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Race and Ethnicity in the Movies

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Apparently the new Bruce Lee biopic will be told through the eyes of a white disciple/protege named Steve Macklin. I'm assuming the guy's fictional because I haven't heard of him anywhere else and google's not turning anything up. It's kind of eyeroll-worthy that they're making the POV character yet another white dude in the first place, and if it turns out that he's completely made up, that would be even more annoying. Hopefully there really is a Steve Macklin out there and my google fu just failed me, lmao.

 

In animated news, people have been complaining that Hiro Hamada from Disney's Big Hero 6 doesn't look Asian enough. I wonder what exactly would make him look "Asian enough" for some people? Maybe something like the Chang triplets from The Proud Family? Not that I think it's impossible to read Hiro as being white (aside from his name, obviously), but that has more to do with the fact that white is considered the default in Western animation, so viewers tend to demand more exaggerated, stereotypical features to distinguish other races. It reminds me of when people kept insisting that Aang looked white in Avatar: The Last Airbender.

 

Finally, what do people think about Blended? I kept cringing during the trailer when they kept referring to Africa. Just Africa. Because Africa is a monolith and a single country instead of a continent. Maybe the actual movie is better, but it's Adam Sandler, so I don't know....

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Finally, what do people think about Blended? I kept cringing during the trailer when they kept referring to Africa. Just Africa. Because Africa is a monolith and a single country instead of a continent. Maybe the actual movie is better, but it's Adam Sandler, so I don't know....

 

I've never been an Adam Sandler fan, so it's not like I planned to see this anyway.  But the "Africa" references turned me right off.  Maybe the references were called out as ridiculous in the film, but I'll never know.  I'm just tired of Africa being referred to as a country, particularly since no other continent is referred to as a country in American media, as far as I know. Maybe Australia, but usually references to Australia are indeed of the country, not the continent.

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Make that multiple statements - that he insulted Mandela directly, even his death, is even more egregious than whining that 12 Years a Slave "sucked up all the guilt about black people that was available." The level of entitlement and arrogance is just...I can't even. Most of the comments aren't much better.

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Now that Edge of Tomorrow has been released, I'd like to mention that it's based off the Japanese novel All You Need is Kill. The main character's name is Keiji Kiriya. 

 

Stop it, Hollywood. 

 

"But it's an American adaptation!" Whatever, like Asian-Americans don't exist. Why does "American adaptation" always default to white? (Rhetorical question.) 

Edited by galax-arena
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Well, America is majority white.

Making Keiji Japanese in a Japanese work was just like making him white in the American adaptation. Especially considering the .... ways the original treats it's supporting non Japanese male characters. Plus the movie avoids many of the Animesque pitfalls that the original one falls into (there's a comic relief character whose character revolves entirely around her tits, for starters).

And it's unlikely that the film will have ever been made without a white American movie star in the lead role. And while it's underperforming in the US, I doubt it would be doing so well in the international market (including Asian countries) without white Tom Cruise headlining the film.

Edited by Mars477

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In animated news, people have been complaining that Hiro Hamada from Disney's Big Hero 6 doesn't look Asian enough. I wonder what exactly would make him look "Asian enough" for some people? Maybe something like the Chang triplets from The Proud Family? Not that I think it's impossible to read Hiro as being white (aside from his name, obviously), but that has more to do with the fact that white is considered the default in Western animation, so viewers tend to demand more exaggerated, stereotypical features to distinguish other races. It reminds me of when people kept insisting that Aang looked white in Avatar: The Last Airbender.

I'm reserving judgment but if you're asking, I think the bigger problem is the animation style. It's not that he looks "white." It's that he looks Pixar-ish (and also like the Tangled and Frozen characters to some degree). I think its both a problem with computer animation in general and with a lack of real interesting character design specifically. I mean at least the beady eyes and body type they gave Merida was a bit of a departure from the majority of characters that computer animated films have been churning out. 

 

"But it's an American adaptation!" Whatever, like Asian-Americans don't exist. Why does "American adaptation" always default to white? (Rhetorical question.)

Why is the default always white? There are tons of stories where the characters don't need to be white. There are tons of stories where you have to change the characters to make them white. People ask why Mindy Kaling isn't in a sari and why she doesn't show more of her "Indian heritage" on her show because we suck so much at showing non-Caucasian Americans just being "normal."

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It would be nice to have romantic leads of different races. I can't think of any in recent memory (but I will admit that I haven't seen a ton of movies).

