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.
Of late I find myself in a state of profound despair. Many attempts to post; all end up in the trashcan. It’s not having nothing to say, but finding no point any more to saying it. My faith in humanity was always a bit tenuous, and the last decade or so has really given it a beating.
Things on a personal front ain’t so great, either, but that just makes it all that much harder to take. The Kavanaugh (Kava No!) hearings, and all that went with them, made me sick to my stomach. Once again I see how far we have not come.
I find I’m losing my last illusions about people. Maybe that’s a good thing?
Nearly (but not quite) identical!
Yet another bit of flotsam washed ashore, this one from the mid-to-late 1980s I’m guessing. Another part of the same note has a file system diagram that, in part based on the “DOS” directory, confirms the era.
Back then I participated a lot in two online groups: Star Trek and Feminism. (Both were topics of avid interest to me!) This note seems to address a topic that sometimes arose as party line in the latter group, but which I thought missed the point.
It’s about examining versus ignoring differences…
I’m finding it seriously difficult to spend time at the computer blogging (or doing anything else computer related). The weather has continued to be wonderful—warm but not too hot—which is bad enough. It’s that nagging feeling that I just got out of a 33-year career that had my face buried in a computer screen all day. (Well, okay, not maybe that first four years I was in the field, but once I moved to HQ and took a desk job, ever since!)
So, until it either heats up to the point of requiring air-conditioned air and closed windows, or winter comes and I have to hide from the snow and ice, I really, really feel like I’d rather spend my days goofing off. Blogging feels too much like work!
So in the meantime, here’s another item from my collection. Men’s replies to the questions that women (constantly) ask…