I still haven’t gotten used to writing “2023” — it feels like a misspelling. Perhaps in part because it’s an odd number. It’s not prime, and it’s kind of cute that it’s the product 7×17×17=2023. Lucky triple sevens! And a full house, sevens over aces. (Numerology would be another of those things that are fun but which I don’t believe.)
My 2022 plan for Serious Spring Cleaning didn’t end up nearly aggressive as planned. There’s still too much junk. And still too many (piles of) notes and notebooks.
So: Serious Spring Cleaning, take two, and another edition of Friday Notes.
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.
One of the main posters for the Netflix adaptation of the Neil Gaiman graphic novel The Sandman seems to encapsulate and illustrate an approach by Hollywood that many, myself included, find problematic. This post continues a series of posts pondering the issue of actor swapping in film and TV roles.
I spent two posts (one and two) on The Sandman adaptation because of its examples of actor swapping in key roles. These stand out because they apply to especially well-defined characters. Similar, say, to the characters on Futurama.
I hadn’t intended a third post, but the poster caught my eye. It’s the one in the lede of the two posts (and this one). Its layout out intrigues me.
The last post expressed some key disappointments (and a few things I liked) about the Netflix adaptation of The Sandman (1989-1996), a widely respected, much loved, graphic novel series from writer Neil Gaiman (and numerous artists). Once I started writing that post, 2000 words came easy, but I never got to most of the notes I had.
I have three pages of said notes, so I figured I needed a follow-up post. I’m not bothering with any plot synopsis, so if you aren’t already familiar with the story and the adaptation, neither of these posts — especially this one — will make much sense.
Suffice to say, the show has its fans, but I’m not among them.
This past week I watched the eleven episodes of the first (and possibly only) season of the Netflix adaptation of The Sandman (2022), which is based on the famous Neil Gaiman comic series, The Sandman (1989-1996), considered by many to be one of the greatest graphic novels ever.
I think live-action adaptations of comics and animated shows are very hard to get right. And Netflix seems to have a bad history when it comes to adaptations, even of live shows (they’ve had a number of notable fails along those lines). On the other hand, Gaiman was attached to, and involved in, the production, which seemed hopeful.
But to say I was disappointed by the series is putting it mildly.
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.