• Dwan L. Hearn

Appropriate Representation

So, I had this thought. It plays off of a previous thought and opinion and now they seem to conflict. To understand my confliction, I should probably tell the whole thought instead of just asking the question. Context is always important.

A while back, on Facebook, I saw a picture of the actor Michael B. Jordan, dressed as the beloved hero, Superman. This picture was accompanied by a picture of either Ryan Gosling or Ryan Reynolds (to be honest, I don't remember which one, but if I had to guess it was likely Gosling. Ultimately, not important.)

The issue surrounding these pictures was this: the idea that "Superman can't be Black". The reasoning was that, the character of Superman/Clark Kent has always been portrayed as a White man, by White men. From George and Christopher Reeves to Dean Cain to Henry Cavill, a White male has bared the "S" on their chest while saving the day faster than a speeding bullet and never one as an eye blinked at the concept, including myself.

"What about Ryan Gosling?"

You again... Who are you?

Anyway, the sentiment was that it's wrong for a Black man to play Superman because Superman isn't Black. The addition of Gosling was included the question, "What if this actor played Martin Luther King Jr.?"

Sidenote: This is how you know that Black history and the Black inclusion in American history isn't taught properly in American schools. It's ALWAYS Martin Luther King Jr. Always! This isn't another Black male historical figure ever mentioned. Not George Washington Carver. Not Frederick Douglas. Not Lewis Latimer. Not Garrett Morgan. Not Jesse Owens. W.E.B. Du Bios. Only and Always Martin Luther King.

"Who are those guys?"

Look them up.

So, when I saw this meme, the two actors and the looming question of "What if this [White] actor played Martin Luther King Jr.?" to help validate that Superman, a commonly White portrayed character, shouldn't be portrayed by a Black actor, because clearly, "Superman is White", I had this viewpoint: The difference between MLK Jr. and Superman is that MLK Jr. is an actual person. Superman is not. Superman is fictional and can be portrayed by whoever. Superman is as fictional as Dorothy Gale, of the Wizard of Oz. Dorothy Gale has been played excellently by both a White actress (Judy Garland) and a Black actress (Diana Ross). Superman is as fictional as Catwoman, who has been played by excellently played by White actresses (Like Michelle Pfeiffer and Julie Newmar) and by Black Actresses (like Eartha Kitt and Haley Berry...even though we don't talk about the Berry Catwoman)

Martin Luther King Jr. was a real life person and as such, should be played to be as historically accurate as possible. For this reason alone, MLK should always be played by a Black man.

There has always been a complaint in Hollywood about White actors portraying role of historic figures or other ethnicities when more culturally accurate actors were available. "Whitewashing", as it's called, has been the subject of numerous articles and petitions calling for the end of casting White actors to play the roles of Hawaiians, Egyptians, Arabs, and Native Americans. Jake Gyllenhaal playing a Persian in "Prince of Persia: Sands of Time" or Johnny Depp playing a Native American in "The Lone Ranger" or Ben Affleck playing a Mexican in "Argo" - All the while, denying acting jobs by actors that more accurately fit the roles in question.

This seems like a pretty solid stance to me. The logic is there. Black man - Black actor. Fictional character - sky's the limit. This all made sense to me until this morning.

Lin-Manual Miranda, the creator of "Hamilton" and "In the Heights" has apparently be criticized because of the lack of... I guess completely accurate representation of Dark skinned Afro-Latinos that live in the neighborhood represented in the movie. He put out a statement that basically translates to "I hear you. I understand. I'm sorry. I'll do better next time. Thank you for sharing your feelings."

First of all, kudos to the guy for being open to criticism and being attentive to the concerns of the people. Personally, I have not seen the movie, "In The Heights" nor seen the musical, but I have seen Hamilton and I find it to be a work of absolute pure genius.

Secondly, there was an interview with Trevor Noah that Miranda did and something he said on the subject that triggered this whole conversation. Noah noted that Miranda fascinated him with how Miranda breaks down what a thing is and who should be in the thing and noted people's reaction to Aaron Burr being a Black man (played by Leslie Odom Jr.) and the Schuyler sisters all of different races, but the story "never broke". The question was about the thought process that he could change the way we present things in the world and we can tell a story regardless and if he knew that would be successful.