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It would be nice to have romantic leads of different races. I can't think of any in recent memory (but I will admit that I haven't seen a ton of movies).

Madea's anything. It is a Tyler Perry trope

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It is a Tyler Perry trope

 

First thing, I am not sure I've ever seen a Tyler Perry movie. "Why did I get married?" may be a Tyler Perry movie, and I saw that one. But only same race couples. Second thing, I didn't expand my statement very well. I meant movies that don't obsess over the fact that the couple is interracial. Because Ashton Kutcher was in a movie with Bernie Mac called "Guess Who?" which has an interracial couple as the lead characters but focuses on their differences the entire time.

 

You are right though. The movies are being made, and I'm just not seeing them. 

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Pacific Rim had Rinko Kikuchi and Charlie Hunnam as kind of love interests. It's a giant robot fighting movie and not a love story so there wasn't a whole lot of time put into developing it, but I thought it was great. Idris Elba was in it as Rinko's adoptive father. That film did an admirable job of diversifying the cast without making a big deal of it in-story.

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Second thing, I didn't expand my statement very well. I meant movies that don't obsess over the fact that the couple is interracial. Because Ashton Kutcher was in a movie with Bernie Mac called "Guess Who?" which has an interracial couple as the lead characters but focuses on their differences the entire time.

Yeah, seeing how the numbers change when you take out movies that repeatedly mention how the couple is interracial or pair a non-Caucasian woman with a Caucasian man makes the originally depressing numbers more depressing. Earlier this year, I watched Today's Special on Netflix. It's a poorly constructed movie but it does feature an interracial relationship and while that fact is brought up it's downplayed more than in other movies so... yay?

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Frankly, I wish that the idea behind introducing a person of color into the story was not all about how they differ from the rest of the characters because of their ethnicity, but what kind of people they are.

The defining feature of a fictional character should not be their race but their personality.

 

I'm not talking about films based on true stories or accounts of historical events, but contemporary stories or stories set in the future, fantasy stories, etc. 

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Those movies like the Madea series that in part are aimed at a Black church audience often have a Black woman with a man of another race. In Make A Joyful Noise with Dolly Parton and Queen Latifah an older Black woman was with two separate Asian men. And the high school senior sex symbol had a White male love interest.

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The American remake of Death at a Funeral had an interracial couple in it. 

 

Peter Dinklage and the dead father were an interracial couple

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First thing, I am not sure I've ever seen a Tyler Perry movie. "Why did I get married?" may be a Tyler Perry movie, and I saw that one. But only same race couples. Second thing, I didn't expand my statement very well. I meant movies that don't obsess over the fact that the couple is interracial. Because Ashton Kutcher was in a movie with Bernie Mac called "Guess Who?" which has an interracial couple as the lead characters but focuses on their differences the entire time.

 

You are right though. The movies are being made, and I'm just not seeing them. 

Going back to the biracial angle Sharon Leal, who played Tyler Perry's mate in the movie Why Did I Get Married.  almost always plays straight Black characters. She has a Filipino mother. At the moment American TV which does not have to attract a global audience is more likely to have multiracial couples, especially in the background or as girlfriend of the week then the big movies. Sideways is playing on Sundance this weekend and Sandra Oh among other Asian actresses often are cast with no racial angle mentioned especially in the smaller Art House movies which are not expecting billions of dollars worldwide with the different nations cultural sensitivities needing to be accounted for. 

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It would be nice to have romantic leads of different races. I can't think of any in recent memory (but I will admit that I haven't seen a ton of movies).

In The Wolverine, Hugh Jackman's love interest was Japanese.

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In The Wolverine, Hugh Jackman's love interest was Japanese.

And in the previous one, she was Native American.

 

Grand Budapest Hotel - Agatha (white) and Zero (probably Arabic)

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I meant movies that don't obsess over the fact that the couple is interracial. Because Ashton Kutcher was in a movie with Bernie Mac called "Guess Who?" which has an interracial couple as the lead characters but focuses on their differences the entire time.

 

I assume this goes without saying, but just in case ... that was a (hideous) remake of the last Katharine Hepburn/Spencer Tracy collaboration, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, which was entirely about the familial ramifications of a young interracial couple's intended marriage. 

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 There are tons of stories where you have to change the characters to make them white. People ask why Mindy Kaling isn't in a sari and why she doesn't show more of her "Indian heritage" on her show because we suck so much at showing non-Caucasian Americans just being "normal."

