Nights In

Should actors be able to portray other ethnicities?

Recently, early reviews surfaced for the upcoming Marvel and Netflix show ‘Iron Fist’. Many fans were appalled that a white English man was cast to portray a martial arts expert. The counter argument is that the character has never been Asian, and was always a white American from a wealthy background. Effectively, Marvel’s answer to Batman. This debacle has been ongoing for some time now; here is my take on it.
Actors should be allowed to act. Scarlett Johansson should not have to apologise for portraying a character that was originally Asian, especially considering that ‘Ghost in The Shell’ is a work of fiction. We’ve had Liam Neeson and Meryl Streep play German and Polish characters respectively and that was never an issue. Countless American actors play Irish and British characters, so why is it an issue only now? As long as it is done with taste and passion, there shouldn’t be an issue, right?
This is truly very little to do with people genuinely taking offence to the concept of actors adapting films and stories from other cultures, and more to do with easily triggered millennials who want to appear as though they’re in touch with a modern sense of equality.
If Don Cheadle was allowed to get away with that atrocious cockney accent in Ocean’s Eleven, then there is nothing wrong with having a British actor take the helm of ‘Get Out’. If Robert Downey Junior can play Sherlock Holmes, then why can’t Idris Elba give James Bond a go? We’ve already had an Australian take up the 007 mantle; why not a black man?
There have been a plethora of Godzilla movies set in cities that are not Japan. Hollywood snatch Asian and European films and television shows all the time, such as ‘Old Boy’, ‘Ringu’, ‘Let the Right One In’, ‘REC’, ‘Shameless’, ‘The Inbetweeners’ (that series was offensive in its own way). The list goes on seemingly endlessly and no one has an issue with it; my only concern is the quality of the direction and acting.
The world is awash with incredibly talented actors from every corner of the globe; Johansson playing an Asian character should be no more offensive than Ruth Negga playing an African-American woman in Loving.
If British actors can’t be in American films anymore, where do we draw the line? Should Les Miserables only be performed in France? Should John B. Keane be held exclusively for the Irish? Should Netflix take down its Anime section? Where does the absurdity begin and end?
There is absolutely nothing wrong with absorbing a bit of foreign culture. It expands our mental horizons and introduces us to new methods of creating and appreciating different artistic mediums. Mix it up, it will do some good to experience stories from far off countries in a way that is accessible to us. If you’re like me and you get curious about the stories origin, slap some subtitles on and watch the original.
Do not try and speak for an entire nation by playing the cultural evangelist and tell the world that it is appalling that white people play characters from other countries. The vast majority of the folks who recoil with disgust upon hearing such news are not even from the countries that originally created the character. They are often young white people who think they represent the views and ideals of everyone.
There is a huge double standard at play here. Every social justice warrior on their high-horse probably has a film that they love, that without their realising it, has an actor playing a nationality
that is not their own. I’m half Scottish, Mel Gibson is Australian and I love Braveheart, despite the two main protagonists not even being alive in the same timeline.
What it all boils down to is art and entertainment; there is no need to allow yourself to be offended by something that doesn’t affect you. If you want to fight for civil rights then go do that. There are much more constructive ways in which you could channel that anger. Let actors do their job, sit down grab some popcorn and enjoy the show.