The other day I was ambushed by an otherwise HIGHLY entertaining musical of Pride and Prejudice that had, as one of the four sisters of Elizabeth Bennet a young black lady. I was upset at it because it made the whole production bizarre. “Was Mrs. Bennett unfaithful? Is Mr. Bennett blind?”
A friend who does small production amateur theater told me “Look, it’s probably a small production, they go with what they have.”
Turned out she was right. It was a tiny theater company with a limited number of actors, explaining why Colonel Fitzwilliam is Asian and Mary Bennett is black. Fine. As I said, the musical, which was free on one of the ridiculous number of free-because-you-use-this-other-service streaming services we have, is highly amusing and entertaining.
But my friend also said that given she’s been turned down for theater roles for being too tall, too short, too white, she didn’t mind color blind casting.
Okay. Fine. I also wouldn’t mind color blind casting. But that’s not what we have. What we have is a situation in which black actors can get hired for all sorts of roles, including having a black actress (no, I’m not going to use masculine default. Acting involves the body.) playing Anne Boleyn, but a precious snow flake can be upset at someone playing Aida (btw a Mediterranean role, and historically played by a white singer, in darker make up.)
A situation in which bog-standard Regency Romances had to be twisted and become a parody alternate-reality (in which in England before this period there was apartheid, as though England in the middle ages to the regency were the South Africa of the past. The most disquieting thing here, is that I think this is what the producer thinks.) to explain why half the nobility is of African origin, and most couples are bi-racial, and yet people get all bent out of shape if Ghost in the Machine casts a white Actress.
Look, it might be just a theater thing, sure. Arguably having a white person play Aida is (though we Mediterraneans are white, or consider ourselves so, some of us just of Latin culture. It’s sad to see my family retroactively thinking they’re as a race. Sigh.)
In a profession where girls can be boys playing girls playing boys, casting is a little loose.
But if it’s loose it must be loose across the board.
And we must not invent new histories to justify it. And historical figures should be played the race they were. I would no more approve of a white person playing Shaka Zulu than I approve of a black woman playing Anne Boleyn.
Mostly because you know there are a number of people who never read. Ever. And who assume whatever they were shown on TV really was the past. And next thing you know, we have scholarship like the libelous and poisonous 1619 project.
Want to have color-blind-casting. All well and good, but a) it has to be the same across the board. We just play silly buggers with every possible role: Henry VIII is a svelte 16 year old female. Anne Boleyn is a black woman in a wig, Cleopatra is a freckled redhead. Julius Caesar an Asian female.
No? Then it’s not color blind casting. It’s an attempt to corrupt and confuse history and people’s minds. It’s spinach and it can got to h*ll. (I like spinach, but I don’t eat it because of its being “good for you.)
Note small theater companies are exempted from this. After all, they have trouble enough filling roles. But big production companies? If you’re going to play fair, play fair. Heaven knows you have enough money.
No white washing. No black washing. No black face, and certainly no yellow/white/purple with polka dots face. Do as close a casting as you can.
No more excuses. Sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.
Dear media, your racist slip is showing.