The problem is, you just can't make everyone happy. You depict Mindy as just a "normal" American who just happens to be of Indian heritage, and the outrage merchants howl about her being a white character in brown skin. Put her in a sari and they bemoan stereotyping. Usually it's the same people who complain about both. I call it the "Cosby Conumdrum". In his 80's sitcom, Bill Cosby played Cliff Huxtable, who was a doctor, while his wife Claire was a lawyer. And there were people who beefed that characters who were doctors and lawyers did not portray the true black experience. At the same time you had people who asked, "Why are black characters always pimps and drug pushers and gang members? Why can't they be doctors and lawyers?" So you can't win with people who are determined to be offended.

Edited by Rum Punch
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I agree, Rum Punch, and that's why I feel it's so important to show a wide range of stories and identities. There won't be so much pressure on the movie with the female protagonist to be everything to every feminist and female audience member if you have a huge range of movies with female protagonists. Precious is one person's truth. You can't just avoid portraying it because it's not very flattering. But the Cosby's are another person's truth. 

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I assume this goes without saying, but just in case ... that was a (hideous) remake of the last Katharine Hepburn/Spencer Tracy collaboration, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner,

 

I did understand that Guess Who was a remake and they flipped the genders to make it a new "twist" on that topic. That was just the only example that came to mind where people aren't looking past race besides the couple. 

 

I feel it's so important to show a wide range of stories and identities.

 

That's exactly the solution. If movies are made about individuals and individual experiences, we may not end up having so few points of view. I'm sure there is an Asian/Mexican/Greek girl somewhere who wanted to hang out with the popular girls (of varied races), so we should have a Mean Girls that isn't about white-only experiences. It's also unnecessary to make a movie with only one race represented. Black-Only movies like Precious (terrible example since I hate this movie) could have sprinkled in characters of other races. Any of Robert Rodriguez's movies could include some other races too, he makes a point of casting actors with Hispanic (?) heritage. 

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I disagree to an extent. I don't believe in diversity for the sake of diversity or always having a melting pot where you have to check off each race or ethnicity. If you're telling a specific story sometimes the point is you've got a very insulated, wealthy community. It makes sense that the high school in mean girls was predominantly white and Asian. It was discussing the prejudices and behaviors of a specific subset of the culture vs. a general high school experience. That said, I think it's important to have all kinds of stories. So you can have Mean Girls but you can also have all of these other movies. I'm not saying, you can't have Saving Private Ryan, but then also make movies about the women and minorities that serve in the armed forces or play roles behind the scenes. Do what feels natural. A lot of things are set in New York City which is incredibly diverse but you'd never know it from the people they cast. 

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Do what feels natural.

 

I agree. I always use Mean Girls as an example because it is always on my mind. But many movies can be more racially diverse without taking anything away from the story. They shouldn't force it. 

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It's also unnecessary to make a movie with only one race represented. Black-Only movies like Precious (terrible example since I hate this movie) could have sprinkled in characters of other races.

 

 

 BoogieBurns, "Lee Daniels' 'Precious' based on the novel 'Push' by Sapphire" (Phew. My fingers are tired already) tells the story of one particular black girl and her small world, which happens to include only black people. It's the same as a movie like "Grease," which has an all-white cast -- most high schools in the 1950s remained segregated, and the movie focused on one group of white friends, who didn't have any non-white friends.

 

The difference is that Grease is not called a "White-only" movie.

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I understand that period movies, Grease is set in the 50's, may not show what I'm asking for. I'm saying new movies can mix it up a bit. 

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I don't remember much mixing up in Blue Jasmine, Her, August: Osage County, or The Wolf of Wall Street. I'm not saying that every movie has to look like a Benetton ad, but you rarely hear complaints about the lack of diversity in mainstream movies. Except from people of color.

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I don't remember much mixing up in Blue Jasmine, Her, August: Osage County, or The Wolf of Wall Street. I'm not saying that every movie has to look like a Benetton ad, but you rarely hear complaints about the lack of diversity in mainstream movies. Except from people of color.

I know this is oversimplifying but... privilege. Female reviewers are often the ones pointing out the sidelined roles of female characters and people of color are more likely to notice the absence of people of color in a movie. 

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When I heard they wree looking for black women out of shape, I just assumed, that was just what they wanted. But that? Oh, very charming. WTF are some people thinking?

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Oh, Hollywood (sigh)

 

That's really what the casting call said? That wasn't a joke? Even if someone wrote it, at least one other person had to approve it.

