethnicity does not show, and I have never had to live with any sort of discrimination that was race-based), I suspect it is essentially offensive for people not affected by racism to dismiss the change as non-issue when the reboot universe could have easily used a different superhuman dude and avoided the whitewashing issue altogether. BC could have been Khan's second in command, or something.

The people who have concerns about the (completely un-remarked-upon) change are a small enough minority that they can be easily ignored. That is kind of the point that disturbs me -- that a franchise essentially (if imperfectly) founded on ideas of racial equality can so easily be divorced from those ideals, and hardly anyone notices.

I mean, what was awesome about Star Trek was never the acting, or the sets or the special effects, but the vision of a future that challenged the prejudices of its day. That we can lose that entirely and not even miss it makes me sad.

I didn't want to see this failing in the new trek, but now that I do, I can't un-see it. I'm sad that this awareness has soured my fan experience, but it has. :/

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Risuena
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quote:
Originally posted by Foust:
Of course the Human Torch's race can't be changed without changing his sisters race.

Why? In Much Ado About Nothing Don Pedro and Don John are brothers and in the Branagh movie adaptation they're played by Denzel Washington and Keanu Reeves.
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Foust
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quote:
Originally posted by Samprimary:
quote:
Of course the Human Torch's race can't be changed without changing his sisters race.
adoption?
Sure, but then that would actually be changing the character. It is different to say that a role is entirely indifferent to race.
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Foust
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quote:
Originally posted by Risuena:
quote:
Originally posted by Foust:
Of course the Human Torch's race can't be changed without changing his sisters race.

Why? In Much Ado About Nothing Don Pedro and Don John are brothers and in the Branagh movie adaptation they're played by Denzel Washington and Keanu Reeves.
Movies that read as super artsy get a lot more leeway in everything.
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Aris Katsaris
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Those were half brothers.
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BlackBlade
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quote:
Originally posted by Olivet 2.0:
I agree. But we are not in a post-racial society. Not even close.

Didn't say we were, but if we start doing it, it becomes the reality we live in.

I had to consciously tell myself not to be put off by Cumberbatches' whiteness.

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Rakeesh
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I have a hard time understanding all this concern about 'changing the character'. Not only does this happen all the time in the bigger films, it even happens constantly in the comics themselves. I often wonder how often our concerns about too much changing of characters isn't really just code for 'changing the characters in ways we don't like'.

They could be both be adopted, could be both black, could be step siblings, they could be children of an unwed single parent with only that parent in common. The relationship can be in their actual relationship, rather than absolutely having to be genes in common.

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Foust
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quote:
Originally posted by Rakeesh:
I have a hard time understanding all this concern about 'changing the character'. Not only does this happen all the time in the bigger films, it even happens constantly in the comics themselves. I often wonder how often our concerns about too much changing of characters isn't really just code for 'changing the characters in ways we don't like'.

They could be both be adopted, could be both black, could be step siblings, they could be children of an unwed single parent with only that parent in common. The relationship can be in their actual relationship, rather than absolutely having to be genes in common.

To clarify what I said, I've got no problem with making endless changes to characters; I would be totally indifferent to an adopted Inuit Johnny Storm. My point was that there is a difference between a character being indifferent to race, and a character needing to be changed because of the actor's race.
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Shanna
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The thing is that, right now, the pursuit of equality doesn't mean that black!Fury is an equal exchange for white!Khan. Its not about the swaps but about the roles themselves. Black!Fury is a small dent in the problem of Hollywood casts that don't reflect the reality of our society. Black!Fury, and Black Widow, just make me slightly less annoyed that the rest of the cast is white men.

I'm a HUGE Cumberbatch fan. I'm so thrilled that he scored such a high profile film and I thought he did an amazing job with some truly terrible material, but even so, I gave up on the movie after the big reveal. I spent the last 45 minutes of the movie mostly focused on his physique (like I said, I'm a fangirl.) But if Abrams was so determined to use this character in the film, I'd rather Cumberbatch not gotten the job. And seriously, the character wasn't even respected in the storyline and felt like it had been written in at the last moment. If Abrams really wanted Cumberbatch in his film, then there are so many other ways he could used him that wouldn't have been so blatantly disrespectful to the Star Trek legacy.

