Scrooge of Color

Scrooge of Color – 17 of 40 – book research

Lin Manuel Miranda speaks about casting “Hamilton” in this article:

In Hamilton, we’re telling the stories of old, dead white men but we’re using actors of color, and that makes the story more immediate and more accessible to a contemporary audience. You don’t distance the audience by putting an actor of color in a role that you would think of as default Caucasian. No, you excite people and you draw them in.

I … laugh when Aaron Burr is shaking hands and saying, “Talk less. Smile more. Don’t let them know what you’re against or what you’re for,” because that’s not left or right, that’s most contemporary politicians. And we recognize him as, “Hey, that guy’s from our era.

This paints a different picture than “random” color-blind casting that ignores race. This is casting that speaks to race by saying “Here is how this figure is like you, even though you didn’t see it before.” That is USING race and not IGNORING it.

Scrooge of Color – 16 of 40 – book research

I’m searching for other perspectives related to color-blind casting, and I quickly found this article by a black author active in theater in many ways: actor, director, producer, teacher. The text is below.

I’ll be mulling this. Below in red is a reference to an idyllic past free of racism. I was musing about this to my wife just yesterday. If there had never been exploitation based on discrimination, then we would not even distinguish people by biological differences based on ethnicity. They would be as irrelevant as eye color. In another of these research posts (I think), I spoke of feeling robbed of that past. We all were, and we have reaped the mistake and sin that occurred in earlier generations. Of course, idyllic is just that–not rooted in the real world. But when a play is rooted in the real world, this author is arguing (and I can see the point), it’s uneven in saying “accept this part, but not this other part.” And that can be confusing, because it might not be obvious which parts matter and which don’t. (This author refers repeatedly to confusion.)

In the case of “A Christmas Carol,” the world of the play is, of course, very much rooted in the actual world, in which greed condemned the poor to misery. A black Scrooge would suspend the greed that condemned nonwhites as well.

Hmm.

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Omari Newton: “Colour blind casting” is an absurd and insidious form of racism

I’ve been a professional theatre actor for more than 20 years and yet – somewhat inexplicably – I’d never made the trek to New York to see a show on Broadway before this year.

So when I had the opportunity to spend a few days in New York, I was determined to immerse myself in as many plays as possible. I wanted to see living legends live on stage, performing critically acclaimed work, in historic theatres. My first Broadway visit was no time time for artistic gambling.

This criteria made the Broadway revival of Arthur Miller’s classic All My Sons an easy choice. The cast of the play’s revival was anchored by the legendary Annette Bening, and critically acclaimed playwright and actor Tracy Letts. The production was predictably solid from the standpoint of craft, enough so that I was in tears as the piece careened into its tragically inevitable end.

Despite all of the above, there was something that bothered me about the production throughout, so much so that it pulled me and numerous other audience members right out of the play, leading us to whisper questions into the ears of the people we came with. The issue in question was the inexplicable decision to employ the tactic of “colour blind casting.”

For the uninitiated, “colour blind casting” is the theatrical practice of casting actors from different racial or ethnic backgrounds in roles haphazardly, regardless of the very obvious implications this may have on the story being told. I have always loathed this practice in theory, but had never viscerally experienced just how absurd and distracting it can be before seeing this production of All My Sons on Broadway.

Before I continue, I have to explain a bit about myself to properly contextualize my gripes with the practice of “colour blind casting.” I am a 39 year old Black man and a long-time theatre professional. I earned my full union card at the age of 19 thanks to a Montreal company called Black Theatre Workshop. The vitality of diverse representation in professional theatre was ingrained in me from the very start of my career, so much so that when I evolved from an actor to professional playwright and director, I gravitated towards stories that placed the lived experiences of people of colour at the very centre of the narrative.

In my personal life, I have volunteered countless hours as an activist, educator, and union rep championing the cause of diversity in the arts. I see it as a personal calling.

I express this to make it abundantly clear, I want nothing more than to see diversity on every stage in the world.

I just don’t want to see it done blindly.

“Colour blind casting” is rooted in systemic racism. It is a form of erasure. It is the theatrical equivalent of ignorantly telling your Black friend “I don’t see colour” when they try to engage you in a conversation about race. It is passively dehumanizing in the way that it dismisses the racism that is embedded in the very fabric of how colonized countries were founded. Never had I seen this more on display than I did in this otherwise impressive Broadway show.

Arthur Miller’s All My Sons was originally produced in 1947, a mere two years after the end of World War II. It is set in a gorgeous backyard in Ohio that is connected to the equally beautiful home of a well-to-do family.

The drama in the play is centred around a dark secret with roots in World War II. A man who owned a shop that made airplane parts sold defective pieces to the American military. His negligence led to the death of 21 American pilots, which leads to one of the play’s central questions: Were these faulty parts sold knowingly, and if so, who made this fatal decision?

When the play starts, we meet a wealthy man named Joe Keller. He is the owner of the beautiful home where the play takes place. We learn that both he and his employee Steve Deveer have done jail time in connection to the sale of these defective airplane parts. It is unclear who in the neighbourhood, including members of Keller’s own family, knows who is culpable for the sale of these defective parts that led to the deaths of 21 America pilots.

All of the above makes for a gripping setup for an exploration of the complexities of capitalism, honour, loyalty, family, and community. What it did not deserve or require was the imposition of the completely unexplored dynamics of racial politics in the late 1940s tacked onto it.

