Posted on 18-02-2010
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

The casting of Gerard Depardieu to play Alexandre Dumas in a biopic about the famous author has stirred up a hornet’s nest in France.  See link.  Many fans of the possibly greatest author of historical fiction may not know that Dumas whose grandmother was Haitian of Afro-Carribean ancestry dealt with racial taunts all his life.

Alxeandre Dumas

Alexandre Dumas, photo by Nadar (from Wikipedia)

To play the role, the blond fair-skinned Depardieu had to wear blackface and a curly wig.  Needless to say this has kicked up a racism row.  It looks like the producers tried to raise the likely viewership by latching on to the Depardieu’s popularity.  I am not in principle opposed to actors portraying a different race, recently satirized by Robert Downey, Jr.’s brilliant performance in Tropic Thunder, but it is a sore subject among minority actors in Hollywood (and evidently in France) for good reason.

If roles were subject to race-blind casting this would not be an issue.  But ethnic actors find themselves pigeonholed into stereotypical roles with few opportunities for a major role.  So when a prominent part like this in their ethnicity goes to someone who has to perform in blackface, it is not hard to see why they get upset.  For an alleged bastion of liberalism, Hollywood has aways been retrograde and craven on race.  Race was evidently a major factor in the casting of the leads in Hitch (African American superstar with a Latina actress). See link.  Minorities often disappeared on major TV shows.  The sitcom Friends somehow spent a decade in New York City with lily white racial surroundings.  “ER” set in downtown Chicago had a near total absence of any Asians.  Indian American characters on TV speak with the exaggerated accent of Apu on the Simpsons (voiced by Hank Azaria) though many of them are born and raised in the United States.

Now I don’t think TV shows need to match the exact racial percentages that exist in American society, but I do wish that the TV execs would break out of their own ethnic prejudices and put some faith in the American public.  At a time when we have a President of mixed race, interracial or race-blind casting should not be taboo.  Based on recent shows, Hollywood seems to be improving.  But more needs to be done so that  a cross-racial casting like the one above can one day pass with little comment, other than those evaluating the caliber of the performance.

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