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I can't get over how disturbing that NWA casting call is.  It even has it's own grading system.  Unbelievable.

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No kidding.  How hard would it have been to just say they were on the lookout for talented actors and actresses with physical resemblances to the real people?  

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They were looking for extras and a couple of bit parts (featured extras), so they didn't have to look like any specific people. I get what they were trying for, but they shouldn't have tied color, beauty, and social class together so explicitly. Not that colorism doesn't exist, because it very obviously does, but I think they could have done the casting call according to intended roles instead.

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That was absurd.  I am an actor in LA, and I have never seen a casting call like that in my life.  No reputable casting agency would have put that out.  Are they trying to save on money and hired someone's sister-in-law, baby cousin Tracy to do casting?  No casting description is that long for a featured extra.  Certainly not one with a grading system.  Truly ridiculous.

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I'm completely ignorant of the casting process, but couldn't they figure out which group to place each girl in once they saw them in person? Extras don't have lines, so you could move people around as needed. There were so many other ways to go about this, and they picked the worst one. The call could have said "women of color needed for 4 scenes, look like yourself." 

 

Hypothetical, but where would a non-skinny light-skinned girl go? It's just silly that they expect all their extras to fit in 4 defined categories. 

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So how are we all feeling about the official Dear White People trailer that got released? I think it could be an interesting movie. I am worried that it could just be a college movie with all the accompanying tropes and stereotypes and I'm worried about one of the characters. If the Caucasian actor who brings up Taylor Swift gets romantically involved with the "bougie Lisa Bonet wannabe" then I can definitely see them running away with the movie and distracting from all the issues the movie wants to discuss. 

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Hollywood likes to pretend that ancient Egypt was full of white people

 

 

Hollywood is a sucker for a story about ancient Egypt. Movies like The Ten Commandments, Cleopatra, and even The Mummy prove it. Upcoming movies like Exodus and Gods of Egypt all but confirm it. Unfortunately though, those films have something in common aside from being about ancient Egypt — they show that Hollywood, tends to envision ancient Egyptians and ancient Egyptian royalty as white men and women (sometimes with copious amounts of bronzer splashed on). . . . 

 

While these two films aren't the only movies that have white-washed ancient Egypt, they're maybe the most frustrating. We can chalk up things like Elizabeth Taylor playing a fair-skinned Cleopatra in the film of the same name to the year the movie was made in (1963). There's no rule that says we have to follow the template and tendencies of casting directors 50 years ago. We should know better, yet it still happened and is still happening.

 

 

 

Not just an overview of why ancient Egypt is so white and the cultural impact of such portrayals, but a nice layperson's survey of what race the people of that era possibly were.

 

Short answer, not Northern European white.

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Yes, but Greeks aren't Northern European white. People like Aaron Paul, Sigourney Weaver, and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau should not be up for roles as Egyptian characters, especially when you have things like the Katniss casting debacle where a racially ambiguous character was only open to Caucasian actresses. 

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Plus, Cleopatra and the Ptolemys come long after Ramses and the Exodus story in terms of timeline. The cast in question is very, very wrong for the place and time of this story. I think its safe to say that if Moses is to pass for a member of the Egyptian royal family, there's a clear look that everyone should have and it should be less Nordic and more a mix of Black and Middle Eastern. Egypt was always a meeting point between Africa, the East and Europe and that should be reflected in the casting, but Exodus's idea of mixing it up is to have white people play the Egyptian royalty and black people play thieves and servants. It's wrong. Its 2014, how does no one on the set look around and not say "this looks wrong and we should change it."

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Plus, Cleopatra and the Ptolemys come long after Ramses and the Exodus story in terms of timeline. The cast in question is very, very wrong for the place and time of this story. I think its safe to say that if Moses is to pass for a member of the Egyptian royal family, there's a clear look that everyone should have and it should be less Nordic and more a mix of Black and Middle Eastern. Egypt was always a meeting point between Africa, the East and Europe and that should be reflected in the casting, but Exodus's idea of mixing it up is to have white people play the Egyptian royalty and black people play thieves and servants. It's wrong. Its 2014, how does no one on the set look around and not say "this looks wrong and we should change it."

This...ALL. OF. THIS!

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A Patch of Blue is one of my all time favorite movies but the ending is different from the book. In the book Selina has a meld-down when she finds out Gordon is black, not the happy ending of the movie.

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Fails, looks racist. I'm white myself, but sometimes I look at my fellow whites and just sigh.

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