I’m sure it isn’t news to anyone that Hollywood is under the microscope a bit these days: whether we’re looking at new sex scandals or abuse reports, some controversy surrounding Tweets, or actors being told that they shouldn’t play a role, there always seems to be something going on. Today, I’m going to look at one issue in particular: what roles actors should (or shouldn’t) take. Rather than try and explain exactly what I mean, I’m just going to give you a few examples and we can go from there.
Not Right for the Part
There are a few examples that sum up exactly what I’m talking about but to summarise, this is essentially a three step process:
Step 1 – An actor accepts a role in a movie or TV show. This role is something that connects to a minority group in one way or another, a group that this actor is not a part of.
Step 2 – The members of this group decide that this actor is taking the job away from someone who is actually part of this group. This leads to a backlash as the actor and studio are accused of belittling the experience of that group and limiting their career opportunities.
Step 3 – The actor either ignores the backlash or drops out from the movie.
I’m sure off the top of your head a few examples come to mind but let’s take a look at a few, just in case. So this year Dwayne Johnson took on the role of Will Sawyer, a disabled man who has a prosthetic leg. The BBC asked the question: “Is Dwayne Johnson’s disabled role in Skyscraper ‘offensive’?” (1). Similarly, Jack Whitehall and Disney have received backlash for his role in the movie ‘Jungle Cruise’ where he will voice Disney’s first openly gay character (2). The character is described as being “overly effete, very camp, and very funny” which are all things that come to mind when one thinks of Jack Whitehall.
Sometimes this anger (which in my opinion is not only misdirected but also entirely unnecessary) results in negative outcomes. Ruby Rose recently quit Twitter due to receiving harassment and abuse for not being Jewish or lesbian-looking enough to play the role of Batwoman (3). This comes just after Scarlett Johansson dropped her role as a transsexual character due to backlash from the trans community (4).
It is my opinion that anybody should be able to play any role they want. I don’t care if a black person plays James Bond (I actually hoped that Idris Elba would take up the 007 mantle) or if someone with no legs plays someone with two legs (or vice versa). We’ve seen examples of this many, many, MANY times and there never used to be a problem with it.
We’ve had gay men play straight men (How I Met your Mother), we’ve had straight women play lesbian women (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), we’ve had white people play black people (Tropic Thunder), we’ve had men play women (Mrs Doubtfire), we’ve had women play men (She’s the Man), we’ve had non-trans actors take on a trans roles (Dallas Buyers Club) and we’ve had black men play white women (White Chicks).
Didn’t Neil Patrick Harris take a role away from a straight man? No! These people are actors, their entire job revolves around playing a character separate from themselves. Aaron Paul doesn’t deal meth in real life, Hugh Jackman isn’t a mutant, and Tom Cruise isn’t part of some weird, secretive organisation…OK, that one was a joke…but you get the point. Why should we limit the range of actors based on the opinions of a very small number of people?
Here’s my problem with this entire concept: where does it end? I’m from Scotland. I enjoy being Scottish and I find the history of my country to be very compelling. Do I deserve to be outraged by the fact that roles such as William Wallace (Braveheart) and Robert the Bruce (Outlaw King), two of the most prominent figures from Scotland’s history, are being played by people who aren’t Scottish and also can’t do a Scottish accent? I think that if people can be outraged by a camp but straight man playing a gay character or a woman playing a trans character, then why shouldn’t I be annoyed at Hollywood movies portraying my countries history in such a manner? If you agree with the controversy behind any of the examples I gave, I’d love to hear your opinion as to whether wanting Scottish people to play important Scottish roles is ridiculous or in line with the other examples?
The Real Issue
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: context is everything. The context that we have to consider in this situation is the goal of a movie. Why do people make movies? Is it for entertainment? Is it to address a political, religious, or philosophical question or issue? Is it to raise awareness of an on-going problem? Perhaps…but ultimately 999 out of 1000 movies (if not more) are made for one reason and one reason only: to make money.
Let’s take a moment to consider Skyscraper. Is this a movie that’s going to reel people in with its compelling storyline or deep-seeded political issues? No, don’t be ridiculous. People went to see that movie for one reason and one reason only: Dwayne Johnson. If you had a lesser-known actor in that role, all be it a disabled actor, I don’t think it’s ridiculous to assume that the movie would be making drastically less money.
I think there are times when you can pick and choose a cast based on political and societal ideologies at the time. For example, A Quiet Place features a deaf actress playing a deaf character (Millicent Simmonds) and Breaking Bad features a character with cerebral palsy played by an actor with cerebral palsy (MJ Mitte). Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great when someone can play a role that has a special place in their heart. But I think it’s a dangerous road to go down when we start telling actors that they can’t play a certain role because they aren’t X or they aren’t Y.
I don’t actually care that a Scottish person isn’t playing certain Scottish characters. It bugs me that their accents are awful or that the stories are often ridiculous (Braveheart) but I really do not care. If a film fulfils its purpose for us, the audience, which is usually entertainment, then isn’t that all that matters?
The solution to this problem (to those of you who believe that there is in fact a problem) is quite simple. Stop going to see the movies! It’s really that simple and yet does it stop people? Absolutely not! We see this in other forms of media as well: games, mobile phones, food products, absolutely everything. People moan and complain and take “moral” positions against certain products and yet they still purchase either the product that they are complaining about or one by the same company.
I think this is part of a larger issue whereby people don’t stand by their own opinions and beliefs enough. For me, it lies with Assassin’s Creed. I’ve written before about when Assassin’s Creed started to lose it (5) and the problem with upcoming games (6) and I even ranked them all (7) but after a point I stopped buying the games because they were bad and there isn’t a better way to show a company that you’re unhappy that by moving to something else. Ubisoft became greedy and lazy and the only way you can force any change is by taking a stand against the company. The only games I bought (excluding Origins) were all preowned so Ubisoft didn’t benefit at all from my purchase.
Personally, I don't see the point of complaining about who plays who.
Anyway, if you have an opposing opinion to anything I’ve just said, leave me a comment down below explaining why. I’m open to a civil discussion/debate on the topic.
You can also comment on the question version of this same post: READ DESCRIPTION BEFORE ANSWERING: Do you believe that the nationality and ancestry of an individual should limit the roles an actor can take on?