The P.C. Casting Call

From Shakespeare to James Bond to Nancy Drew, non-traditional casting choices in the film and stage worlds are in the news lately. Producers seem eager to play with the traditional gender and ethnicity of white and/or male characters – unfortunately not so much to further an artistic vision as to push for politically correct gender and racial equality. Here’s why that is wrongheaded.

Take Emma Rice, for example. Rice is the newest artistic director of Shakespeare’s Globe Theater in London, and she is troubled by the facts that only 16% of Shakespeare’s characters are women and most of the memorable lines are spoken by men. She is on a mission to get “a much greater proportion of women on the stage” at the Globe. “[Y]es, it is a target,” she declares. “How can we get the female voices through? How can we change the mold?”

Rice quotes actress Geena Davis, who has said that the way to get more women acting in film and TV is for directors simply to “change a bunch of the characters’ first names to women’s names.” But this is not what Rice is aiming for. Davis is suggesting writing more female characters into leading roles that ordinarily would go to male characters; Rice wants to cast existing male characters with actresses.

For example, “[t]here is no reason why [the Earl of] Gloucester can’t be a woman,” said Rice, who admits to being no Shakespeare expert, having directed only one of his plays and having read only a few others. “If anybody bended [sic] gender it was Shakespeare, so I think it just takes a change of mindset.”

But there already have been examples of such gender-bending casting in recent Shakespearean adaptations, with all-female casts and a female Hamlet, for example. None of it elevates the plays above the level of a self-conscious casting stunt. None of it really “changes the mindset” of the audience.

Similar efforts are being made in Hollywood, where TV producers who are adapting the popular Nancy Drew novels into a TV series want to reimagine the teen sleuth as a woman in her 30s who is “any ethnicity but white.” CBS Entertainment president Glenn Geller told The Hollywood Reporter that, for Nancy Drew and other series in development, “We’re not casting color-blind, we’re casting color-conscious.” But color-blindness should be the goal; color-consciousness is by definition racism.

As another example, there has been a recent surge of interest in casting the extraordinarily talented Idris Elba, a black actor, as James Bond now that the term of the iconic spy’s current incarnation, Daniel Craig, is drawing to a close. And why not? After all, Bond – like Nancy Drew – is a fictional character, not a real-life historical figure, so why can’t there be a black Bond, many ask? Or a gay Bond, for that matter, or Latino, or Muslim, or even female? Wouldn’t that be a huge leap forward for gender and racial equality?

No, and here’s why not: first, James Bond is not black or gay or Latino or Muslim, and I believe in maintaining the integrity of even fictional characters in their universe. More importantly, if the aim is gender- and color-blindness, then the only solution is to find a hitherto unknown literary character or create an all-new fictional character who is the equivalent to Bond, and who simply happens to be black (or gay, Asian, etc.).

All of the politically-driven efforts to replace existing white or male characters with non-whites or females are merely gimmicks and quota-filling, and they don’t ultimately serve the purpose of racial or gender equality in entertainment. Idris Elba playing Bond is still just a black Bond; what’s better is an original black superspy character as an alternative to Bond. A female lead in Hamlet comes off as just a marketing ploy; what’s more effective is a brilliant play that elevates a female protagonist to the culturally iconic level of a Hamlet. A 30-year-old Asian or Latina Nancy Drew is no longer the Nancy Drew of the novels; why not find or create a new equivalent? Again, gimmicks and quotas will not “change the mindset” and achieve real equality; original fictional creations will.

Of course, notoriously risk-averse Hollywood’s chief reason for rejecting that solution is economic: famous fictional characters are proven properties with very valuable name recognition and built-in audiences. But here is an example of a step in the right direction: the producers of the thriller series 24, featuring anti-terrorist scourge Jack Bauer, are rebooting the show with a black actor in the lead. The key is that the actor will not be playing a black Bauer; the producers are simply starting from scratch with a new hero, who happens to be black.

Granted, what I’m recommending requires taking a chance on creativity. It requires writers who can invent memorable characters that grab the cultural imagination and stand the test of time like Hamlet, James Bond, and Nancy Drew. That is no mean feat. But as long as the so-called creatives in the entertainment industry are fixated on simply plugging different ethnicities and genders into existing characters, their attempts to force more inclusion will never rise above politically correct gimmicks.

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  • Marcopohlo

    Nick Fury? Is anybody but Samuel L. Jackson Nick Fury now?

    • John Pryce

      They picked SLJ because he actually fit the part. He could play the kind of character that Nick Fury was supposed to be. The one difference was his race. And so the choice worked.
      .
      Contrast this with Marvel rebooting Thor as a woman. Its not exactly popular, is it?

  • gurugeorge

    We’re in an age of conformity.

    When I was a kid in a Scottish school in the early 60s, we used to laugh at the Victorians “bowdlerizing” Shakespeare of his dirty words, and putting doilies on their piano legs because piano legs reminded them of womens’ ankles.

    But we are now in an analogous period of conformity, only with different ideals. It’s all about virtue-signalling and box ticking so you don’t stand out, so you don’t lose your job, or so you can keep on making piles of money.

    This sort of shit has nothing to do with art, it’s mere propaganda.

  • Terenc Blakely

    Why don’t the lazy assholes create new works with major non-white/female characters instead of grave robbing?

    • You kind of answered your own question there, eh. “lazy assholes”

  • Wunderkind

    “notoriously risk-averse Hollywood’s chief reason for rejecting that solution is economic:”
    As it should be…let the market decide.
    When these P.C. remakes fall flat for lack of interest (as I predict), Hollywood will move on to the next cause du jour.

  • setirovan

    Maybe they should bring back “Shaft.”

