National Comment Comment

CLASH OF COMMENTS: Should Hollywood actively cast actors from minority groups?

Films shape our cultural understanding. Would greater minority inclusivity change social preconceptions?

Photo Credit: Ryan Coogler

YES- Eddie Kaziro

Film and television are not simply forms of entertainment. Since their mass installment, film and television have become a means of socialisation by being a primary source of information and knowledge about the world. With the US existing as a cultural hegemony, its media depictions carry considerable influence. I will focus on racial minorities due to the issue having personal significance and simultaneously as a result of possessing a lack in experience of the others (i.e. gender, disability etc.)

Positive discrimination is still discrimination. However, this method should be defined as corrective and temporary. History is linear and the racial bias that resides in the subconscious stems from centuries of classification and oppression, resulting in minorities being defined as such. Until minorities possess more defining dimensions than skin colour, then the casting director must adhere to a reverse racial bias. Current depictions of minorities either adhere to cultural stereotypes or are incorporated into plots where race is subject. In reference to black actors, Stuart Hall highlights that their characters are “restricted to a repertoire of basic images – the slave, the native, the entertainer – as the only traits that are selected for emphasis.”

Casting minorities into positions where race isn’t the subject has more progressive cultural implications than their white counterpart. ‘White’, as an identifying feature, possesses fewer characteristic implications. White is default. It is the universal equivalent that the human experience is measured by. White is only brought into discourse in relation to identities that are non-white (this article being an ironic example.)

Kobena Mercer categorises the political implications into three perspectives. The ‘mirror’ view: the opinion that film and television is obligated to reflect a true representation of a contemporary multicultural society; the ‘idealist’ view: the opinion that film and television are obligated to offer positive images of disadvantaged groups in order to correct distorted perceptions; and the ‘equal’ view: the opinion that the lack of opportunities for minority writers and producers is the cause of misrepresentation The third line of argument can be considered a solution. Mandatory inclusion goes beyond the casting process. It is important that depictions of people of colour in film and television are written by people of colour or (at the very least) written in collaboration with them.

The argument for the mandatory inclusion of minorities is complex, frustrating, at times pedantic and only scratches the surface of a deeper issue. Instead of simply ‘allowing’ for the presence of minorities, we should be asking what social purposes does their presence have the potential to serve? Is Hollywood solely run by white heterosexual men and, if so, what will an equal ratio look like? How will we know when we’ve reached it? Why do we want to? The revelations of Harvey Weinstein suggest that the very industry that minorities are advocating to be included in is far from being a just and desirable epicentre. Will the inclusion of minorities lead to progressive innovation or will inequality reset itself under another paradigm?


NO- Chay Quinn

Hollywood’s faux woke nature is nothing more than a shameless cash grab. The newly vocal generation of activism for representative casts has been fiercely successful in its social media-based pressure and it is great that we are now starting to see a more diverse field of actors who play a larger range of roles. But should the studios be actively pursuing this? Absolutely not.

They shouldn’t have to actively cast minority actors. It is a shame that this seems to be a necessity, but when the film industry is so heavily based on ruthless nepotism which predominantly benefits wealthy white men, it becomes so. This isn’t to say that it should be. Hollywood needs a wide-ranging revolution of its standards and practices but it must do it for the right reasons. Yes, they are making steps towards being less of an exploitative and rigged system, but let’s be honest with ourselves: we have to talk about why.

I draw your attention to the cradle of blockbusters right now: Marvel Studios. The hit-factory is currently awaiting a potential Best Picture win for Black Panther. This is the film that clinched imaginations with its colonial themes and Afrofuturistic aesthetic. One only has to look at the way that Black Panther is such a miniscule part of Avengers: Infinity War to realise the studio never realised how successful T’Challa’s solo outing would be. But now he is being made into a central part of the MCU after the events of Avengers: Endgame. Herein lies my point: studios should certainly cast more minority actors and have them in a wider range of roles, but the current steps to do this are being done only to monetise representation.