Inexplicably, and I mean that in the most literal sense of the word, we learn that one of Keller’s neighbours, a white man, is married to a Black woman. They even have a beautiful mixed race child. As a Black man who has been married to a white woman for nearly five years in the year 2019, interracial marriage is obviously not a big deal in and of itself. However, as a man with even a perfunctory understanding of American history, I realize that this would likely be a very big deal in late 1940s Ohio.

While an interracial marriage may have been possible in 1947 Ohio, it would have been very difficult due to the complicated history of miscegenation laws that made interracial marriage illegal in many states, including Ohio. While many states repealed these racist laws, this was an issue in America until the 1967 Supreme Court decision – Loving v. Virginia – determined that all state anti-miscegenation laws were unconstitutional..

This was all I could think about for quite a while when this interracial relationship was first revealed in the production. It raised many questions that pulled me right out of the play – questions which were never meant to be answered, because in the original play, the married couple were both written as white.

The resulting effect of this act of “colour blind casting” was forcing audience members to make a subconscious decision to accept the fact that this play takes place in a fictional, idyllic America where racism never existed. Slavery? Never happened. The Civil War and its far reaching ramifications? Non existent, I guess. I went from watching a well acted and produced classic of American Theatre to an insulting episode of Black Mirror.

As if this first act of “colour blind casting” wasn’t distracting enough, later in the play we learn that George, the brother of a character named Ann, who in this production was played by a white actress, is played by a Black man. Not only was this simply confusing on a basic level, but the implications of this dynamic raised even more profound questions about the exceedingly progressive politics that must have existed in the world of this play – questions that by definition could not be explored because they were never meant to be in the original script that saw the entire cast as white.

I felt insulted by all of the above. I was also one of many audience members who were confused and distracted by all of this. I, like many others, leaned over to a person I came to the theatre with to double check if I had heard correctly, that this Black man who just entered was the brother of the white woman I had been watching on stage the entire first act of the play.

What made matters worse is the fact that the father of George and Ann was still in jail after taking the fall for his boss. Instead of following the rich drama, I found myself wondering if the father was a Black man. This could be a poignant statement about racial bias in the legal system, only I was reminded that there was no such statement being made in this play, as the characters were intended to be all white. It all felt lazy at best, distracting and insulting at worst. It simply didn’t work for me. I found myself wondering how and why such a half baked decision could be made at the highest level of theatre in North America. This prompted me to do some digging, and the results were revealing.

It turns out this production was steeped in racial controversy from the very beginning. The original director of the revival, Gregory Mosher, a critically acclaimed Broadway director, originally wanted to cast both the roles of George and Ann with Black actors. He quit the production in protest after Arthur Miller’s estate, overseen by his daughter Rebecca Miller, objected to his concept making an argument that is the theatrical equivalent of #AllLivesMatter, saying:

“When Gregory suggested casting the Deevers as African American, I wanted to be sure the concept held water historically and thematically,” Miller said in her statement. She added that she worried Mosher’s casting “was in danger of white-washing the racism of 1947 suburban Ohio.” When she suggested that Mosher adopt a true “colorblind” approach — meaning opening all the roles to actors of any colour — “Mr. Mosher rejected that idea and chose to leave the production.”

In my opinion, the original director was right. While his concept of making both the brother and sister Black would have raised difficult questions, there would have at least been some form of logic at play. The director understood the optics of presenting the Deevers family as Black in the late 1940s. A lot of subtext can be added between lines of dialogue by a thorough director with a firm hand and clear vision. It may not have fully worked, but it would have made more sense and been less distracting than haphazardly placing Black people into a time period rife with racial discrimination and pretending it was non-existent. Instead, what we got was an unnecessarily messy, confusing, absurd fantasy play that demanded audience members ignore their own eyes and a basic knowledge of America’s history of racism.

A thorough explanation of the initial casting controversy can be found here.

“Colour blind casting” is insulting. It is confusing. It is a form of erasure rooted in white guilt and systemic racism. I encourage directors and producers to cast roles non traditionally, but not “blindly.”

What we need is “colour conscious casting.” If you want to introduce characters of colour into your story as a writer, director or producer, please do so in ways that encompass our complex history and our lived experiences.

Race matters. Race is not interchangeable. Pretending that it is irrelevant diminishes the struggles many of us still face today. If your concept can not account for the inclusion of our bodies on stage or screen in ways that actually integrate us into your story authentically, in ways that are honest, real, and humane, then don’t bother to include us at all. To do otherwise is asking performers to further diminish ourselves to appease white liberal guilt, and asking audiences to continue patting themselves on the back for living in a fantasy world where racism never existed. “Colour blind casting” is the theatrical equivalent of #AllLivesMatter. It needs to be retired from the theatre like its ideological relatives “Black Face”, and segregation before it.

Scrooge of Color – 15 of 40

Below I bolded sections of this article.

In red is something I am mulling. I have to agree that colorblind casting, by definition, ignores identity. But does that actually alienate an actor? Doesn’t acting itself ignore identity? Because I, the actor, am not actually the person portrayed, in age, circumstances, experience, time period, whatever the factor might be. Isn’t colorblind casting merely an additional facet of identity-ignoring on top of these?

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Authenticity in casting: From ‘colorblind’ to ‘color conscious,’ new rules are anything but black and white

By JESSICA GELTSTAFF WRITER
JULY 13, 2017
When Edward Albee’s estate denied permission for a production of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” because the director had cast a black actor to play a character Albee had specified as white, social media boiled over. How can the theatrical canon remain relevant if creative casting isn’t allowed? Why shouldn’t a black man play a white character? Actors are actors, storytelling in the search for universal truths.

