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Actors playing characters with which they do not share characteristics

Discussion in 'Off-Topic' started by Samson, Jan 12, 2021.

  1. Samson

    Samson Deity

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    This is the article that prompted me to write this post: Russell T Davies: Straight actors should not play gay characters
    This is a progressive issue that I am not really on the progressive side of, so I thought I would present my ideas to CFC and get them torn down.
    As I see it there are 3 arguments for this point of view:
    • It is more authentic, and therefore the product will be better. While this is a quantitative claim that should be backed up with numerical analysis, I can accept the idea of actors that have real life experience of the issues they are presenting will be able to do it better than those who have not. However, in most roles the primary issues that are presented are not related to sexual preference. For example if we assume Sherlock Holmes was gay, should that role be restricted to gay actors, even when the stories do not involve his sexuallity? Is there any reason to believe that a gay actor would be better at presenting that role that a straight actor who was a high functioning cocaine addict, or some other feature that has bearing on the role but is not a recognised underrepresented class?
    • We do it for other disadvantaged classes, so we should do it in this case "You wouldn't cast someone able-bodied and put them in a wheelchair, you wouldn't black someone up". However, there are many disadvantaged classes we do not extend this to. When have we had a blind daredevil, or a one handed Captain Hook? What about casting non-Tutsi or Hutu in Hotel Rwanda? There that is the racial distinction that matters, not the white/black distinction that is usually applied in the west, so should we not be using that? The most difficult to achieve real visibility, though I would say most important underrepresented group, is surely the poor.
    • Not made in this article, but another argument is that if characters with these features are played by those without them, then the actors with them will not be able to get work. My problem with this is 2 fold: The small argument, and where I could be wrong, is that while this would be a good argument for not blacking up, the general impression of the acting profession is that homosexuals are overrepresented, as opposed to black people who are underrepresented. The main argument is why apply this logic to this sector, and not the rest of the economy? While I would very much like a policy of full employment, we in the aggregate vote against it. Why should we apply this logic to the acting profession when we do not to the rest of the economy, rather than the opposite view that you must NOT consider protected characteristics in employment decisions?
     
  2. Kyriakos

    Kyriakos Alien spiral maker

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    You don't have to be the person you play as - why it's called "acting" :)
    The original term, from (ancient) Greek theatre, is "ethopoeos" and it means "creator of ethos" (ethos is one's behavior, attitude and general belief-system). So from the start it was about creating something, not being it.

    Btw, "Thespis" was just the name of one specific ancient actor.
     
    Last edited: Jan 12, 2021
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  3. AmazonQueen

    AmazonQueen Virago

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    I'm also not particularly on the progressive side here.
    Sometimes it makes sense to have the actor match the part. A woman playing a woman or a black person playing a black person but thats a matter of physical characteristics. I wouldn't say it should apply otherwise.
     
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  4. Kyriakos

    Kyriakos Alien spiral maker

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    I recall a recent-ish tv series starring Sean Bean, set in Victorian times, where a black actor was rather clearly playing a white person. It was pretty strange :)
     
  5. Angst

    Angst Rambling and inconsistent

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    For the record, I'm ambivalent to this issue. A lot of the problems we have in regards to suppression of minorities is entangled in the industry structurally, and I don't think the industry can solve it. Big music production companies having connections to the weapons industry that bombs foreigners and so on. Nike going pro representation in a commercial for the sake of advertisement while abusing minorities in their production chain. Movie industry suppressing artistic freedom legally, which hurts everyone, particularly groups that don't have the same money for rights as the elite.

    That said, overturning the world isn't going to happen soon, and we're dealing with real people doing real work and trying to get through the day. It doesn't help them that I'm unhappy with the state of late capitalism marketizing minorities; because these people need to deal with putting food on the table. So honestly, I should just take my position and shove it here, and help them try to get by in a bad world (which I naturally will, even if I think it counterproductive on a structural level). I'll add also that I'm well aware this position may have some people get angry at me, and if so I apologize. It's just that I think the system is reasonably toxic to begin with, and outright dangerous in its affairs in regards to human issues, so it feels more like symptom treatment than a solution. I'm very, very much wanting to be proven wrong here, as it seems as if the system isn't going away anytimes soon. Regardless, again, my point is; we're doing with real people trying to get by in life. Regardless of what I think of the system, it's not an argument not to help them. It would be hideous of me to rob someone of a good life because I didn't like the industry.

    I'm going to answer in general, and not in regards to homosexual representation, even though I know the thread is about that. Mostly because of the thread title.

    So again, my concern is mostly food on the table. It's very much the case that minority professionals are being skipped in the creative industry at not just levels of representation, but higher levels of production. It's also counterproductive to compare different minorities here; some minority having it better than another is not an argument against that minority being represented. And yes, this also extends into the whole economy. It's very rare that people that care about representation in acting don't care about equal opportunities in the whole economy. I'm not sure who you're arguing against here. People that want to only fix the movie industry are very rare; but yes, it's common that people only focus on a single limited segment of the world economy. This has to do with personal capacity of opportunity cost. People can do activism in Hollywood while supporting things they don't actively work for; this doesn't mean they don't support it. It usually means they don't have the time.
     
    Last edited: Jan 12, 2021
  6. Gorbles

    Gorbles Load Balanced

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    The thread title is a bit vague, in my opinion :p

    But as ever, the degrees to which people are going to align with this is dependent on the specifics of the role, and also how much people buy into the myth of meritocracy in acting (and related disciplines).