Some might argue that the ends justify the means in this particular case. I will admit, the sight of more representative Dis-ney films piques my nostalgic side and particularly the chance to see mixed-race couples like my parents on screen is tempting, but I reiterate: the real world practicalities of the current changes is that they are only being made due to their profitability and this is not a sustainable model. When these representative films become commonplace and the box office profit gains that these films provide wane, they risk falling back into the realms of obscurity.

Instead, they should adopt some principle. Only when we stop praising these fragrant profit-oriented multinationals for doing the bare minimum will sustain-able change be made in film. The current superficial diversity will only be rendered permanent by the adoption of actual morality that Hollywood desperately needs. Far from an illusion of change and the ill-wrought applause it enjoys, Hollywood needs systemic change for the right reasons.

Recruitment of minorities only scratches the surface of the problem. The upper echelons of the industry, producers and executives, are still largely white men with exorbitant salaries and power. These roles are the true goal. When people of minority groups are the ones making the decisions, only then will the systemic change be achievable. Only then will the changes be made for a reason other than a shameless cash in by people who will never understand any-thing other than money.

H

ollywood’s faux woke na

-

ture is nothing more than

a shameless cash grab. The

newly vocal generation of activism

for representative casts has been

fiercely successful in its social me

-

dia-based pressure and it is great

that we are now starting to see a

more diverse field of actors who

play a larger range of roles. But

should the studios be actively pur

-

suing this? Absolutely not.

They shouldn’t have to actively

cast minority actors. It is a shame

that this seems to be a necessity,

but when the film industry is so

heavily based on ruthless nepo

-

tism which predominantly benefits

wealthy white men, it becomes so.

This isn’t to say that it should be.

Hollywood needs a wide-ranging

revolution of its standards and

practices but it must do it for the

right reasons. Yes, they are mak

-

ing steps towards being less of an

exploitative and rigged system, but

let’s be honest with ourselves: we

have to talk about why.

I draw your attention to the

cradle of blockbusters right now:

Marvel Studios. The hit-factory is

currently awaiting a potential Best

Picture win for

Black Panther

. This

is the film that clinched imagina

-

tions with its colonial themes and

Afrofuturistic aesthetic. One only

has to look at the way that

Black

Panther

is such a miniscule part

of

Avengers: Infinity War

to real

-

ise the studio never realised how

successful T’Challa’s solo outing

would be. But now he is being

made into a central part of the

MCU after the events of

Avengers:

Endgame

. Herein lies my point:

studios should certainly cast more

minority actors and have them in

a wider range of roles, but the cur

-

rent steps to do this are being done

only to monetise representation.

Some might argue that the

ends justify the means in this

particular case. I will admit, the

sight of more representative Dis

-

ney films piques my nostalgic side

and particularly the chance to see

mixed-race couples like my par

-

ents on screen is tempting, but I

reiterate: the real world practicali

-

ties of the current changes is that

they are only being made due to

their profitability and this is not

a sustainable model. When these

representative films become com

-

monplace and the box office profit

gains that these films provide

wane, they risk falling back into

the realms of obscurity.

Instead, they should adopt

some principle. Only when we

stop praising these fragrant profit-

oriented multinationals for doing

the bare minimum will sustain

-

able change be made in film. The

current superficial diversity will

only be rendered permanent by

the adoption of actual morality

that Hollywood desperately needs.

Far from an illusion of change and

the ill-wrought applause it enjoys,

Hollywood needs systemic change

for the right reasons.

Recruitment of minorities

only scratches the surface of the

problem. The upper echelons of

the industry, producers and ex

-

ecutives, are still largely white men

with exorbitant salaries and pow

-

er. These roles are the true goal.

When people of minority groups

are the ones making the decisions,

only then will the systemic change

be achievable. Only then will the

changes be made for a reason other

than a shameless cash in by people

who will never understand any

-

thing other than money.

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