Blurring the lines: Challenging erasure in film
As filmmakers tell more stories featuring marginalized characters, it seems logical to seek out actors from those groups who would be able to use their personal experiences to authenticate the role while carving out their own sector of the entertainment industry.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t happen as much as many people would like, specifically when roles are performed by actors who are not the same ethnicity as their character.
Hollywood has a shameful history of whitewashing roles, but this casting practice has yet to phase out of the industry. The most recent iteration of this phenomenon occurred when Scarlett Johansson was cast to play the lead in “Ghost in the Shell,” a movie based on a popular Japanese animated series, or anime.
Johansson argues that her character, who is essentially a human brain within a mechanical exoskeleton, lacks any sort of identity, but there is still something cognitively dissonant about casting a white woman for a role that originated in an anime. Perhaps the first indication of racial erasure under the guise of international reach is that Johansson’s character was renamed from Matoko Kusanagi to Major Mira Killian.
While producer Steve Paul comments on the wide range of nationalities cast in the movie, the fact that the main character does not represent the character’s background is concerning. This is especially true when they could have just cast a Japanese woman.
This narrative of casting someone who has not had the cultural experiences relevant to a role continues in the film “3 Generations,” in theaters May 5, in which Elle Fanning plays a transgender boy.
There has been plenty of backlash from the LGBTQ community about her failure to find an actor who fit the bill of the intended character (a pre-transition trans male) as well as the excuses she gives for being unable to do so; director Gaby Dellal comments that if she were to create the film in 2017, she “absolutely would be casting a trans kid.” Even though she worked closely with LGBTQ acitvist nonprofit GLAAD, giving a role clearly made for a trans-person to a cis-gendered woman justifiably warrants dissent.
It’s important to recognize the necessity of roles depicting marginalized groups, and while it’s not always feasible, for them to be performed by an actor who has lived through those experiences.
Representation in film has a huge impact on individuals who identify with these stories because it allows them to see their lives reflected and understood, and it would be detrimental for the industry to continue overlooking minority actors and stories that don’t fit the mainstream.
Columnist Jackie Wostrel is a public relations freshman and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org