But discord also erupted when a white man played a Dominican American in a Chicago production of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s early musical “In the Heights” — and, conversely, when an open casting call for Miranda’s “Hamilton” specified “non-white actors.”

Casting in theater, as well as in film and television, has always been met with criticism. Everyone knows someone who was better for the part. But lately that criticism has taken on an unapologetically political — and often contradictory — bent that reflects both a need for diversity and a new demand for “authenticity.”

Even as audiences celebrate the “Hamilton” multiracial vision of the Founding Fathers, some actors and advocates argue that certain types of characters should be played only by actors who share those characters’ essential experiences. Just a week ago, an advocacy group for the disabled admonished Alec Baldwin for taking the part of a blind man in an upcoming film. Before that, protests decried the “whitewashing” of Asian characters through the casting of non-Asian performers in high-profile films.

The increasingly fraught and emotional dialogue pits the progressive ideals of inclusion not just against historical business practices but also the definition of acting itself.

If a role is written for a particular ethnicity, sexual identity, gender or disability, how far should the creative community go to find an actor who checks that particular box? And should the fact that many traditionally marginalized groups are fighting for better representation be taken into consideration? Who has the right to tell what stories? And who gets to make that decision?

Actors love to act. And they can get Oscar-size accolades for showing their reach. Think Leonardo DiCaprio’s nomination for playing a developmentally disabled teen in “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape.” Or Al Pacino’s Oscar win for his depiction of a blind man in “Scent of a Woman.” Or Jeffrey Tambor’s Emmys for his role as a transgender woman in “Transparent.”

Isn’t that the point of acting: to suspend audience disbelief to the point of personal reinvention?

Still, rising tension over the authenticity question could be felt in Tambor’s 2016 Emmy acceptance speech:

“Please give transgender talent a chance. Give them auditions. Give them their story,” he said. “I would not be unhappy were I the last cisgender male to play a transgender female.”

His words signaled a shift from the days when actors like Tom Hanks (who played gay in 1993’s “Philadelphia”), Jake Gyllenhaal (who did the same in 2005’s “Brokeback Mountain”) and John Lithgow (who played a trans woman in 1982’s “The World According to Garp”) were celebrated for their bravery in bringing mainstream visibility to overlooked and often denigrated groups.

The sentiment that, say, transgender, Latino or deaf actors should be given a fair shot at portraying transgender, Latino or deaf characters seems to be growing as producers, directors and others try to balance artistic goals with social responsibility — and the expectations of an increasingly diverse, empowered audience. This is writ large in the American theater, where the term “colorblind casting” — selecting actors without taking ethnicity into account — is no longer in favor. The ascendant norm is “color-conscious casting,” which implies an understanding of the profound implications of skin color. The shift carries potentially radical implications for the art form.

A study by the Asian American Performers Action Coalition found that white actors were cast in 78% of the roles on New York stages between the years of 2006 to 2015, whereas the U.S. Census estimates the white population of the city to be about 44%. Such discrepancies worry activists who note the slowness of change, even after incidents such as the 1989 London opening of “Miss Saigon,” in which a white actor wore prosthetics to change the shape of his eyes. The resulting protests, partly spearheaded by playwright David Henry Hwang, called out the practice and spurred Hwang to write the satirical play “Yellow Face.”

“For a decade or so I was thinking we sort of won the war even if we lost the battle, because we put producers on notice that there was going to be so much trouble if you cast a white person as Asian that you just wouldn’t do it,” Hwang said. Not so anymore, he said, noting the casting of Emma Stone (in the 2015 film “Aloha”) and Scarlett Johansson (in this year’s film “Ghost in the Shell”) as characters originally written as Asian or part Asian. “For some reason white people really seem to like playing Asians.”

Still, the discussion about who should be cast in which roles has evolved, Hwang said. As the theater grows more aware and diverse, the authenticity discussion has evolved with nuance.

“These debates are healthy,” he said. “I think it represents a society that is attempting to come to grips and move forward into uncharted territory.”

Each play or musical must be considered on a case-by-case basis, said Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Quiara Alegría Hudes, who wrote the book for Miranda’s “In the Heights.”

“The danger of creating one hard-and-fast rule is that it diminishes the conversation,” she says. “And, yes, it’s absolutely OK to say this role calls for a specific actor, and if you’re telling me you can’t find that actor, you’re not equipped to do the play.”

Many of the roles in Hudes’ work call for a particular ethnicity, and that should be honored, Hudes said. If it isn’t, then the play is not being produced as it was meant to be produced. It doesn’t convey what she intended the work to convey.

She doesn’t write roles for minorities as a form of political activism, she said. The playwright, who is of mixed heritage and grew up in a diverse Philadelphia community, is simply writing about the world as she has experienced it.

The shift from “colorblind” to “color-conscious” may be attributed partly to the growing diversity of stories being produced. In eras past, when the vast majority of tales unfolding onstage were written by white playwrights about white characters, it took colorblind casting for an actor of color to be seen.

But now we’re in the era of “Hamilton.” A better term is “color-conscious,” said Diep Tran, associate editor of American Theatre magazine, who writes a monthly column on equity, diversity and inclusion. “Color-conscious” means “we’re aware of the historic discrimination in the entertainment industry,” she said, “and we’re also aware of what it means to put a body of color onstage.”

Snehal Desai, artistic director of the Asian theater company East West Players in Los Angeles, the longest-running theater of color in the United States, agrees.

“The thing about colorblind casting is that it denies the person standing in front of you,” he said. “It ignores identity, and for people of color, that further alienates us.”

In the recent case of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” in Portland, Ore., casting a black actor in the role of Nick was a color-conscious choice, director Michael Streeter said by email. He believed the decision would add depth to the play.

