Over the last nine posts I’ve been pondering the topic of Who Can Play Who when it comes to adaptations of existing works. To wrap things up, and because ten is a magic number to us humans, it seems reasonable to try to boil it all down to something coherent. If that’s even possible.
I find myself conflicted sometimes between what I’ll call a stage play sensibility that allows huge latitude in casting actors versus my sensibilities about live-action adaptations of well-established existing properties.
I think that changes the equation.
Women, in most societies, have long suffered as second-class citizens. In the beginning it was due to biology, but modern cultures generally erase those differences. Paradoxically, women have historically also held a revered position (“Women and children first!”). Art, literature, and social practice, all elevate them above men, albeit selectively.
Ironically, elevation is also a problem. In at least two ways. Putting anyone on a pedestal is never a good idea. That’s a topic for another time. There is also the zero-sum version of elevation: glorifying one group while disparaging, even attacking, another. That also is never a good idea.
As it applies to movie and TV roles, it’s the topic I want to discuss here.
Recently I’ve been thinking (and posting) about acting roles in adaptations of existing works, especially of comics and animations. A few months ago, I ventured down the YouTube rabbit hole of fan media commentary channels where the topic is a common one. Fans naturally have strong opinions about their favorite characters.
I’ve long said sexual differences make social gender issues more challenging than social race issues (because race is a social construct). The issue of gender swapping is likewise more challenging than that of race swapping.
Here be dragons of objectification, exploitation, and the Male Gaze.
I seem to have a penchant for trilogy posts. It wasn’t intentional this time, but I ended up writing a trilogy of posts [1, 2, 3] about the Netflix adaptation of The Sandman (1989-1996), the much-loved graphic novel authored by Neil Gaiman (and drawn by various artists).
The Netflix adaptation offers some good examples of actor swapping, which has been my theme lately. Ultimately, I think the real problem is realistic live-action adaptations of singularly and visually well-defined drawn or animated characters. For instance: Superman, Homer Simpson, and Mickey Mouse.
When real people portray them, race and gender come into play.
Last time I asked, when it comes to actors playing roles, Who Can Play Who? To what degree do characters, particularly fictional ones, have fixed race or gender? How much latitude exists in adaptations of existing stories? Is there an acceptable spectrum from faithful retelling to jazz riff to based on to inspired by and finally to all but unrecognizable? If not, why not?
Last time I focused on race. This time I’ll focus on the gender side of the equation. Sexual differences and sexual attraction add a large and complex additional dimension. The question expands beyond matters of representation and actor swapping.
For instance, there is the additional notion of the Strong Female Character (SFC).
I was born in the Bronx and became a young man in Los Angeles, so I lived in racially mixed neighborhoods during my formative years. I’m aghast at the pain we cause over what are essentially paint jobs and accessories. It’s a vast and vital topic — a needed ongoing conversation. For now, suffice that “race” should never be the answer to any important question.
Such as the question of who can — as in “is allowed to” — have what acting roles in movies and TV shows. Specifically, the issue of “race swapping” in previously established roles. Complicating the matter is an asymmetry; swapping X for Y isn’t the same as swapping Y for X.
There is also the question of “gender swapping” and the “strong female character” in modern writing. We’ve forgotten Ellen Ripley and Sarah Connor.
Puppy vs Borg cube
I try hard to face forward and appreciate what joy, wonder, and beauty, life brings, but the world all too often makes that a challenge. The past few weeks have been especially hard mostly because I’m at the end of my rope with tech companies. I wish I understood why we put up with such awfulness. Factor in the spam, the robocalls, and the junk mail, and I’m ready to go live in the woods far away from any of it.
On the top of my list right now is Apple with Sprint-is-now-T-Mobile in close second place. The library app, Libby, that I’ve raved about before is in third place with WordPress bringing up the rear. Not mention all the little stuff, some corporate, some personal.
Warning: Turn back now. The road ahead is bumpy. Falling rocks.
British author and philosopher Aldous Huxley blew my mind with what seemed like his incredible prescience in Brave New World (1932). In my post last December, thinking about our recent politics and social tone, I commented: “For a novel written 88 years ago, it’s surprisingly prescient and relevant.”
The novel impressed me so much I bought the series of essays Huxley published almost 30 years later, Brave New World Revisited (1959). So far, I’ve only read the first five (so many distractions these days), but the apparent prescience continues to astound and astonish me.
I qualify that with “apparent” because it’s actually as old as humanity.
The Wednesday Wow posts have been a bit off the beam recently. Four weeks ago we were wowed (but not in a good way) by an incited insurrection by an incompetent imbecile. Two weeks ago we were wowed (in a great way) by the inclusive Inauguration of the incoming Individual.
With all that more or less behind us, I have time to be wowed by interesting (and depressing) information about the insidious infection infesting the country and the world. I mention both because I became intrigued by difference between them.
It all started when I noticed the COVID-19 graphic on CNN.
Humans have long had fertile imaginations. It isn’t just that we see patterns everywhere, but that we see them and make up stories about them. Whether it be the forest, the wind, or the stars, we have long read into the world around us a rich tapestry of our own imagination.
A thread that runs through it all is the agency we ascribe to the patterns. The gods control our fates, the spirits reward or punish us, the stars foretell our future. Even the remnant of tea leaves in the bottom of a cup gives us an important and relevant message.
But what happens when we don’t exercise our imagination?