Casting a POC to play a white character isn't the same as casting a white actor to play a POC. Its not equivocal and pretending like it is doesn't move us forward. What we need to do is recognize the source of the problem, which isn't the race-swapping but rather the LARGE gap between the number of white and non-white characters in media. We need to be welcoming and financially supportive of projects which create roles and reshape characters for a more diversified cast.

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capaxinfiniti
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quote:
Originally posted by Shanna:
We need to be welcoming and financially supportive of projects which create roles and reshape characters for a more diversified cast.

Reshaping characters is possible, within reason. Rewriting entire back-stories and plot elements, as others have pointed out, is more problematic. In many stories, there is more to be considered than just skin color. A black Nick Fury is one thing but an asian Tom Sawyer? Or imagine a 380 pound polynesian cast as a hasidic jew of european descent. I think it comes down to how heavily one must modify the source material (including rewriting human history) as well as identifying whether the character's ethnicity is intrinsic to the story.
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BlackBlade
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quote:
Casting a POC to play a white character isn't the same as casting a white actor to play a POC. Its not equivocal...
It should be. And when it is, it will be.
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Samprimary
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As you could expect, I've had a lot of discussion with the poc community about this. By now I am debating whether or not to give this a pass, circumstantial to the events that led to Cumberbatch getting the role.

Specifically, Benicio Del Toro was going to be Khan, JJ Abrams intended for Benicio to be Khan, but he dropped from the project literally three weeks before filming was going to begin. Given no specific intent on whitewashing a sympathetic ubermensch villain, and time constraints leading to them needing a replacement for Benicio in a really short timeframe who could be a really incredible villain, this event doesn't have the intent hallmarks of what makes role whitewashing a problem.

There's still a few specific reasons why Khan being white is a problem, so I hope the lore for the reboot has changed the history of the program that created him.

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Jeff C.
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quote:
Originally posted by BlackBlade:
quote:
Casting a POC to play a white character isn't the same as casting a white actor to play a POC. Its not equivocal...
It should be. And when it is, it will be.
I agree with this 100%.
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Jeff C.
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quote:
Originally posted by Samprimary:
As you could expect, I've had a lot of discussion with the poc community about this. By now I am debating whether or not to give this a pass, circumstantial to the events that led to Cumberbatch getting the role.

Specifically, Benicio Del Toro was going to be Khan, JJ Abrams intended for Benicio to be Khan, but he dropped from the project literally three weeks before filming was going to begin. Given no specific intent on whitewashing a sympathetic ubermensch villain, and time constraints leading to them needing a replacement for Benicio in a really short timeframe who could be a really incredible villain, this event doesn't have the intent hallmarks of what makes role whitewashing a problem.

There's still a few specific reasons why Khan being white is a problem, so I hope the lore for the reboot has changed the history of the program that created him.

I think they say he's australian, but I honestly don't remember. I was busy trying to decide if I was enjoying the film or not. I'm still not sure if I did...
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Lyrhawn
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I enjoyed it as a rather mindless, forgettable summer blockbuster. The graphics were cool, mostly. The jokes were funny, mostly.

If you put any more critical an eye on it than that then it utterly fails.

I would have liked it more if they'd stop pretending it's Star Trek.

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narrativium
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Can't believe no one has mentioned Hitchhiker's Guide yet. Mos Def was one of the few good things about that movie.
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capaxinfiniti
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Zooey Deschanel was the only reason worth watching that movie.
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Shanna
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Zooey and Mos Def were my least favorite parts. Well, I liked Mos Def but he was so different from how I was used to hearing Ford Prefect. I think Martin Freeman did an okay job with Arthur and Sam Rockwell was entertaining even if, like Ford, I was wondering what the script writers were doing.

The only reason to watch is Alan Rickman as Marvin.