“The character is an up-and-comer,” Streeter said. “He is ambitious and tolerates a lot of abuse in order to get ahead. I see this as emblematic of African Americans in 1962, the time the play was written.”

The estate of Albee, who died last year, countered that the role was written specifically for a Caucasian man. (The playwright’s character description is 28 and “blond, well put-together, good looking.”) To alter that would fundamentally change the meaning and message of the play, the estate said.

In the resulting social media firestorm, some pointed out that “Hamilton” had done the same thing, only in reverse — casting actors of color to play white historical figures.

Tran called that line of thinking nonsense.

“When you have something like ‘Hamilton,’ which was written to give opportunity to actors who would normally not get that opportunity, it’s different than taking a job away from a white actor, because that white actor has the entire American canon to play with,” she said.

Tran also argued that an audience should want to see a production from that canon, exactly as the author intended, only so many times. Inflexibility puts the work in stasis, whereas theater should be a living, breathing art form.

“What does this 50-year-old play say about the time we’re living in now if we don’t put it in a modern context?” she asked.

Casting plays in a modern context makes financial sense as well, Hwang said.

“If people like to see themselves on stage and screen, then our artistic fields aren’t sufficiently preparing for audiences of the future,” he said.

The conversation will change in two or three generations as the country becomes more mixed racially, East West Players’ Desai said. He added that when it comes to representation, people of color long for consideration that extends beneath their skin.

“There are regulations about asking people their age or race,” he said. “As a person of color, I want to be seen as a whole person and not just an Indian.”

The danger of seeing only color, sexuality or disability is that it can lead to a ghettoization. Take the example of transgender actors, said Jon Imparato, the Los Angeles LGBT Center’s director of cultural arts and education. Since Caitlyn Jenner went public as transgender two years ago, Imparato’s phone has been ringing with requests for recommendations of good transgender actors.

“I say, ‘Is she a hooker and does she get murdered at the end? If so, we want nothing to do with it. We’ve heard that story,’” he said.

In this day and age, Imparato believes all trans roles should go to trans actors — although the same doesn’t hold true for gay roles. Why? First, it’s illegal to ask about sexuality when casting. Second, plenty of gay actors now play straight roles and vice versa, he said.

“For me it always comes down to who’s going to serve the play better? Do I have enough diversity in my cast?” Imparato said. “And are they the right actors?”

jessica.gelt@latimes.com

Scrooge of Color – 14 of 40 – book research

Further notes as I am reading the book “So You Want to Talk About Race.”

Opening the chapter “Check Your Privilege,” Author Ijeoma Oluo tells a striking story about helping organize an event in a public park for people of color, and the group was composed mainly of professionals. A handful of young black men asked what was going on and ended up asking to join in. There was a pause before they were welcomed. The pause lingered in Oluo’s mind until she realized, “When we built our community, we had in mind people like us.”

Building, or even just belonging to, a community is a matter of pride. When the community is crashed, it is a blow, and there is fear of loss, and there can be bitterness toward the usurpers. I mused about whether this would be the feeling that would underlie discomfort if I observed an actor of color playing Scrooge. Would I feel some kind of fear at “community violation”?

Scrooge of Color – 13 of 40 – book research

Further notes as I am reading the book “So You Want to Talk About Race.”

I admire those who are throwing themselves into protesting. I dislike and question my own reluctance to take part, but I don’t expect to change. I am fighting my own fights with This is RED. I don’t want to have a life of social crusading or being a cultural warrior.

But I recognize that I have the luxury of not having to fight for my rights. I can rest in privilege.

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Author Ijeoma Oluo speaks of racism as a lie told to justify exploitation, and inventing a servile class. It is striking me as if for the first time how slavery was a dastardly social and financial innovation. It was hitting upon a way to materialize elves–a separate order of being made only to serve and (in some points of view) only happy serving. Or derivations of view points, including an arrogant conviction that minorities are blind to the fact that they are made to serve. They don’t know their place.

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I struggled at first to understand this refrain by Oluo: It’s about race if a person of color says it’s about race. But this illustration helped a great deal. Say that you are regularly punched on the arm for no reason, by any and all individuals. If someone accidentally knocks your arm, that still fits within the maddening pattern.

Another excellent point: A white person might dismiss a person of color as misjudging a situation. But that assessment is on the basis of the white person’s own experience. Why is the experience of the person of color not as valid?

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I have started to perceive an alternate history without discrimination, in which it would not seem odd for any older man to play Scrooge. I feel a loss in not living in that world, for myself and for everyone. We were all robbed. There is something of a correspondence to Oluo’s noting that so many movies have white-only casts. She was painfully aware that her children found themselves erased by films “making up entire universes where people like them do not exist.” Look at the erasure of worlds.

I was also reminded of an anecdote from Robert Duvall. He says a “very successful English actor” saw A Streetcar Named Desire was initially embarrassed because “he thought a stagehand had wandered onto the stage accidentally.” It’s striking that he used the word “embarrassed.” How painful in regard to a stage presentation. It speaks of being excruciatingly aware that the way of things has been upset.

