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tigtog (aka Viv) is the founder of this blog. She lives in Sydney, Australia: husband, 2 kids, cat, house, garden, just enough wine-racks and (sigh) far too few bookshelves.

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23 responses to “Racebending and Cloud Atlas”

  1. tree

    Oh, wow. I just looked at the photos. I’d like to have something more intelligent and substantive to say, but all I can come up with is: gross. How is it possible that no one paused for a moment, looked around, and then said, “Hey, maybe this isn’t the best idea”?

  2. Aqua, of the Questioners

    Yes, I’ve been vaguely following this through Racebending, and getting the impression that no-one dares tell The Wachowski Brothers!!! when their ideas need re-thinking.

  3. SunlessNick

    Variety described the notion of white actors playing Asians as “exciting,” suggesting that the Wachowskis “put the lie to the notion that casting — an inherently discriminatory art — cannot be adapted to a more enlightened standard of performance over mere appearance.”

    Did Variety say that about Idris Elba as Heimdall?

    The Wachowski Brothers!!!

    Brother and sister. One of them has come out as trans (if that’s the right way to phrase it).

  4. Megpie71

    I believe the point has to be made – using white actors to portray characters who aren’t white has a long and ridiculous history and is accepted as “part of the craft”. It’s also unnecessary. Men (or rather, teenaged boys) used to play female roles on stage because it wasn’t considered “seemly” for women to appear. These days, if you proposed using a teenaged boy to play a female character, the screams would be heard all over the place (at least half of them would come from the people wanting to protest about not using a female actor instead; the other half would come from enraged homo/transphobes terrified this could threaten the poor dear’s sexual identity). If you were going to use a white actor in “blackface” rather than a black actor to portray a black character, there would be outrage. The same applies here with Asian characters performed by white actors (and might I just say: the makeup effects aren’t that well done).

    Yes, you can do a lot with CGI and various effects. But sometimes, it’s easier, more effective, and (above all in this day of money changing everything) cheaper to do it the old fashioned way, and just hire someone who looks the fscking part.

  5. Megpie71

    Aqua, at least part of the reason nobody tells the Wachowski siblings what to do is because they might just come out with another Matrix. And as far as the studios are concerned, that would be a Good Thing.

    Plus, of course, if one of them has stated they’re trans*, there’s probably a degree of “oh gods, we can’t tell X off, or they’ll say we’re trans-phobic and our stock will plummet” about it. Which means, of course, that the sibs wind up immune to criticism for a while longer (or at least until someone with matching privilege/dis-privilege levels gets the happy job of telling them that “no, we’re not saying this because we’re trans-phobic, we’re saying this because in this case, you’re wrong”.)

  6. Mindy

    Wow, I bet all those old films that used blackface and other ways of dressing up white actors as different ethnicities didn’t realise how [sarcasm tag] ‘post-racial’ [/sarcasm tag] they were being.

  7. David Irving (no relation)

    Megpie71 beat me to it (sort of), but I’m sure there’s room for a snarky remark about the Black and White Minstrel Show. For the benefit of you younger folk, that was a “variety” show on TV in my youth which had a bunch of white English blokes with bootpolish on their faces singing “Old Man Ribber”. It was as dreadful as you can imagine, and hugely popular on the BBC (who made it), and the ABC (who ran it here). In the early 1960s no-one thought anything of it.

  8. tigtog

    #David Irving (no relation), I remember that show well – it was a parental favourite growing up. In one way I can see why – these were veteran entertainers doing variety extremely well, so what was not to like? But, as you also say – nobody thought to discuss why the artifice of blackface (for the men only, the women were leggy pale-skinned blondes) was considered necessary – it was just somehow supposed to be assumed/overlooked.

  9. Chris

    Reading all this (do read the full post for more background), I don’t understand why the film makers chose to depart so very far from the original concept of the book – Mitchell’s one character in six incarnations becomes six characters interacting through those six incarnations. Sure, it gives all those A-list actors the chance to play 6 different characters in one film, but that’s just cinematic pyrotechnics that shouldn’t be fundamental to telling the story, surely?

    Is it just a financial decision encouraged by the studio? Getting an A-lister would in many cases guarantee a good cinema turn out (at least initially). Getting 6 of them for each would be very expensive and if the A-lister only appeared for a bit but was promoted highly audiences would most likely be annoyed. Whilst getting 6 unknowns would be a riskier, especially if the film happened to release at the same time as some other A-list actor films.

  10. tigtog

    Chris, it may well be mostly a financial decision encouraged by the studio, but if so then they’re not doing (IMO) a very good analysis of what actually works. The Matrix was huge, but none of those actors were A-listers when it was made (Keanu Reeves was A Name, but not really an A-lister – it had been 4 years since Speed, 8 years since Point Break, and 10 years since Bill & Ted). So why did they think they needed to have A-listers for this movie? Just because they could?

