These days, how closely do media have to reflect their source material, and real life, in order to be exemplary and well-received?
Audiences have been grappling with this very issue over the past few weeks in the form of the casting decisions that have been made for some of our favorite stories.
Last week, Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. announced that actress Rooney Mara would be playing Tiger Lily in the upcoming “Pan.”
The news received intense backlash, as Mara is white and the character of Tiger Lily is Native American. So many fans were angered by this decision that a petition was launched to protest Mara’s casting.
These criticisms are valid. In a media sphere that is already struggling for representation against persons of color, it’s easy to understand the outrage when a white performer gets slotted to play one of the few diverse characters in a beloved story.
However, this can cut both ways.
Earlier this year, State Press opinion columnist Tishni Weerasinghe wrote a column about actor Michael B. Jordan being cast as the Human Torch in the upcoming “Fantastic Four” reboot, a character who is typically portrayed as a light-haired, white actor.
Similarly, controversy surrounded the upcoming season of HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” which premieres Sunday night, and a central new character to its season four plot.
The character of Oberyn Martell is portrayed in the books to be dark-haired with an olive skin tone, leading many readers interpret that his character should be played by an actor of Middle-Eastern descent. However, producers subsequently cast Pedro Pascal, an actor of Chilean descent, leading many fans to again cry “white-washing” of the decision.
Shame on these people. Pascal is South American and still a person of color who will bring more diversity to an already diverse cast. The issue here therefore seems to be that he is not the right person of color for the audience.
I can understand the differences between casting Mara in the role of Tiger Lily versus Pascal in the role of Oberyn Martell. The issue in Mara’s case is with representation of already underrepresented groups and not necessarily with violating the original “lore” of the author.
But how far can we take this decrying of social injustice and endless war to be politically correct and satisfy all viewers?
By condemning these casting decisions and ignoring all other factors (i.e. talent, accessibility) besides race, it would be hypocritical to pick and choose our battles in this arena.
If this is the case, we should have all condemned Jared Leto for being cast in “Dallas Buyers Club” in the place of an actual trans woman.
To be sure, there are several trans actors who could have taken Leto’s place in this particular film, but would they have turned in as solid of a performance? Perhaps we’ll never know, but I don’t think the decision takes anything away from Leto’s performance, or his caliber as a human being, which is what was before us to analyze.
In the past, I’ve often advocated for more conscious and critical thought when it comes to diversity in our media and how we can be more conscious of these decisions in the future.
While that still holds true, the landscape of changing the representation of certain characters is changing for all races.
I think it best to reserve judgment of an actor or actress’ casting until after the final product is unveiled and reviewed. Only then can we definitively say whether or not the performer did the role justice, and on the merits of qualities that go beyond the color of their skin.
Reach the columnist at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @lolonghi
Editor’s note: The opinion presented in this column is the author’s and does not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.