Scrooge of Color – 11 of 40 – book research

Because the problem of systemic racism has been receiving deserved attention, a mention of system caught my ear today on an episode of the podcast Armchair Expert. The host, Dax Shepard, expressed the thought that systems are better than people. This was his way of saying that some things are better left to systems than individuals. His used the example of hooks for car seats that are built into all new cars, by law, as a means of strong attachment. He feels certain that if it cost $200 extra  to add hooks to a car (a made-up cost) that many parents and caregivers wouldn’t do it. I find it easy to agree. So that’s a case where he (and I) would choose a system over people. The same could be said about seat belts, of course, and other safety features on cars and other items. For that matter, highways operate with a system. These are choices made by consensus by The State and they supersede individual wishes. Even in a country as dedicated to individual freedom as the United States, there are plenty of systems established for the good of all. Some, of course, would say there are too many. But some of these systems (like driving) have become invisible, as if they were established by nature. Heck, I was struck to learn that even time had to be standardized, for the sake of railroads and other commercial enterprises, and it was corporations that lobbied governments at various levels to put a system over the wishes of individuals.

There are also systems that arise organically, and we also come to operate within these. Yesterday I came across a devastating video that illustrates this with children, as a wise and imaginative teacher creates an arbitrary system of discrimination and prejudice that instantly altered the behavior and experience of both sides of the division. Many of the children who were deemed superior due to eye color quickly became cruel, and many of the children were doubtlessly stung by losing a basis for connection with classmates. The “inferior” segment quickly become sad and bitter, and rightfully so. Some are reduced to tears. Their classroom performance suffers. This is is a case where the system is worse than the people.

The question that has once again intensified is: Can’t we find better ways that will help all act from our better natures and enjoy life? Systems exist that have the opposite effect. They might be invisible to the privileged segment, but they are unbearable to the oppressed segment. Can we not listen to these pleas and reengineer society for the sake of all of us?

There is no system that discriminates by hair color. That would be absurd: Certain rights reserved only to Brown Hairs, for example. We’d have to create that, and it would be hard to do and painful if ever established. And yet painful discriminatory systems already exist based on the color of skin.

The relevance to my current research is: I have never paid attention to the hair color of Scrooge, or only glancingly. The aged Scrooge has little hair or much, and it is white or gray or turning white or gray, and young Scrooge could have any hair color whatsoever. I would think nothing of it. And yet skin color–yes, I would notice. Why is that so? It traces back to decisions as arbitrary as the favoring of blue eyes over brown in a classroom.

 

 

 

 

Scrooge of Color – 9 of 40 – book research

Announced today: Quaker Oats is retiring Aunt Jemima. I see now that this figure arose from the same dynamic as “Song of the South” – a softening of slavery by portraying blacks as happiest when serving whites. The same goes for Uncle Ben’s and Cream of Wheat (I had completely forgotten that it sports art of a smiling black cook until I looked at a package in our own cupboard). What a boost for white supremacy – these depictions of inferior support beings, as loyal and contented as dogs. More broadly, it seems to me that Aunt Jemima was shifted over to represent the nurturing mother in general – that person whose highest aim and proper role in life is to run a household, the same person who appears in commercials hellbent on getting whites white and stocking the best peanut butter at home. So a racial stereotype merged with a sexist one.

As I think about all of this, I’m starting to muse about the underpinnings of what I might feel if I see a black actor portraying Scrooge. If so many hints, clues and signs feed the notion that only whites can be at the pinnacle, and that other races revolve around them, then it will seem unnatural and improper if the white role is “usurped.”

In the Wikipedia article about Aunt Jemima, I was most interested to learn about Anna Julia Cooper, an admirable figure who spoke against Aunt Jemima from the beginning for what it was:

The R. T. Davis Milling Company hired former slave Nancy Green as a spokesperson for the Aunt Jemima pancake mix in 1890. Nancy Green was born in Montgomery County, Kentucky, and played the Jemima character from 1890 until her death on August 30, 1923. As Jemima, Green operated a pancake-cooking display at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Illinois, USA in 1893, appearing beside the “world’s largest flour barrel”. From this point on, marketing materials for the line of products centered around the stereotypical mammy archetype, including the Aunt Jemima marketing slogan first used at the World Fair: “I’s in Town, Honey”. Anna Julia Cooper used the World’s Columbian Exposition as an opportunity to address how young African American women were being exploited by white men. She predicted the appeal of Aunt Jemima and the southern domestic ideal and went on to describe the north’s fascination with southern traditions as part of America’s “unwritten history”. Progressive African American women post emancipation saw Aunt Jemima’s image as a setback that inspired a regression in race relations.

As I further researched the Aunt Jemima decision, this article led me to this petition by the husband of B. Smith presenting her as a better symbol. It includes these striking questions:

Here’s a litmus test – ask women: would they be proud to win a hypothetical Aunt Jemima College Scholarship? Would they attend an Aunt Jemima panel at a parenting Conference? Would anyone even share a post that they won the Aunt Jemima Recipe Contest? Is being compared to Aunt Jemima in any way a compliment? The answers all around are no.

This kind of degrading stereotype could certainly underlie any feeling that it is “beneath” an esteemed character such as Scrooge to be portrayed by a black actor.

(Note: Reminder that Dan Gasby, husband of B. Smith, has this controversy in his background)

 

Scrooge of Color – 8 of 40 – book research

This article in The Atlantic led me to comments here objecting to Michael B. Jordan’s being cast as Johnny Storm (The Human Torch) in one of the “Fantastic Four” films. Below are the text of the Atlantic article and excerpts from the comments. Many of the comments most interesting to me come from the handle Joker06.

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ATLANTIC ARTICLE

The Incoherent Backlashes to Black Actors Playing ‘White’ Superheroes

Comics have a history of altering characters’ races and ethnicities, but outcry over Michael B. Jordan’s next role illustrates that, in American racism, only certain differences matter.