Lin-Manuel Miranda, first off gives a quote that I'll hold on to: Your job as a writer is to create what's missing." - This will stick with me.

Second, he stated he felt doubt every step of the way but your belief in the idea has to be stronger than what the world is proposing. He mentioned that "Hamilton" is a hip-hop and R&B musical so, if he had an all-white cast, "people would think he messed up."

I love "Hamilton". My favorite character is Thomas Jefferson played by Daveed Diggs, a Black actor from Oakland, California, and it never once "clicked" that a Black man is playing a historic White person. I never saw Diggs Portrayal as a Betrayal. I just thought, "So this is what it would look like if Thomas Jefferson was a Prince fan"

But with these complaints about representation, it reminded me with that old meme. If Diggs can play Thomas Jefferson, can Gosling play King? Does it work both ways? Is it only one way? Does it depend of the role or the actor?

"Well, personally, I think -"

Hey! No! This is my blog and you will not hijack it!

There's a lot of unpack with this. Martin Luther King Jr. was a Black man who was fighting for Civil rights for Black people. I don't think that would translate well onstage or on-screen. Thomas Jefferson was a Slave owner, but isn't seen interacting with slaves, although as called out, during the first Cabinet Meeting Rap Battle:

"A civics lesson from a slaver, hey neighbor- your debts are paid cuz you don't pay for labor. 'We plant seeds in the South, we create' Yeah, keep ranting. We know who's really doing the planting"

Did we lose anything from that? No, the meaning was still there. The point was made.

Let me think about this from the focus of the ROLE and the ACTORS.

In my opinion -

Do you really have to say it's your opinion in your blog?

Seriously, why are you here?! Who even is you?!

"That's not proper Engli-"

Anyway! In my opinion, when it comes to the ROLES, the character being portrayed, if written well, will have a story and a background that is important to who the character is and that will impact the character's decision-making thus the direction the story is driven. If a factor like race or gender isn't important to this end, then it's whoever can best suit the role. If it IS important, as I would say a role like King would be, then it must be respected. Representation should go all ways.

As far as ACTORS (gender unspecified) are concerned, there was a period where racism and stereotyping minimized the jobs available to Actors of Color. In that same interview, Trevor Noah, a bi-racial South African, born during a period called the Apartheid making his very existence illegal, was type-casted as the stereotypical "Colored Gangster" ("Colored", in South Africa, was a term used for bi-racial people, not just any Black person, as the term was used here in America) If you're going to have a role for a Mexican, and the actor choices were a White person and a Mexican person, it seems like the Mexican would be a given. Or, at the very least, a casting call of Mexican and Latino actors would give you the best performing Mexican actor. But as noted before, "Whitewashing" would give this role to a White actor. So I guess I understand the argument and understand the push to hire accurately and even so for as understanding the casting of a mostly POC cast for historically White characters, being as though race doesn't impact the storyline at all.

Of course, this leads to the word "Equality" and the movement to make things fair and balance in our professions. Is there something owed to White People that they too be accurately represented in films and in theater? Again, does it depend on the role or the character. Does the fact that Hamilton, for example, was a Hip-Hop and R&B influenced production and it made more sense to have a POC cast (shout-out to non-POC Rappers, hip-hop artist, and R&B singers)?

I don't have an answer. I still think Hamilton is a work of PURE GENIUS and is flawless, and I do mean "without flaws". I think the casting a perfect based on the performance and how those actors played those parts. I don't think we could have had White Africans in "Book of Mormon" and I think Black Elders would have been distracting. I think that musical was also perfectly cast. Could you do "Mamma Mia" with an all Black cast? Likely. Could you do the "On Your Feet", the story of Gloria Estefan with a White or Black actress? I think it'd lose something. You wouldn't cast Anne Hathaway to play Selena, but didn't Madonna play Evita?

I think it's an interesting subject to discuss and I would personally love to sit in or be apart any round table discussion on the subject.

BTW - If Lin-Manuel Miranda reads this, please know that I am in absolutely no way criticizing your work. I'm a huge fan and it just so happened that Hamilton fit the conversation. I welcome your thoughts on the topic. Daveed Diggs, you're an incredible actor. Trey Parker or Matt Stone - I've seen "Mormon" twice and LOVE IT! Michael B. Jordan, my wife loves you. Yes that's why and I'm okay with it.

Okay, that's enough.

- Moon

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