Wednesday, December 21

Cross-Racial Casting (Like Gender Bending, Only With Race)

So, this particular post was inspired by the movie Memoirs of a Geisha. A few weeks ago some friends of mine were talking about movies they were looking forward to and Memoirs of a Geisha came up. That's when I heard that Ziyi Zhang would be playing the lead role, a Chinese woman playing a Japanese. For a long time, this irritated me something terrible. I respect her acting abilities and everything, well as much as I can since I don't understand her language, but "Come on," I thought "Let's show some respect for the source material," which I recently discovered was book written by an American man.

Anyways, I thought about it some more and read a few reviews, and I like to believe that I have since come up with a more thoughtful idea. One review I read said this was a step up from the days of Hollywood where Asians were simply Caucasians wearing a little eye make-up. This reminds me of the stories I heard of Shakespeare's time when women weren't even allowed to appear on stage, and men played all the roles. Was this wrong? Yeah. These decisions were made because women weren't able to take the rigors of acting or something, and Asians probably weren't allowed to portray themselves because directors had no faith in their acting abilities. These decisions were made from a position of superiority.

Another case that came to my attention was that of Ken Watanabe in Batman Begins. I didn't really pay attention at the time but, when I was flipping through an issue of Mad later, found that his role in the comics was Arabian. Mad suggested that this casting was made because Japanese don't tend to blow themselves up when they want to protest against something they aren't pleased with. So, here we have cross-racial casting because of political correctness concerns, according to Mad. Whoo! Seven degrees of separation. Watanabe is in Memoirs of a Geisha as well!

So, this brings us to the case of Memoirs of a Geisha. To me, the problem, here is of a different manner. I've come to accept Ziyi Zhang's casting. I no longer have a problem with it. The advertisers aren't celebrating the fact that she's Chinese, but they aren't hiding it. Ziyi Zhang is a fairly well-known game in the United States as are the other two Chinese actresses cast as Japanese in Memoirs. Maybe, if they were trying to slip in an unknown Chinese actress into the role, I would have a problem with it. But they didn't.

This is a movie, art. It's not real life. At most, it's a representation. The only reason for proper racial casting is to maintain the suspension of disbelief. In different situations this may be more or less appropriate. This movie is not about race, as far as I know, it's about love. The best actor or actress for the part should be chosen according to their respective acting skills for fitting the part, not their skin color.

So there. My thoughts.

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