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Jeff C.
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That movie failed on a few different levels if you're a fan of the book. I enjoyed it, but at the time I still hadn't read the novel yet.
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Samprimary
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quote:
Originally posted by Jeff C.:
quote:
Originally posted by BlackBlade:
quote:
Casting a POC to play a white character isn't the same as casting a white actor to play a POC. Its not equivocal...
It should be. And when it is, it will be.
I agree with this 100%.
Annnnnnnnd we all agree alongside 'it should be, and when it is, it will be' that it is not.

Right?

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Emreecheek
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quote:
"Didn't say we were, but if we start doing it, it becomes the reality we live in."
It does?
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BlackBlade
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Sam: Of course.

Emreecheek: I don't know of any better criteria for observing a desired reality than by living that ideal.

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Shanna
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quote:
Originally posted by Jeff C.:
That movie failed on a few different levels if you're a fan of the book. I enjoyed it, but at the time I still hadn't read the novel yet.

It fails on even more levels if you're a fan of the radio series. There's just no comparison. *says the girl with the H2G2 movie poster, 12-inch Marvin figurine, and entire cast of knit characters* Can't say I didn't try to help them out financially. Oh well.

My problem with "living the ideal" isn't it doesn't address the issue of why the ideal hasn't happened yet. Because its not about race-swapping. We could say we live in an ideal world when "Nick Fury can be black and Khan can be white and no one cares." When the real issue is, "Why do we only get one black Nick Fury in an otherwise entirely white cast?" Its not about the number of roles that get swapped and whether they're swapped equally back and forth, but rather the lack of balance in the first place.

Its like we're getting ready to play a game of touch-football and one team has two guys and the other team has six guys. Swapping two guys to different teams doesn't make it fair and it doesn't make it ideal. And if the bigger team takes one guy from the smaller team, you can't be like, "Well, its JUST one player." All the while, you've got a bunch of folks standing nearby going, "I want to play! I'll play on the smaller team!" but everyone is like, "No, we can only have eight people on the field at a time."

There are so many talented actors who are POC but Hollywood isn't creating roles for them and then to take roles out of the limited pool of options is just cruel. It just reminds me of all these stories of black actors and actresses in Hollywood who hate Tyler Perry and the terrible messages that his films promote, but no one will speak out against him because he's one of the few writers and directors hiring African-American casts.

But who knows, maybe one day the top 10 at the box-office will include a Korean female spy who loves them and leaves them like Bond and Star Wars 12 will have a black Jedi as the hero and Pixar will have a movie about two male squirrels who fall in love while trying to learn to fly.

Then yeah, you can swap away and reboot Marvel's Blade with a white actor.

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Geraine
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Now here's a question (kinda related to the Ender's Game movie thread)

Kingsley as Maori is not ok, but if they had just changed the race of Mazer in the movie to a half Indian man, would you be ok with him in the role?

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Aris Katsaris
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quote:
Emreecheek: I don't know of any better criteria for observing a desired reality than by living that ideal.
Um, when does that ever work? If my desired reality is "My house is free of dirt", and I live by the ideal that my house is already free of dirt, then I'll never clean it and my house will actually never be free of dirt.

Not that I don't hate all those social justice warriors who so often war counter-productively to their goals (and take offense when you tell them they're doing it wrong), but I can't see how your argument works either.

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BlackBlade
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quote:
Um, when does that ever work? If my desired reality is "My house is free of dirt", and I live by the ideal that my house is already free of dirt, then I'll never clean it and my house will actually never be free of dirt.
Um, yeah. You living an ideal is not the same thing as telling yourself you live an ideal.

It's more like how do you respond to a Latino neighbor who recognizes we have a problem with racism in this country? I don't think the solution is to constantly dialogue about it.

You acknowledge there is a problem, you validate their feelings, you demonstrate that your appraisal of them doesn't involve their race, and walk the walk.

Look, I'm not denying that Hollywood has a propensity to tell stories that favor white people, and involve white people. They have a propensity to recast roles that call for a specific race with white actors as well. But that's an institutional criticism, not a criticism that applies in every case.

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