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Casting a black Ariel: color-conscious or color-blind casting and should we be okay with it?

With Disney releasing the live-action The Little Mermaid next year, many opinions have emerged regarding the casting of Halle Bailey as Ariel. Casting black actors for white characters is nothing out of the ordinary. Roles such as Morgan Freeman as Red in Shawshank Redemption, Will Smith as Dr. Robert Neville in I Am Legend, or recent Disney MCU choices such as Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury proved to be iconic roles in popular culture. I am curious to examine the differences and implications between color-blind casting and color-conscious casting. It is my understanding color-blind casting involves casting without any consideration for the actors’ racial identities, physical appearances, and other characteristics. Color-conscious casting would be the opposite in that casting directors actively consider these characteristics. These terms can be quite difficult to pin down exactly, and the same goes for the implications they have for diversity versus tokenism. Casting Halle Bailey as Ariel sparked so much inspiration and feel-good moments on social media when brown and black girls saw themselves in their favorite princess. However, many people still felt enraged at the supposed inaccuracy of the character’s casting or felt that Disney simply wanted to hit a diversity quota. I think about how white actors have played people of color for decades. From John Wayne as Genghis Khan in Conqueror (1956), Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra (1963), to modern productions like Angelina Jolie as Mariane Pearl in A Mighty Heart (2007), or Tilda Swinton as The Ancient One in the MCU, the film industry has a history of whitewashing and "blackface" when it comes to portraying BIPOC characters. These characters come from specific ethnic backgrounds which heavily influence their movement and life experiences in the world. For example, it wouldn’t make sense to cast anyone who isn’t Chinese for the live-action Mulan, the Chinese princess who saves her home country. The same can be said for other Disney princesses such as Pocahontas, Moana, Tiana, and Jasmine to name a few. However, it seems as though formerly cast white characters do not meet the same expectations like Ariel in The Little Mermaid. I would argue that the mermaids come from a fictional place, Atlantica, and therefore Ariel’s character can have some leeway in her representation. To what degree should people’s anger toward Ariel’s casting be validated? Why should viewers be bothered with a black Ariel?

  • The issue in modern times usually has to do with Tokenism. As, most critics complain that the change is not going to amount to anything in terms of exploring said minority group. For example should it matter that a fictional mermaid princess is black? Not really as the Atlantican's do not derive from our culture. They have their own completely fictional lore. It is not to say you cannot explore those topics, but it is usually a non sequitur that distracts from the stories main plot, which is a story of star crossed lovers. So, narratively speaking it does not matter if Ariel is black or white. Her race should not matter and there should be a greater focus on Halle Bailey's ability to play the role. Yet the coverage from the media put a great focus on Bailey's race, as opposed to her acting ability. Making the conversation about representation. We can see similar aspects with Beauty and the Beast and Star Wars Rise of Skywalker. Where both movies during promotion really talked about how they would have an openly queer character and how female characters would be in a leading role. Many people once again take annoyance with this as the representation of LGBTQ people is mostly a foot note at the end of the movie (that gets edited out when the movie premieres in a country that does not approve of such things.) Despite J.J. Abrams talking about how Poe and Finn are sexually active gay men, there is no exploration of that aspect. No romantic love interest for either of the characters. Which is why most of the time people accuse Disney and companies of pandering. Critics believe they are simply using diversity as a way to sell tickets.(Side not Star Wars has always had female leads, Ashoka Tano, Kreia, Princess Leia, and Meetra Surik. All powerful force users, who have a prominent role as hero and villians throughout the series. While these stories are limited to books and games, Disney could easily turn those into movies or continue exploring them in games.) Now the main reason people do not get nearly as upset about Will Smith being Dr. Neville and Morgan Freeman as Red is because is because them taking up the role did not focus on their race in Marketing. (not sure about Morgan Freeman and marketing as Shawshack predates me.) Samuel L. Jackson being Nick Furry was done because Stan Lee knew that he was a long time fan of the series, and he was placed in an alternate Marvel Universe. So, technically the white Nick Furry still exist and does continue to be used. Though the Ultimate universe Nick Furry has become the more prominent one used. Race swapping in movies and media is a tricky thing, mainly due to America's history with racism. As, yes, originally America did it to depict minority groups in offensive ways, and because minority groups were actually not allowed to be in films at one point. But in modern times I would compare it to J.K. Rowling saying Hermione is supposed to be black in the Harry Potter books or Dumbledore being gay. Despite being told something it is never shown or explored, so why should we care? I do not believe it is anything more than people trying to appeal to certain groups while putting the least amount of effort. It is the reason why instead of creating a new independent property or using an existing property that has character that is LGBTQ/minority group, they try to change an existing characters race like Superman. When DC comics could instead use characters like Icon or Static Shock and have a whole story that deals with the issues/experience of a black character. Race and sexuality appears to be mostly a tool to sell tickets for films. It is why people who are interested in such things have turned to other outlets. (From my understanding many people who like LGBTQ content have turned to comics,manga, video-games and novels as these mediums tend to have a more nuanced exploration of the topic. It is similar with diverse cast of characters.) – Blackcat130 2 days ago
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3

