Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Article: Who's the Whitest of Them All?

Movieline posted an excellent article recently that brings up a crucial point in the midst of all these fairy tale movies: all the protagonists (and 99% of the supporting cast) are white. I don't think I have seen a fairy tale adaptation with a diverse cast, or a black, Indian, hispanic, asian, etc. protagonist since Brandy's Cinderella which was a delicious Benetton ad of color-blind casting). In a medium that is usually not restricted by historical accuracy, we should definitely be seeing more diversity on screen. The author of the article, Maria Aspen, hammers some points home:
1. Paying lip-service to feminism is no longer enough. I love seeing movies with strong roles for women and heroines who actually get to do things. And yes, it’s great that Lily Collins’s Snow White learns to defend herself and beats Armie Hammer at flirty swordplay, and that Chris Hemsworth is going to teach Kristen Stewart how to fight the evil queen in her version of Snow White. All of this would be way more impressive if Drew Barrymore hadn’t done the same thing fourteen years ago in Ever After. If you want to be edgy, Hollywood, let’s move beyond grudging admissions that women can stick up for themselves and find something new to say about race or sexuality or all of those other Gender Studies words the Brothers Grimm didn’t have to deal with....
2. Stop appropriating culture without showing the people who made it...The color in Mirror Mirror is amazing, but it’s not even skin-deep. For much of the movie, the brilliant costumes and set designs hide the fact that there are very few nonwhite people wearing Eiko Ishioka’s crimson peacock dresses and gumdrop courtier costumes and black accordion stilts – which makes the final scene stand out all the more. The Bollywood homage is a fun break from tradition on one level, but it’s also deeply weird considering how little evidence there is that any non-WASPs actually inhabit this magic kingdom....

3. Think outside the casting box. I saw Mirror Mirror a few days after racists came out of the woodwork for The Hunger Games, which dared to cast black actors to play characters who were originally described as “dark-skinned.” As Anna Holmes pointed out at The New Yorker, that ugly reaction highlighted how many movie viewers expect characters to be white until explicitly proven otherwise – and Hollywood reinforces those expectations all too often, even when casting fantasies about imaginary lands where, you would think, anything goes. But no, it’s still sticking to the sidekick sidelines. The dwarves provided Mirror Mirror with pretty much its only diversity; at the very least, the movie could have included more people of color among the speaking courtiers and villagers and downtrodden castle servants. Snow White and the Huntsman, from its latest trailer, is going even more pasty-Eurocentric with its crowds of faux Crusaders. That’s not even considering the television variations; despite its modern setting and larger cast and serialized format, ABC’s Once Upon a Time has made room so far for only one regular non-white character. (NBC’s rival Grimm is doing a little bit better.) Just think what could happen if Hollywood got really radical and reconsidered how it casts its fairytale leads. In fact... 
4. Dare to rethink who’s the “fairest of them all.” It could be problematic and somewhat predictable to cast a person of color as the main villain in a fairytale, especially if all of the heroes are white. (Though I think Michelle Yeoh or Angela Bassett could mop the floor with Julia Roberts.) Future fairytale filmmakers could also consider looking for a prince who’s slightly less Caucasian than Armie Hammer – he’s charming and nice to look at, but I suspect there are plenty of attractive young actors out there capable of handling a role where the heavy lifting entails imitating a puppy. But the most interesting possibility, and the one I’d most like to see the next big-budget, postmodern Hollywood fairytale attempt, would be to cast a young woman of color as Snow White or Belle or Red or any other virginal, virtuous, smart and beautiful heroine, especially if she’s a character whose beauty has traditionally been defined by the paleness of her skin. These stories have been told for centuries, and by now they’re desperately in need of some real reinvention. Challenging their most outdated assumptions about who and what is beautiful would be the easiest – and most interesting – way for Hollywood to make its next round of adaptations far more worthwhile. (Full Article)

I am all for this! What do you folks think? What would be your ideal non-white casting for the next fairy tale princess?


  1. Bravo, I completely agree! I'm bummed that we haven't yet seen any quality diverse castings for these movies. I think the public is so ready for it...I just don't know what Hollywood is dragging their feet for. Hopefully not anymore...Great article lady! Just happened upon it after searching for some fairy tale concept art! haha

    1. I'm so glad you liked it! Fingers-crossed for all the bagillions of fairy tale adaptations in the offing!