    Is the character's sexuality relevant to the story, or at the least relevant to marketing? Then it's both ethical and true to making a better story. If it isn't? Then it matters less, but is obviously still a nice to have. It's 2020, there are plenty of good and openly-LGBQT (as an example) actors and addresses. The same goes for skin colour and the like.

    The second is the myth of meritocracy. The truth is that historically the Western film industry is massively white and for a long time male. Or at least, strongly gender-stereotyped. Various genres still are. I could say "industries" at a push, but there's a huge amount of overlap between Hollywood talent and more art-based ventures like Cannes, so they're more homogenous than not. This kind of history is hard to shake. Some people exist in the industry purely because of money and connections, and this applies to directors and producers as much as it does the acting talent. It's always been an uphill struggle to promote including minorities, which is all the more reason why we should.

    A better way to phrase this is: why shouldn't we? What harm comes of it?
     
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  7. AmazonQueen

    AmazonQueen Virago

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    Presumably you mean they were in a role where you feel a white person would've been fitting. Unless it was a historical figure or based on a work of fiction where the character's race was specified how do you know they were clearly playing a white person?
     
  8. Kyriakos

    Kyriakos Alien spiral maker

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    I meant that it was clear it wasn't a minority character, but a poor Victorian-era cockney :p
    In other words, the character himself didn't identify his own self as black, but as white.
     
  9. Angst

    Angst Rambling and inconsistent

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    I'll just cut through your post and highlight these two: And note that I fully agree.

    EDIT: I agree with the rest of the post too, but I think these two points are so important to highlight regardless of any other position in these discussions.

    This is the state of the situation. There are more than enough proficient minority actors and actresses to fill the roles that are needed for minorities. It will not actually hurt the quality of the movie, and is not anti-meritocratic, as some people want to make it.
     
  10. Samson

    Samson Deity

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    The primary harm would be not getting the best actor for a role. If we choose actors that share protected characteristics we will be rejecting others, that may be more relevant to the role. Back to my gay or cocaine addict for Sherlock Holmes example.
     
  11. AmazonQueen

    AmazonQueen Virago

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    I think you'll find that some black people lived in the East End of London and had the accent in the 19th century. A black MP or military officer might've been hard to justify, a black Cockney easy.
     
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  12. Angst

    Angst Rambling and inconsistent

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    That's the case already, however. People are being skipped over; minorities in particular. It's not a meritocracy. Activism attempts to leverage this.
     
  13. Kyriakos

    Kyriakos Alien spiral maker

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    I think you aren't reading what I wrote. He wasn't black in the story, according to his own point of view.
     
  14. Angst

    Angst Rambling and inconsistent

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    This confuses me. Was it a black man going around and saying "I'm white"?
     
  15. Kyriakos

    Kyriakos Alien spiral maker

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    Sure. I mean is there any other way to establish this?
    Iirc he referred to long family history, and the struggle to become a low-level civil servant (Bean was the officer). Race never once was mentioned, it was about being born poor in the bad part of London.
     
  16. Angst

    Angst Rambling and inconsistent

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    So ok here you answered my question and I went that's weird and then:

    Like... Did he "act" white or did he SAY he was white, as in a line? "Hi, I'm John, I'm white." Stuff like that seems like it would have some weight in the script, and would be really strange as a nonsequitor in a mainstream show.

    Black people "being" cockney in Victorian England isn't weird.
     
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  17. Kyriakos

    Kyriakos Alien spiral maker

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    As you said, no one would go around saying "I am white" or "I am black". It is inferred that he had no difference of race to the other competitors in the slums of London, when he mentioned his and his family's history as Bean asked him how he liked his new position.
    Anyway, let's just agree (I don't mean you :) ) that if my summation that he was playing a white person is correct, then it is weird. I never claimed it would be weird if he was playing a black person in the Victorian era. British tv has quotas for minority actors, so such things (the weird part) can happen.
     
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  18. EgonSpengler

    EgonSpengler Deity

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    From the article:
    I think Davies is misidentifying the problem. He's basically saying that straight actors shouldn't play gay characters because they're bad at it. The analogies he's drawing also aren't helping. The reason to cast a character who uses a wheelchair with an actor who uses a wheelchair isn't because an able-bodied actor can't convincingly maneuver a wheelchair. And saying that the problem with putting a (presumably White) actor in blackface is the lack of authenticity is pretty dense (I mean, it likely would feel forced, but that'd be beside the point - the problem with blackface isn't that it's a bad performance). I think maybe he's onto something with what he's saying - while watching Star Trek: Discovery, I was thinking about whether the gay actors bring some unaffected subtlety to the gay characters - but he's not articulating it very well. :undecide:
     
  19. Angst

    Angst Rambling and inconsistent

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    It makes more sense now. I can see it working though, and it doesn't sound that off from what I know of the time period; probably wouldn't bother me.

    EDIT This was for Kyriakos
     
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  20. Kyriakos

    Kyriakos Alien spiral maker

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    Also worth noting that sometimes casting someone due to some physical trait they have, isn't really that good an idea. I certainly disliked a movie I saw where the great Tyrion was just playing a person with dwarfism. (and it was after he had already become famous as Tyrion)
    Re people on wheelchairs, I have to say I am not seeing how they can be played only by (I suppose very few) actors who are on wheelchairs.
     

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