The cause and end of the time loop in Groundhog Day (1993)

What caused the time loop of Groundhog Day (1993) is the cynicism of Phil Connors and the weather storm he wrongly predicted that trapped him and his coworkers in the town of Punxsutawney, Philadelphia. Phil Connors constantly relives the same day and experiences highs and lows while trapped in this time loop. What ends the time loop after several suicide attempts, correcting his wrongs, or seducing Rita? Is it the homeless man that lets him see the value in everyone’s life rather than his own? He desperately tries to save this man but can never seem to catch him in time. He finally discovers that the only way to interrupt this time loop is through self-reflection on his life and the people around him.

    3

    What makes a compelling villain?

    Some movie villains have sympathetic motivations, whether its devotion to saving the planet ala Poison Ivy, drive to right a systemic wrong ala Black Panther’s Killmonger or Magneto, or desire for personal vengeance ala the Wicked Witch of the West or Clytemnestra. Some villains "just want to watch the world burn." Some are just hellbent on causing murder, destruction, and pain. Sometimes it seems the motivation doesn’t matter nearly as much as the character’s screen presence. Many movies try to add depth to their villains, only to leave lasting questions and plot holes over their villain’s arc. Are there any essential elements necessary for a great movie villain? Do we see any mistakes in creating villains that could be avoided by following certain rules of thumb? Sometimes it seems that the only difference between the hero and villain are a)who the narrative viewpoint sympathizes with and b) who’s destined to cross unforgivable lines. Is it okay that this is commonplace, or does it indicate a flaw in modern storytelling?

    • Thanks for the very helpful feedback T Palomino, I think there are two different directions I could take the question in, and I'm not sure which makes for a better prompt. The first is comparing various types of villains and the way they fundamentally shape the story and the hero, and how important the depth of their motivation affects the story. For instance, The Dark Knight has Joker, a villain with no deep motivation, but it also has Harvey Dent, and his arc is fundamental to creating a compelling finale. Other movies seem actually hamstrung by having a complicated and somewhat sympathetic villain, as they try to tell a good vs evil story. Perhaps the question could be comparing villains with complex vs simple motivations, how compelling they still can be, and how they shape the hero. Although perhaps this still too broad? The second direction I was considering was pointing out that many heroes have the same motivations as I listed, saving the world, righting systemic wrongs, and even obtaining vengeance. What does a narrative require to distinguish between its heroes and villains, and how often does an audience's viewpoint play more of a role in making the distinction, than the actual story and character choices? Infamously we have seen authors revamp stories to center the villains, such as Wicked recreating Elphaba, or the recent Joker film. Is the difference between a hero an a villain the amount of time the narrative spends focused on the aspects of the character that are sympathetic? Is it simply the lines each character crosses and refuses to cross? How important is the idea of morality in telling stories of heroes and villains? – ronannar 3 months ago
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    • It might be helpful to take note of the context of the characters presentation, not only their story line, but how other features signal other, less seen, potential character links, I think Joachim Phoenix's Joker character walking down the stairs to convicted pedophile, Gary Glitter's song. Interesting that! – cwekerle 2 weeks ago
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    • I think that while sympathy can make for good background of a villain, I always think that moral ambiguity is what can make a good villain, great. For an ambiguous “villain” I would like to turn us towards Frank Herbert’s Dune. Spoilers ahead for books one and two. Paul, our protagonist of Dune and son of a Duke to a great house, seemingly does it all by the end of the first book of Herbert’s series. He becomes a hero, not only does he achieve standards that were practically undefinable (becoming the Kwisatz Haderach) but he also frees the native people of Arrakis, and seeks vengeance of his father and the great house he belonged to prior. Paul beats the bad guys, he becomes (quite literally) emperor of the universe, and he even gets the girl! He seems great, until book two comes into play. Dune Messiah details the lasting effects of Paul’s work. Paul has not only used the native people of Arrakis to become a great and powerful religious figure, but he has incited a Jihad lasting years, killing billions of people, even quoting that he has killed more than the ancient historical figure of Adolf Hitler (that is also real, I was absolutely surprised to read it). What I am trying to get at is this, that while Paul really ends up becoming a villain in his own way, he’s an intriguing villain because of his moral enigma. Sure, Paul did some helpful things through the books, but Paul really could be seen (and mostly is, in a way) as a villain, not only to Arrakis and it’s people, but to the universe and the endless number of people he has killed just for them to follow his religious and political empire. Like I have said, sure sympathy can make a good villain. Even crossing the line like you’ve stated can be a good way too, but to make the actions of this villain questionable, make them morally ambiguous, spark a debate, that is what can make them really interesting and really great. – eaonhurley 2 weeks ago
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    2

    The Lighthouse (2019) and the nature of Hierarchy.