  • Jeff H

    The goal is clearly to kill–not just figuratively, nor even simply literature-ally {new word}, but most definitely LITERALLY–all male caucasian heterosexuals. We are the target.

    • Boyd

      Exactly. Glad I looked below before I repeated you. Tapson, while harsh, looks to miss this point entirely – changing literature here is being done to kill it off not improve it. The death of any reference to the demo you mention is a feature not a bug to the Social Justice crowd.

  • werewife

    Sometimes the Brilliant Creative Minds of Hollywood don’t even take advantage of the solid opportunities that already exist. When “A Wizard of Earthsea” was filmed, apparently nobody involved went so far as to READ THE BOOK … in which the lead characters are clearly described as dark of skin, hair, and eye. In the TV movie, they were white – because all fantasy fiction is, like Tolkien and Lewis, derived from Teutonic legend, amirite? No, you’re wrong, moron.

    • Johhny Rico in the Starship Trooper movie was a blond white kid when in the book by Heinlein he was clearly Filipino.

      • Minicapt

        … white Hispanic …

        Cheers

  • SgtFraggleRock

    Actually, I think Idris Elba would be an awesome James Bond. Of course, Hollywood would probably write stories about how no one respects him be cause he is black or something.

    • JohnnyL53

      Sorry. Bond is white. Anything otherwise is just cultural appropriation.

      • SgtFraggleRock

        Idris Elba is British and bad ass.

  • Summerwarmth

    I agree color conscious casting is racism. I would watch a 30 something female detective of any color written in the spirit or style of Nancy Drew but I don’t support racism in any form so this new PC Nancy Drew is boycotted by me as well as CBS for good measure. If CBS thinks being racist is the new cool hip thing then let them burn so to speak.

  • A character has to work within the story – and casting needs to reflect that. Besides, we’ve already had a mystery series with an older woman…

    “Murder, She Wrote”, about an older woman investigating mysterious deaths that always seemed to be happening around her.

    In hindsight, it was clear she was a psychopathic killer who would exquisitely frame someone else for the crimes she committed, to the point where even they would believe they’d done it.

  • armst

    Ref Bond…if he is OO7 who are the first six….why not be creative and design other OOs in the gender, race, religion you want….build stories around them…maybe cameos by 007 to show the linkage….come creative artists…show your stuff….othewise you just untalented racist flacks

    • Rick Caird

      The movie business pretty much always goes with what will sell or at least what they think will sell. I am eagerly awaiting “Dumb and Dumber” XXIII with two black females as the leads

  • I’m fine with this. They can try, and it’s up to us to spend our money as we see fit.

    In fact, it’s become a standing joke with us to watch a recent Hollywood product on DVD, then count all the ways they didn’t balance the cast. There were plenty of characters that could have legitimately been played by a woman, only the director chose not to.

    Some of the most powerful bigots are in Hollywood. No matter what pieties they mouth, they still cast according to their biases.

  • curmudgeoninchief

    Why is Jimmy Olsen a black man instead of a white boy in the new Supergirl? Why did Marvel make the “new” new Thor a woman, replacing a man? Johnny Storm of Fantastic 4 is a black man? We all have our favorite examples.

    Regarding the new Nancy Drew reboot, “She is diverse, that is the way she is written,” CBS Entertainment president Glenn Geller told [Hollywood Reporter]. “[She will]
    not [be] Caucasian. I’d be open to any ethnicity.” Other than white, of course.

    Play along if you want. Tell yourself you are not being manipulated or lied to, if that makes you feel better. But be real; they don’t like you, they want you to go away, and they won’t let you influence what they put on the air.

  • David Skurnick

    Decades ago Richard Roundtree made a series of movies as Shaft, a black private eye. https://www.google.com/webhp?sourceid=chrome-instant&ion=1&espv=2&ie=UTF-8#q=richard%20roundtree%20movies

  • bggatbdl

    Movies are forced to pander to the criminal Republicans in middle America because they are always making threats against Hollywood, such as boycotts. Look at what they did to Star Wars. Many of them boycotted The Force Awakens because it had a black and female lead. Because of that, Hollywood will be forced to limit roles for women and minorities, as well as gays, or risk having movies fail and lose a ton of money. It is the pandering to the right wing that gives us slanderous junk like 13 Hours.

    • AN1957

      Some boycott. Not only have I never heard of it, but as the new Star Wars is blasting the shit out of everything in sight, it looks like Hollywood will be suitably cowed and will henceforth only employ straight white men in its’ major film roles.

    • Tyrone Slothrop

      Certainly you can prove this with cites about right-wingers boycotting SWTFA? I don’t recall hearing about any such thing. And the idea that Hollywood panders to Republicans is just plain ridiculous. You cite one film that doesn’t bow to the PC narrative as evidence that the whole industry panders to the right. You’ve just cited the exception that proves the rule, which is, if you don’t hew to left-wing propaganda, you don’t work in Hollywood.

    • good satire there but I think some of the posters fell into Poe’s Law land.

  • Tyrone Slothrop

    How about a Martin Luther King biopic starring Johnny Depp in blackface? How about Monsieur Bovary starring Christian Bale in the title role? These make just as much sense.

  • JohnnyL53

    Why not a white man as Charlie Chan? I enjoyed and preferred Warner Oland and Sydney Toler as the original movie Chans. Besides they could pronounce their “L’s”

  • To cast a known white character role with a minority is no different than stating that a minority cannot stand on his/her own in an original role. They have to “appropriate” the success of the prior white incarnation of the character in order to have their own success with it. And ~that~ is racism pure and simple, Hollywood style.

  • Hedge685

    Hold on a minute…’ Rice, who admits to being no Shakespeare expert, having directed only one of his plays and having read only a few others.’ How the frak did she get the job of artistic director at Shakespeare’s Globe Theater in London?