Race-blind casting in film
I know I've strayed onto a rather controversial topic here, but I've had race-blind casting on my mind for a while now. It's been employed everywhere from fantasy to historical romance in recent years and has changed character appearances from the way they were described in the source materials. I know many are against it, as the backlash against the trailer for Disney's upcoming remake of The Little Mermaid clearly demonstrates.
I, however, really like it. The first time I watched a show or adaptation with race-blind casting was a little jarring. At times it broke the immersion. But as I stopped to question why it did, and to ponder on the pros and cons of casting without regard to race, I realized that it does far more good than bad, especially when the actors are good fits for the characters they play.
There's a conversation about a 1960s-era holodeck program between Sisko and Kasidy, two people of color, in an episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine that discusses the pros and cons particularly well. I agree with Sisko, but I ultimately take Kasidy's side, as Sisko eventually did, too.
SISKO: You want to know? You really want to know what my problem is? I'll tell you. Las Vegas nineteen sixty-two, that's my problem. In nineteen sixty-two, black people weren't very welcome there. Oh, sure they could be performers or janitors, but customers? Never.
KASIDY: Maybe that's the way it was in the real Vegas, but that is not the way it is at Vic's. I have never felt uncomfortable there and neither has Jake.
SISKO: But don't you see, that's the lie. In nineteen sixty-two, the Civil Rights movement was still in its infancy. It wasn't an easy time for our people and I'm not going to pretend that it was.
KASIDY: Baby, I know that Vic's isn't a totally accurate representation of the way things were, but it isn't meant to be. It shows us the way things could have been. The way they should've been.
SISKO: We cannot ignore the truth about the past.
KASIDY: Going to Vic's isn't going to make us forget who we are or where we came from. What it does is it reminds us that we're no longer bound by any limitations, except the ones we impose on ourselves.
I love Kasidy's succinct description--no limitations except for the ones we impose upon ourselves. I love history, and I love the Regency period. I love Jane Austen's works, and I love English society and culture, despite its imperfections. I like period-accurate representations . . . but I also like reading Regency romance novels. I hope you can see where I'm going here. I watch a fair amount of sci-fi and fantasy shows with my husband, and I have realized that Regency romance tends to be every bit as fictional as a good fantasy novel.
I know race-blind casting isn't period-accurate--everyone knows that. It's often not source-accurate, either, in the case of fantasy. But if I need to choose between visiting a historically-inaccurate world where talent and fit matters more than skin tone, or perfect historical accuracy . . . I'm going to choose the former! For one thing, period film adaptations are already historically inaccurate--there is nowhere near enough tooth decay. :-P
Besides, I don't pick up a Regency romance novel to educate myself about the time period. I pick it up to escape to another world and follow the cathartic ups and downs of an admirable, relatable heroine's journey through a bit of darkness and into the light. There is no need to exclude people of color from portraying and relating to this experience! Representation in this form of fiction is every bit as true to the spirit of the work as historically-accurate casting. We unquestionably need to heal our society's deep racial wounds, and one of the most painless and enjoyable ways to begin is to diversify the characters in the works of fiction that we already love!
I've already talked about how much I enjoyed Netflix's adaptation of Persuasion, but I was able to watch Mr. Malcolm's List and I really liked that one, too. It lacked a lot of the sizzle from the book--there were several very exciting smooches in the book and only one very tame kiss at the very end of the movie. But if that's your jam, I bet you'll really like it! I thought it was very well-cast. Mr. Malcolm was not my favorite because he was a bit stiff and formal, whereas the character in the book was vibrant and flirtatious. But that was a minor complaint, and his handsomeness made up for a lot of that! I can highly recommend both the book and movie to you clean Regency lovers--you'll love them!
As far as race-blind casting in other adaptations goes, I watched The Wheel of Time and The Rings of Power shows on Amazon and I enjoyed them both. The issues that I do have with the shows have nothing to do with the race-blind casting, and I could go more in depth on them, but since this is a Regency newsletter and not an all-purpose fiction newsletter, I digress. (But I do have to say I love Arondir's character in The Rings of Power! He's just a strong, solemn, handsome elf with some great fight choreography--what's not to like??)
who am I?
My name is Mary-Celeste, but my friends call me M.C. I am a writer, wife, mother, amateur gardener, sourdough bread baker, n00b video gamer, Austen enthusiast, tabletop gamer, Trekkie, and generally cheerful human being. I write Regency romances and I post about it here (among other things). Thanks for stopping by!