    *This can be argued from either Marxist or Anarchist perspective. As I’m not an anarchist I will present the topic from my perspective but the author is free to analyze with whatever school of thought they see as suitable.

    The Robert Eggers film, The Lighthouse stars Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe as two men charged with the upkeep of a lighthouse. Throughout the course of the film the audience is shown the relationship of the two men, which is that of worker and boss. The Worker, Howard (Pattison) is younger and serves at the will of the boss, Wake(Dafoe) who is older.

    The division of Labor is shown to be highly unequal as Wake (Dafoe) works considerably less and does considerably easier work than Howard (Pattinson). This is exacerbated by the fact that Wake controls not just how much Howard will be paid at the end of their shift but also if he will even be paid at all. The dynamic is severely unbalanced and rigidly show, the boss is able to control the worker with the threat of starvation.

    The film explores other facets of domination, control, and but one key theme is liberation, that is escaping the need to labor and being free to exist. Wake has attained it, Howard seeks to reach that.

    This is echoed by the fact Wake, is the only one to work the light. While Howard is forced to toil below. Drawing parallels to the idea of skilled vs. unskilled labor.

    Of note, the two men share quite a number of similarities and it can even be said they’re the same man at different points in his life, but then what can be read from the text. The oppressed worker himself becoming an oppressor. Indeed when Howard lashes out at Wake and turns him into a dog, is he in fact liberated?

      7
      Locked

      Exploring The Villian

      The notion of the villain or the "bad guy" is a theme that often appears in many films, particularly superhero narratives, or similar films. However, as a viewer, sometimes questioning the way in which someone is depicted could be interesting as well. Is the villain entirely bad? Or are they in some ways victims as well? Do you think the hero is always right? Or do they have a past that could have easily made them the villain? How much of the villainization is inherent and how much of it is fed to us?

      • Villains are always interesting. I think Magneto was a sympathetic villain. Could you correct the spelling? Thanks! – Munjeera 2 years ago
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      • Interesting topic! Though it is not the central theme of the article, perhaps one paragraph could focus on villains turned heroes later on? For instance, Zuko, from Avatar the Last Air Bender, or Root, from Person Of Interest. Do such (not-so-)villains differ from “true” villains? If so, how? If not, why? What impact it may have on the viewer? – Gavroche 2 years ago
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      • Interesting. I think you should look at superheroes or Disney films. The villains are quite interesting. You could compare different types of villains to see what makes them a villain, why they are villain. Most of the time it’s because of the hero. – zazu 2 years ago
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      • I agree with zazu's suggestion about exploring superhero films, particularly films from the Marvel Cinematic Universe (while we're on the subject of Disney and superheroes). The MCU started off with villains that were basically just dark mirrors of the heroes (Iron Man 1 had Obadiah Stane/Iron Monger, The Incredible Hulk had The Abomination). Villains like Loki and Killmonger, however, have been praised as some of the more interesting of MCU villains due to their sympathetic motivations. Both of them are still tied to the heroes' origins in some way, yet they represent the outcome of a different upbrining than the hero in the same environment. You could either explore how MCU's potrayal of villains changed from Iron Man to a film like Black Panther or the ways in which the MCU has designated certain characters as 'villains.' – CharlieSimmons 2 years ago
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      • This brings to mind the 2003 film, Monster, where the heroine can be both viewed as good as well as a villain. Just one small error fix, change villian to villain. This would be an interesting topic for me to write except I'm not a fan of superheroes. Whoever decided to write this can use the character, AIllen Wournos, in Monster as a stepping stone. – Montayj79 2 months ago
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      • I absolutely think a villain with sympathetic qualities, or one who is more complex than simply being the "big bad" of any given book/show/film, is far more interesting than a two-dimensional "evil" character! I think of Lord of the Rings, and the fact that for me, it is the Witch Kings who are far more ominous adversaries than Sauron himself. They're "fallen" men, corrupted by power, and are far more dynamic than the evil eye in distant Mordor... also "villains" like Denethor, or even Boromir to an extent when he's influenced by the ring (before he overcomes it, and dies a hero). Their humanity, flaws and pitfalls, and the fact you can map their trajectory toward their "villainy", makes them all the more fascinating! And think of Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire... the white walkers and Night King are terrifying, yes, but it's villainous characters like Cersei, Littlefinger, and Ramsay Bolton who make for more interesting storylines. Once again it's the humanity in them that fascinates and compels. – elizheff 4 weeks ago
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      • I think an important character to consider when examining villains is Walter White from Breaking Bad. A high school chemistry teacher diagnosed with terminal cancer turns to manufacturing and selling meth to be able to leave money for his family after he passes. However, as the story progresses, an Walter becomes more evil and is enamored with power, control and greed. He becomes the villain of his own story, yet the viewer still emphasizes with him – greenturnedblue 3 weeks ago
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      • Very interesting topic. I definitely like flawed heros and villains with good reasons to be evil, and I love when morality wavers and falters. Think of a so-called hero in a science fantasy that would bomb an entire city of civilians just for a show of power, but at the same time freaks out if the foes do the same to his country. In this regard, Erikson's Malazan series gives us the perfect example of moral ambiguity in fiction. – mnorman 2 weeks ago
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      Taken by Laurika Nxumalo (PM) 1 week ago.
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      The Marxist reading of Jaws