    There’s oh so many Names they could have cast in this who wouldn’t have needed to be A-listers. Building the movie around A-listers is exactly what led to the gratuitous racebending.

  11. Chris

    So why did they think they needed to have A-listers for this movie? Just because they could?

    I don’t think they believe that having an A-lister is compulsory, just that it reduces risk. Obviously there’s lots of examples where there non A-list actor movies have been big hits and also A-list actor movies which have been flops. Apparently the film had a $100 million budget. I’ve actually no idea if that’s considered big these days or not. But I’d guess that the bigger the movie, the higher the probability the studio is going to insist on a high profile actor.

    Anyway was just a thought – I’ve no idea if that was the real reason or not behind the decision. I’m guessing there’s all sorts of compromises that film makers end up accepting in order to get funding. I believe LOTR took so long in organising because Jackson was so insistent on having 3 movies and he had a lot of trouble getting a studio to agree.

  12. Chris

    Just one other random thought. When I lived in the US (mid-west) I was surprised by the number of people who simply refused to watch any movie that had subtitles. And the strength of that refusal (it wasn’t just a dislike). I wonder if there is also an aversion to not going to see movies with asian actors as leads except in niche roles (eg martial arts movies).

  13. orlando

    It’s interesting that Cloud Atlas should have come up at the same time as this at the RSC.

  14. Teakirsten

    Megpie71 – I really don’t agree that they’ll be more immune to criticism because one of them has come out as trans*. I think unfortunately transphobia is still more rife than the desire not to appear transphobic.

  15. Perla

    Chris, I once asked a customer of the internet download company I work for for comments on how we can make our products and services better.

    She said that there were too many “subtitle movies” on our books. She never watched them, she just resented their existence on our database. And she obviously (?) thought that removing all non-English language films would make better business sense and increase the appeal of the business to customers (more than increased variety and catering to people who watch LOTE films does).

  16. MrRabbit

    This is so disappointing and a real opportunity missed by the film makers. I’m also disappointed David Mitchell hasn’t commented on the issue of yellowface. Given the long history of white actors playing “exotic” characters (so many old movies with white actors playing fanciful Arabs or Asians) how can this be considered okay?

    Also perplexed at white actors agreeing to do this.

  17. drsusancalvin

    Joey Forman who channeled Charlie Chan (as played by Swedish actor Warner Oland) in his performance as the inscrutable Harry Hoo in Get Smart was not available for the role.

  18. drsusancalvin

    Oops, apologies, please clean up the links..

  19. Aqua of the Questioners

    I obviously stopped paying attention to any kind of entertainment news a long time ago, because I had not heard about Lana Wachowski’s transition. According to Wikipedia, the two of them refer to themselves as Wachowski Starship now.

    (I’ll note that “Wachowski siblings” would be open to misinterpretation, as they have (another) two sisters, Julie and Laura.)

  20. SunlessNick

    I had not heard about Lana Wachowski’s transition.

    FWIW, it didn’t occur to me that you’d have said “brothers” for any reason but that. (I only know because of seeing it mentioned at Shakesville).

  21. occhiblu

    When I was involved in theater in the US in the mid-90s, “colorblind casting” was exactly the opposite — the idea that we should be opening up traditionally white roles to minority actors (think of Denzel Washington in the film version of “Much Ado About Nothing,” for example), and I thought that was fabulous, given how many talented actors of color exist and how few good roles written specifically for actors of color exist.

    Flipping that around to further reduce roles for actors of color is just despicable.

  22. orlando

    Flipping that around to further reduce roles for actors of color is just despicable.

    And then calling it “exciting” and “enlightened”; talk about adding insult to injury.

  23. Megpie71

    David Irving @ 7 – I still think the best comment about that particular bit of racist nitwittery was made by The Goodies, in an episode that started out with them parodying “Roots” (using tour bus operators instead of slave traders, and press-ganging the boys to be working in various variety shows) and then led to them playing with the way that the various performances were “blacked up” (“How to Rap Minstrel” and “Land OB Hope and Glorrrrrrry, MAMMY!!! Ob Da Free” stick in my mind, and still make me giggle when I hear that particular tune; “Pomp and Circumstance” ruined for ever, oh the shame), and finishing up with a rather pointed montage response to the comment that if the Black and White Minstrels were that darn popular, why wasn’t everything else “blacked up” as well, featuring things like “Michael Darkinson” doing chat, and “Sooty” for the children (panda bear puppet).

    Of course, after that there was the standard descent into a rather crazy chase sequence through what was meant to be the halls of the BBC (my favourite moment of that was when they found the sound effects lab and used the recordings there to scare their pursuers, but in my case that was mostly because of far too many years of reading “Goon Show” scripts) and which ended when they wound up in the film labs and everyone fell into a vat of developing fluid, thus creating a negative effect (all the blacks & whites were flipped).

    All of which is completely tangential to the main point of this whole thread. My original point being, even back in the 1970s, people were aware of how damn silly “blackface” was, and were willing to mock it.

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