NOAH BERLATSKY
FEBRUARY 20, 2014

Michael B. Jordan has been cast as Johnny Storm in the new Fantastic Four movie. For many prospective viewers, that announcement will raise the question that any announcement of a Michael B. Jordan movie raises: Will he be shirtless, and for how much screen time? Other superhero fans, though, are distracted by less wholesome concerns. Johnny Storm, they have noticed, is white. Michael B. Jordan is black. How, they wonder, can this be?

The outcry over interracial casting here appears to be much more muted than the stir over Idris Elba’s role as Heimdall in the Thor franchise, which provoked boycott threats. Still, I’ve seen people on Twitter talking about how the casting will “ruin” the franchise. I’m not going to link because I’m leery of shaming people that way on a mainstream site, but if you look around you can find them without too much trouble. (Niki Cruz has rounded up some of the response, with names redacted, here.) This echoes earlier controversies in which a campaign to get Donald Glover cast as Spider-Man met with racially fraught backlash, while the casting of Amandla Stenberg as Rue in The Hunger Games provoked angry social media whining.

People say they object to black casting because it’s untrue to the original source material, and a betrayal of the characters—a claim that seems particularly dicey in the case of The Hunger Games, where Rue is black in the original novel. But even in the case of the Fantastic Four, where Jack Kirby and Stan Lee did in fact make the team white, the plea to be faithful to the founding seems to raise a lot of questions.

After all, it’s not like there’s been one, true, unwavering Fantastic Four over the decades. The Thing was originally drawn by Jack Kirby as a lumpy mess; it took a while for him to settle down into the more-streamlined orange form fans know and love. Sue Storm at first could only turn invisible; it was some time before she developed the invisible force fields that made her useful in a fight. For that matter, She-Hulk replaced the Thing on the team for a while. And then there was a popular series where the Fantastic Four turned into zombies. Comics are serial soap-opera fantasies; people change costumes, grow blue fur, die, grow a third eye, come back to life, are replaced by a clone and turn to the dark side. Nothing stays the same. Why, then, is this particular, relatively minor alteration in canon seen as a betrayal?

You could argue that racial difference is more noticeable, or different in kind, than plot-driven death or blue fur or zombiefication. But then, how account for the fact that in the comics characters like Iron Man, Spider-Man, and Green Lantern have, at various times, been black? More, certain changes in racial background or casting seem to provoke little comment. No one, as far as I’m aware, has complained about Scarlett Johansson’s casting as the Black Widow on ethnic grounds. Yet Johansson’s background is Jewish. The original Black Widow, Natalia Romanova, has what appears to be an ethnic Russian name; there was no indication that she was originally supposed to be Jewish. Given the anti-Semitism in Cold War Russia, a Jewish ethnic identity would in context be a significant alteration to the character. Why, then, do people care about Storm, but nobody cared about Romanov?

The answer is obvious enough. American racism holds that only certain racial differences matter. Jews, Italians, Eastern Europeans, Irish—all those people are white and can play one another with nary an eyebrow raised. Nobody is worried about whether Sue Storm has exactly the mix of Irish, German, and French-Canadian ancestry as Kate Mara, who has been cast to play her. For that matter, no one would say a thing if the actors cast to play Sue and Johnny, sister and brother, came from different ethnic backgrounds and didn’t look much alike. It’s only when one is black and one is white that you need to start worrying about family logistics. (And yes, you can find folks doing that on Twitter as well—because getting turned into living fire by cosmic rays is an everyday thing, but adoption is weird.)

“Fans often seem to believe that if a character is changed from white to black, they will no longer be able to identify with that superhero” Aaron Kashtan, a postdoctoral fellow at Georgia Tech who teaches a course on transmedia storytelling, wrote in an email to me. Kashtan adds that this is an example of “unconscious or overt racism”—a point underlined by the fact that the barriers to identification are so clearly arbitrary. Certain different people—Jews, or Irish, or folks with a hide made of orange rock—can be points of identification. Others, especially African-Americans or anyone with dark skin, can’t. The issue here isn’t staying true to the original. The issue is racism.

Kashtan points out as well that staying true to the original is in itself not easily separable from racism. “Superhero comics were developed in the cultural context of ’60s America,” he says, “where it was just normal for all the characters to be white. When Stan Lee included a black character, Gabe Jones, in Sgt. Fury and the Howling Commandos, he actually had to tell the color separators that this character was supposed to be black, because the default assumption was that every character would be white.” Kashtan adds that, “This default assumption of whiteness is no longer acceptable.”

That’s a good thing. Hopefully, Fantastic Four will be a hit in part because of Michael B. Jordan (shirtless or not); Hollywood will continue to put African-American superheroes on screen, and eventually folks won’t feel any more need to grumble than they did when that non-Kryptonian Henry Cavill was cast as Superman.

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COMMENTS (Excerpts)

sigh…because of Michael B Jordan. Dude’s a good actor and I would like to see him in a comic role or in other movies. But he does not fit Johnny Storm. Race is an issue, not because I care, but because the character is white and he has a white sister. It just doesn’t work.

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I’m not racist, I’m just a fan of Fantastic Four. He shouldn’t be black. Nor adopted or anything of the sort. That’s like making Shaft or Black Panther an Asian dude. It’s just so far left field and asinine. [frick] this movie.

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Really, what the hell Marvel with all this propaganda stuff. It shouldn’t be a damn film where you have to question racial issues I just came to see a movie about four super powered people! Unless they make Sue Storm black just no to Johnny Storm. They are supposed to be brother and sister we are actually supposed to feel a real emotional connection between them. For the sake of comics the 2005 Fantastic Four movie is already starting to sound more accurate. The only character I would be fine with this change would be The Thing. Not the good ole wise cracking Johnny Storm. Plus the last Fantastic Four film wan’t too long ago, didn’t they think the audience would question this. They better change it and right now.

