Mandy Patinkin isn’t an A-list movie star. He’s a huge draw on Broadway all the same.
It’s why the minds behind “Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812” cast him to boost lagging ticket sales.
Not so fast. The veteran performer wasn’t the right skin color, apparently. The “Homeland” star dropped out after some complained he was replacing an actor of color.
The play subsequently closed.
A similar event happened this week. Actor Ed Skrein (“The Transformer Refueled,” “Deadpool”) snared a role in the upcoming “Hellboy” reboot. Skrein celebrated the news on Twitter. Then the Social Justice Warriors pounced. The character in question was of mixed Asian descent in the comic books. Skrein is white.
So the actor voluntarily bowed out, announcing the decision via a tweet that read like a hostage’s coerced note.
— Ed Skrein (@edskrein) August 28, 2017
Voila, the entertainment industry’s diversity problem is nearly solved!
It’s easy to be glib about diversity in pop culture. People of color have lagged behind when it comes to representation. Whitewashing, the term used for casting white stars in roles with a connection to another ethnicity, is perhaps best exemplified by Mickey Rooney playing a cartoonishly Asian character in 1961’s “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.”
That was then.
The situation is improving, witness franchises like “Fast and Furious” which are both diverse and hugely popular. The problem won’t be solved by forcing white actors out of roles, though. In fact, actors may think twice before taking parts that don’t perfectly align with their color or gender.
Gender swapping, however, is uniformly applauded. Remember how the press played defense for those Lady Ghostbusters? Try the opposite approach (a male “Steel Magnolias?”) and you’re inviting a social media maelstrom.
Plus, reverse race casting is hardly new. Nick Fury is a white hero in Marvel Comics. When the character hit the big screen in “Iron Man,” Samuel L. Jackson got the gig. Few, if any, complained.
More recently, the latest “Spider-Man” feature cast numerous people of color in roles originally written as white. The movie became a smash. Few, if any, complained.
Casting should go to the most qualified performer. Other factors still matter, of course. When Paramount brought the manga sensation “Ghost in the Shell” to the big screen the studio opted for a non-Asian actress Scarlett Johansson for the starring role. The “Avengers” standout is an international superstar. It’s hard to think of an Asian actress with her star power.
Ultimately, the artists should be able to tell the stories they want the way they want to tell them. The public will decide if the casting clicks. Hire great actors for great roles, and chances are audiences won’t care a whit what color or gender they happen to be.