Do we have to do this again?
Do we have to go through this same shit every single time a person of colour is cast as anyone… or indeed anything… previously depicted as white?
Summer 2019, and Halle Bailey, was cast as Ariel in Disney’s live action remake of the Little Mermaid, a story about (*clears throat*) a mythical fish-girl who visits a sea-witch, exchanges her voice for three days living as a bipedal mammal, and then kills herself (not in the Disney version, obvs) and becomes an air ghost.
Right, so what are people so upset about? Well, they’re upset because Bailey is black and – and honestly, I cannot emphasise this enough – IN THE CARFUCKINGTOON, Ariel is white… and ginger, so absolutely cannot be played by a black woman, otherwise the fucking sky will fall in or some shit, I don’t know.
Anyway, racists, bigots, and dickheads all showed up to shit their collective pants under the twitter hashtag #NotMyAriel. Fuck my actual life, this actually happened.
At the same time, we should note, the UK was about to install Bungle’s racist, albino cousin as Prime Minister, and Americans were locking up children in concentration camps, but, you know, choose what you want to be upset about, by all means.
Sorry, where were we? Oh, yeah, twitter having a collective spasm over a black woman being cast as a fish.
The same tired old arguments were just presented over and over again, and it’s frustrating as hell to have to go through the same shit every time. So just so we don’t have to do this again, here are those arguments, and here’s why they’re trash.
We’re not racist, just stick to the source material and no-one will be upset.
Okay, let’s do that. Are you ready? Here goes… “her skin was as clear and delicate as a rose petal, her eyes as blue as the deepest sea, but like the rest of them she had no feet, her body ended in a fish’s tail.”
So first of all, the source material isn’t the cartoon, you fucking imbeciles. And second, the only reference to skin is that it’s clear and delicate. I don’t know what clear and delicate means, other than free of acne. The colour of the fish-girl’s skin is not relevant to the story… because she’s a mythical half-fish… Half. Of. Her. Is. A. Fish.
When a fictional character’s skin colour is irrelevant to the story, there is literally no reason for you to be upset about that character being portrayed by someone non-white… apart from racism. When the fictional character is also mythical, you have no legs to stand on. See what I did there?
Okay, but what if they cast a white person as a non-white character? You’d be outraged then, wouldn’t you?
What like Ghandi, or Cleopatra, or Moses, or Othello, or Genghis Khan, or Moses again, or Jesus, or Ra’s Al Ghul, or Tonto, or Noah, or Mr Yunioshi, or the Prince of Fucking Persia or any of the other hundreds of examples of when that’s happened?
See, the thing you’re missing about all of those examples is that the characters are necessarily non-white. So having them played by white actors is offensive, no matter how you cut it.
The historical figures are historical figures, so there’s no argument you can make there. You’re either having white actors darken their skin or you’re portraying a dark face as lighter than in actuality. Either way, what the fuck?
The fictional characters here are also necessarily non-white. Tonto is fictional, yes, but is specifically Native American. Othello is fictional, but is specifically and necessarily a black character in a play that is literally about the fact that he is black. Black Panther is the fucking Black Panther.
Bond, Spiderman, Superman, The Little Mermaid – ethnicity is irrelevant. This argument that it works the other way round is a false equivalence. Stop trying to make it. You’re making yourself look silly.
But this is all part of a lefty liberal agenda. They’re trying to erase straight, white men from… I don’t even know… the world?
I mean yeah, sure, where are all the roles for straight, white people? Where are all the films about men? When will we finally get to see a white, hetero main character save the day?
You may or may not be aware of Hollywood’s long history of whitewashing. This essentially refers to “the tendency of media to be dominated by white characters, played by white actors, navigating their way through a story that will likely resonate most deeply with white audiences, based on their experiences and worldviews.” You can argue that it doesn’t happen, but you’d just be dead wrong so don’t bother.
Whitewashing is explained really well in this article, but in short, Christian Bale as Moses, Scarlett Johansson as Motoku Kusanagi in Ghost in the Shell, and Angelina Jolie portraying Marianne Pearl are all examples.
No one is trying to erase white people. Evidence points to the exact opposite of that.
But it’s just economics. [Insert generic white male actor here] will draw more money than an unknown black actor?
In 2018, Black Panther became one of the highest grossing films of all time, absolutely smashing a number of domestic and international box office records. Your argument that films need a white Chris in the lead role in order to sell is clearly bullshit.
But let’s dig a little deeper and think about why you believe that to be true.
Whitewashing isn’t just about actors in roles, it’s about telling stories through the lenses of white people to make them more palatable for white audiences. Dances with Wolves is about a white dude’s experience of slumming it with some Native Americans and falling in love with a white woman – or something like that, nobody watched that film, it was too long.
White characters and experiences are placed at the heart of a story about atrocities committed against Native Americans, as America ‘made itself great’ for the first time.
More recently, The Green Book tells another story about black people, but told by and focused around the white character. There are a million and one other examples. So it is absolutely true that the most well-developed characters, the most interesting roles, and therefore the most lead roles, are handed to white people, usually men. You’re just used to seeing it, that’s all.
Why can’t they just cast the best person for the role?
Yeah… yes… yup…
Oh right, I see. You’re saying a person of colour couldn’t possibly be the best person for the role. Yeah, okay, so that’s racist.
Why do we need to see so many roles for people of colour/women/LGBTQ+ people? It’s ruining our childhood!
First, stop it. Just fucking grow-up! See everything I’ve just written above, and read it again.
Second, representation is important, and it’s something that minorities often understand in ways that white people can’t understand because they’ve never had to consider it. How can you expect a man who is warm to understand one who is cold, right?
But I’ll try and explain. Think of all the films and TV you watched as a kid. Think of all the characters, the heroes, the leading men or (less often) women that you wanted to be like, that you emulated on the playground. Think of Luke Skywalker and Indiana Jones, and James Bond, and Rocky, and the Ghostbusters, and … look, just think of all films and television, okay.
Here’s a list of people on TV that looked like me when I was growing up. Ready?
The Cosbys, everyone except Tony in Desmond’s, BA Baracas, Winston fucking Zedmore, and the nameless extra who died in the first 10 minutes.
At a push, Chewbacca was brown, so there was always that. But that’s about it. That’s who I could be. I wasn’t supposed to be the hero, the one who got the girl, the one who saved the day. I was supposed to be the comic sidekick, the big strong dude, or dead before the second act.
You might not think that has an impact, but you only think that because you didn’t have to grow up wondering why all the people who looked like you were secondary characters, or villains, or just plain invisible. Seeing people in positive roles affected what you believed about yourself and you didn’t even notice.
Representation is important. Black Panther was so important because young black kids could watch a superhero film and see themselves as the hero. Little girls can be ghostbusters. It’s great.
And if you’re honestly worried about white people being erased, then just check the facts. Of the top 30 highest grossing films of 2018, only six featured a non-white actor in the lead role. And one of them was a cartoon rabbit – voiced by a white person.
So can we not do it? Next time an actor of colour is cast in role that’s someone white has played before, can we just maybe not act like the world is coming to an end?