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I don’t get why Hollywood likes changing the ethnicity of people in movies. They do it in so many movies like Avatar: The Last Airbender. Now Gods of Egypt & this one. What is so wrong with sticking with the original concept.

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This is another example of race propaganda happening once again in comic book films. Why can’t they just keep the original don’t fix what was not broken. He is a recognizable main character not only in film but appearances in television and tons of comics. This is going to confuse a lot of people and not just the main general audience.

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Look, I have absolutely no problem with black people at all…but I’m going to be the first to admit that I don’t like this because Johnny Storm and his sister are white in the comics and I think they should stay true to the source material.

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However, if there are changes…based on race, sex, sexual orientation, politics, worldview, culture or whatever…so what??? Why would I be mad if Sue Storm is cast with a Latina? Why would I be upset if Johnny Storm is cast with a Black man? As far as I’m concerned, Reed Richards could be cast as Asian. Whatever. Have the vision. Write the story. Make the comics or the movie. It will either work or not. But hopefully, the outcomes…positive or negative…won’t be about race or gender.

It’s a fantasy. Damn! (LOL). Once you are talking about “leaping tall buildings in a single bound”…it is kind of silly and petty to get so uptight about race and gender and so forth…as if these characters are real people.

Johnny Storm is SUPPOSED TO BE WHITE!!??? LOL. GTFOOHWTBS.

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Isn’t Batwoman Gay today? And didn’t I hear that Alan Scott…Green Lantern…is Gay?

Do you remember way back when…when Invisible Kid was Black? In the Legion of Superheroes. Remember when Firestorm was Black?

Oh. But I guess the changes are okay with “support” heroes as long as the Major icons stay “whites only”. LOL. And somehow…that’s not racist at all. That’s just normal. Race doesn’t matter. As long as the original icons stay PURE.

Do these people listen to themselves? Do they even think about what they are saying? “I’m not racist at all. I just like my white heroes…WHITE.”

That ish is funny as hell. Give me a break.

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LOL. Thanks GhostZillaRider.

I don’t have enough information to know “why” people come to the conclusions and make the statements. There might be different reasons for different people. But before I give my opinion, let me provide an analogy that might be rather innocent.

Imagine that you have the beverages of orange juice and milk in your refrigerator. You wake up in the middle of the night, got to the fridge for a drink of milk. You take a huge swig of “milk” only to be surprised that you grabbed the orange juice instead. And in your surprise…the orange juice offends your senses…such that you spit everything in your mouth out…as a first reaction. LOL. And it’s not that orange juice is inferior or offends you. Nope. You love orange juice. It’s just that you were expecting milk.

I think that this happens to us…without worrying about race or gender. I think that once we know and like something…sometimes we come to love and expect it in the ways that we are accustomed. What we “know” and are used to becomes “right” and “normal”. Any thing different…is a deviation from the “norm”. The new thing is just not “supposed” to be that way. Using my analogy above…it’s “distasteful”. It’s not what we expected.

I’m not immune to it. I feel it myself. I just try to take a moment to think about it. And then reserve judgment until after the actual implementation.

My axiom is: With great comic movie Nerdy-ness comes great sensibility.

I tend to agree with you. I just don’t get it. To me, once the racial identity for classic comic characters have been changed…it is testament to the fact that they can all be changed. It’s just a matter of vision and writing and producing and casting. I don’t see the point of arguing that some characters are too iconic to change.

Let’s step out of “race” for a minute in order to challenge the iconic argument and the origins argument. Away from the Fantastic Four for a minute. Lets consider the Avengers movie and then Avengers 2: Age of Ultron.

In the comics, the ORIGINAL Avengers are IronMan. Wasp. Ant Man, Thor and the Hulk. Captain America wasn’t even on the team for a few issues. But let’s not quibble about that. In the movie, there is no Ant Man and Wasp. The origin then…is jacked up. This is very interesting if you consider the (movie) sequel. Because we will have Ultron…but no Hank Pym. WTF? Hank Pym is the creator of Ultron. In the comics. How do you have Ultron with no Pym???

Oh…whew…wait, wait…I get it. Duh. The movies are not following the comic book universe(s). Icons notwithstanding. Comic Books are comic books. Movies are movies. Nothing is pure or sacred across genres and time. There is creative license involved. It’s not Burger King. You don’t get to just “have it your way”.

So for those who argue that certain icons should not be changed (by race) do you really believe in the fidelity to iconic class??? Should the Avengers have included the original team?

So for those of you who argue that the origins should be honored…do you really believe that should have been true for Iron Man? Thor? The Avengers. Etc. Are you satisfied that this occurred???

I’m just asking.

Because none of the movies really track fully with the icons and origins. Before you even get to race. Did those other things prevent you from attending the movies??? Somehow, I doubt it.

But some folks will draw the line and drop a gauntlet on race. LOL. It’s not really about the offense of tinkering with icons and origins. Nope. It’s about RACE. It’s about a feeling that some characters are SUPPOSED TO BE WHITE.

That is a (white) supremacy stance. Whether it is intended to be that way or not. That’s racism. In full expression. Full throated. By otherwise very nice and reasonable people.

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‘m absolutely befuddled here……..

Can anybody please explain to me why a black Johnny Storm is so completely unacceptable, but having Ben Grimm/The Thing changed to a black man is totally cool? I’m on the verge of being offended after having read this declarative statement so many times. Here’s how my mind translates this:

“It’s okay for Ben to be black because we won’t see much of him before he becomes a CG Thing.”