      The climax of Jaws focuses on the endeavor of three men to save the town. Each comes from a different economic background: Hooper (wealthy), Brody (middle class), and Quint (working class). Quint’s ultimate demise and the use of his gun to destroy the shark could certainly be read as the working class man sacrificing himself for the security of the upper classes. I am curious if someone better versed in Marxism could dig deeper into Jaws as Marxist tale, or more generally as a tale of class and consumerism.

      • Fidel Castro used to argue that “Jaws” was a Marxist tale. Slavoj Žižek summarized this in his documentary “The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology,” where he also gives his own reading of the story. As a matter of fact, “Jaws” has been interpreted in so many ways, such as being about patriarchy, immigration or fascism. This is a nice topic that could become a great article, as long as it acknowledges all the discussions and interpretations that the Spielberg’s film provoked in the last forty years (not an easy task), offering a new and original angle of analysis. – T. Palomino 2 months ago
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      • A Marxist reading of Jaws could definitely work though it sounds a bit abstracted. If you read Jaws, the shark as the fascistic "Other" it works. Because the unity of the in-group classes they're able to destroy the "Other" but importantly the working class is destroyed in the process. – SunnyAgo 2 months ago
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      Film, Law, and False Depictions

      The 2008 film, American Violet highlights some wicked practices of the criminal justice system when it comes to plea bargaining. Using this film as well as the real story that took place in Hearne, TX (as opposed to Melody, TX as portrayed in the film), what racial and social realities do we find in such movies? Why do films portray false evidence in instances where they do not necessarily have to? (For example, the film depicts only 2 ACLU lawyers rather than even remotely mention that it was a team working on the case). Finally, does the film provide an accurate depiction of America’s plea bargaining system or is it an exaggeration?

      • Definitely a topic worth looking into with the various lenses of race, class, and gender. – SunnyAgo 2 months ago
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      5

      How does misogynoir affect casting choice?

      Leah Jeffries was recently cast as Annabeth in the upcoming Percy Jackson series on Disney . Rick Riordan, author of the book series it is based on, approves and endorses Jeffries as embodying the characteristics of Annabeth as he wrote her. Jeffries is a young Black actress and her casting was met with a lot of racist backlash.
      Similarly, a few years ago Halle Bailey (also a young Black woman) was cast as Ariel in the live action The Little Mermaid. Her casting was also met with racist backlash.
      Discuss the role misogynoir plays in casting choices and why it is important to cast Black women for characters that are not racially or ethnically specific.

      • Something also worth noting is some of the more levelheaded critics did not care about the race of the actors/actress. They questioned if these individuals being chosen for these roles was only because of their race. As many of these studios made a big deal about the race of the actor's, when many felt their ability to act should be the primary factor in them getting the role. Many accused Disney of Tokenism. I think that is a worthwhile angle to explore as well. We can also see something similar with the fans suggesting Micheal B Jordan play superman. While you naturally have those who hate the idea and make racist remarks online. You can also see some fans question why no one is suggesting Micheal B Jordan doesn't get cast as Icon, a black super hero who has yet to get a feature film or solo T.V series. – Blackcat130 5 months ago
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      • The thing that occurs to me about this is that there is a need to draw a distinction between people complaining about having Black actresses in particular roles, and people complaining about those who complain about having Black actresses in those roles. This is particularly important in the internet age because anything can receive attention it doesn't deserve as long as it can be packaged as "clickbait." If a tiny minority of less than 100 people is complaining about a Black actress in a given role, but then millions of people broadcast the views of this tiny minority in order to tear them down or make fun of them, then it will look like Black actresses get a lot more hatred than they actually do. – Debs 5 months ago
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      • Refer to examples throughout Hollywood’s history to bolster your argument. (Sorry I tried to update the topic but it posted before I could) – Anna Samson 5 months ago
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