“It’s okay for the one team member who becomes (what many would consider in real life) a grotesque monstrosity, to be black.” Black=disfigured, deformed, grotesque, monstrous, hideous, etc.? Really?

“Blacks are all brutish, so let’s make the team’s resident clobberer black.”

Someone provide me with some logic or reason for this school of thought. Please.

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So once it’s white, for you, it should always be white. Or you can’t/won’t support it. You can’t tolerate the tinkering with the original character origins.

So how did you feel about the tinkering with the X Men characters? The Avengers? Iron Man? Green Lantern? Thor? To my knowledge, none of the movies have been absolutely true to the original storylines and characterizations.

Besides that…even in comic books, there are different “ages”, Right? Where the origins are updated and characters are reconstituted. Even if you accept the Batman movies as consistent with “The Dark Knight”…Batman was not your 1940s character. Robin and Batgirl were different than the original.

And I extend that observation and question to some of you who are upset about this announcement. Are you really saying that you have to have the movies be TRUE to the original portrayals in comics? If so, how do you support any of the superhero movies that are based on comics? I don’t get it. Because it seems to me that the movies are almost always different.

Thing is, this stuff has already been done. And the “uproar” seems to happen when a Black person is cast. Right? Right. With Thor. In the Hunger Games. And so on.

We didn’t hear the outcry when Jessica Alba was Sue Storm. We only heard minimal comments in The Airbender when Asian characters were portrayed by white actors. So those are two points. 1) white folks don’t generally use the “stick to the book” argument when the “racebending” is white. And 2) some of these protests (not all) are absolutely racist. Sorry.

Racism is not just about hatred or dislike of people of other races. It is about racial subordination of minorities. It is about maintaining race-based orientations and practices…or a racist status quo. It is about accepting the (racist) status quo as “normal” and “right”. It is not always mean and hateful. And it is not always intentional or mean spirited. Often, it is communicated by nice people. Just like up in here.

But Sorry. When you have an argument that “Johnny Storm should not be Black because the character has always been white”. That’s a white supremacy stance. The superior characterization is white. Not “because” of whiteness per se…but simply because it has “always” been that way…so that’s the way it “should” be. Yup. That’s a racist stance. It’s not mean. It’s not hateful. It is not really castigating a class of people. Not intentionally, anyway. But it’s a supremacy stance.

This is comic books and movies folks. Rarely do the screenplay and storyline and casting stick to canon. Some of the results have been pretty spectacular. In Battlestar Gallactica’s return to television, the engaged in both race and gender bending. No problem. The Characterization was pretty good. Different. But good. Some of you might be too young for this, but a good while back…again…on television…Cinderella was produced with Brandy as Cinderella, an Asian Prince Charming and an interracial couple as the King and Queen (Whoppi Goldberg, no less). EGADS! LOL. But the world didn’t end. It was a nice little production.

This is just the beginning. The characterization of the major (white) superheroes are going to get more and more diverse. (This notion that it is “okay” to have diversity in support characters, but not main characters is suspect IMO…a racial bias). We are going to see the inclusion of Asians and Latinos and East Indians and so forth. Whites Only Characterizations is a thing you will be telling your grandchildren about as something that happened in the past.

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Hilarious. First, I must say that I love it when a racist says “I’m not a racist”…and then proceeds to spout racist content.

Look. Jessica Alba is not blonde haired and blue-eyed. She’s Latina.
Look. Nick Fury is Black.
In Thor, Heimdall is Black.
In the television show, Smallville…Pete Ross is Black.
Get over it.

Further, the Superhero Movies seldom track directly with the Comic Books, Right? Right.
Grow Up

This is not your grandfather’s Fantastic Four. LOL.

Producers are probably trying to expand the audience for the movies. Part of that is being multicultural.

If old, white racists don’t like it…no one will care much. You will be replaced. If you don’t like it, produce, write, direct and cast your own movies.

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Nick Fury was not made black in Ultimates because Millar just loved Samuel Jackson. He did it because a 21st century version of the Marvel Universe should be more diverse.

Am I using diversity as a reason why it’s okay to race-bend a historically white character? Heck yes. We need more diversity in super heroes. One of the best ways to do it is to take some characters who are historically white and make them minorities. If you are so blinded by your need for movies to be as pure copies of the comics as possible that you can’t see the benefit of a more diverse group of heroes for young minorities to look up to, then that’s a shame.

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Seriously!?
They just changed Ultron’s Origins, yet thats not going to stop from seeing it
They made Spidey have organic web shooting in 3 movies but ppl went to see the movie
They turned Kingpin into a black character in Daredevil movie but yet it worked in the movie and not once did it questioned his color.
Dont even get me started on the X-films

Scrooge of Color – 7 of 40 – book research

This article points out the practice of colorblind and inclusive casting at Goodman Theatre. Excerpts:

This year, 10-year-old actor Paris Strickland is the first girl to play Tiny Tim. Actor Molly Brennan is the Ghost of Christmas Past—her pink tutu and handheld flashlights are a testament to director Henry Wishcamper’s desire to draw on Brennan’s past as the clown Kevin, a persona she had for 12 years as a member of the physical theater ensemble 500 Clown. Actor Ali Burch returns as Frida, Scrooge’s niece, a change from Scrooge’s nephew Fred in Dickens text.

Goodman’s tradition of color-blind and inclusive casting continues, meaning the Cratchit family often includes people of many different ethnic backgrounds, and a young Scrooge could be played, as it is this year, by an African-American actor.

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