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.) – Blackcat1301 year ago
No group has a stranglehold on mermaids. I think the problem is that Europeans believe that they are the only ones who can cast differently. IN other words, it is okay for them to play other races or ethnicities but if a character is allegedly sacred to them, they get upset over the same thing they are doing. It is a very infantile way of thinking. But that is the privilege type of thinking that comes with imperialism. – Montayj791 year ago
It is hard to forget the background Hollywood has with race. In my opinion, and what I have learned previously, if the race is integral to a background, plot or culture of a character then it should not be altered. If a character is written to be a specific ethnicity or if casting is intended to look for someone of a specific ethnicity, then that should be respected. Otherwise, it really does not quite matter. You would not use an all white cast for A Raisin in The Sun, that would cause loss of meaning regarding topics of race in the show. Tiana, Mulan and Moana all have cultural links to their stories, and Ariel does not. To assume that a black woman being cast as Ariel is for the “woke crowd” then is dismissing the blatant mistreatment of actors that are not white. To see an actor who is not white in pop culture is not (and shouldn’t be) a radical idea. – eaonhurley1 year ago
Seriously thinking about writing this. I just wrote one on here--"Misogynoir: The Silent Backbone of Hollywood," that covered some of these issues. I could really expand on those ideas with this topic. – Montayj791 year ago
In this age of “-isms” (feminism, racism, ableism, ageism, etc.) there are many critiques—and rightly so. However, while we may see more diversity, are our media (TV, movies, books, games, etc.) actually more diverse in their appreciation of these groups? For example, does merely fulfilling the Bechdel test actually make a movie feminist? Or, does having non-white actors in minor roles, or acting “White,” add racial diversity? Is the miraculous ability to heal disabled characters truly inclusive? These are only a few questions that you could touch upon. There are a lot of different facets of this argument, but I am curious about what diversity means, and when media can be considered “successfully diverse”? I’ve tagged this as "film," but it is widely applicable across media.
I think this topic would need to focus more on the production of these works and the works' underlying messages. I think something that can be a good point of inspiration is Jay Z's "Moonlight" music video. In the video, a guy is filming an all-black cast remake of the TV show "Friends." When he asks his friend what he thinks, his friend thinks it's terrible despite the guy's assumptions that an all-black cast would subvert expectations and ideologies. I think it'd be important to find some notable examples throughout decades of what would be considered diverse and not diverse. In Terminator 2, what makes Sarah Conner an icon of feminism for some? Is it because she's shown to be tough as nails while also being a protective mother? Does Charles Xavier having superpowers diminish his status as a symbol for perseverance in a society that would often look down or pity a paraplegic? Just some examples, but that's how I feel the argument should be narrowed down to. To tackle one -ism instead of all of them. – Daniel Ibarra4 years ago
I was scrolling through Facebook the other day when a headline caught my eye regarding something about Disney casting a black actress to portray Ariel in the live-action remake. Although many people did comment some praise and lauded Disney for trying so hard to be more inclusive and represent minorities that have largely been left out of their platform, historically speaking, many other users commented on their distaste about the PR decision. Many people were commenting on how diversity should never be made out of "pity" or "obligation". What do you guys think? I think this topic has definitely been introduced before but I’d like to read an in-depth article about it. Do we have to feel the need to replace media/popular culture figures with minorities or do we just need more figures that represent those groups?
Instead of genuinely diversifying the Disney brand by creating new original black characters, they take an existing white one and that black character then becomes tokenized. This has happened before with the beloved classic Annie with the remake in 2015, in the comics, Ironman is replaced with a black girl Ironheart.
Of course they make money regardless, the question then becomes: is it ethical or morally right to initallly replace a white chracter in hopes to make them equal, even if the new chracter has no sense of individuality and has a pressure to be like the chracter they replaced? – Amelia Arrows4 years ago
I totally agree with your point about individuality- It questions whether the replacement even really identifies with the character they're replacing. Superficial diversity maybe is a good name for this lol. – hilalbahcetepe4 years ago
Great topic! It's not just Disney, either. As a member of two minority groups (disabled female), I've seen plenty of attempts at "diversity" that just scream, "We did this so we can check it off the list." This is, in fact, especially true in kids' media. However, kids' media doesn't actually respect diversity and culture. It's more like, "Be nice to this person even though they are 'different' from you, or explicitly because they are different from you." Ugh. – Stephanie M.4 years ago
I would think it might be easier to focus on one particular group (African American girls, for example) or franchise (Marvel products, for example) rather than do a broad sweep of multiple examples of said tokenism. I agree in some ways -- by focuses on checking identities off a list, sometimes creators fail to actually represent a true, authentic experience for someone of that identity. We need more original work that highlights people of various identities, and we need to do better as a society to uplift creators belonging to those identities so that their work -- which will represent a truer experience of that identity -- will be seen. – Eden4 years ago
This generation has seen a reinvigorated interest in the representation of women and minorities in the arts past and present. Entire industries are racing to be more inclusive in terms of both fictional characters and real-life labor, to avoid stereotypes and sexualization in favor of agency, to make up for previous manifestations of prejudice, and to give more due recognition to women, nonwhites, LGBTQ persons, etc., for works of merit. To what extent is this a genuine cultural reckoning, and to what extent is this (speaking from the extreme polar opposite perspective) a cynical corporate ad strategy targeting millennials which isn’t really meaningfully changing the wealth-geared, elitist, social Darwinist neoliberal reality we live in? Where do we see this trend creating new stereotypes as opposed to new, truly refreshing narrative paradigms? One potential avenue for the writer to consider is the sustained neoliberal negligence towards issues of class, particularly in Trump’s America–as opposed to issues of sex, race, ethnicity and sexuality, discussion of which has no doubt been rightly rejuvenated.
We see people refer to the need for more diverse characters, and of course it is important to hear from a broad range of people, who all have different backgrounds and opinions, but is it important that these characters are always linked to social justice? Every time we have an action story with a female lead like Mad Max: Fury Road, Atomic Blonde, Star Wars: The Force Awakens etc, it turns into a tirade about how this character is monumental and never been done before, and young women everywhere should look up to this characters because there aren’t any other female action stars (despite everybody else saying the same thing).
This topic is not intended to question the validity of diverse character, but rather investigate the effects of social justice on these characters. Is this layer of social justice harmful to these characters? If we introduce these characters without strong political and moral lectures, will audiences be more likely to embrace these differences?
An example that could work as a starting point could be The Simpsons: The character of Smithers is homosexual, but he isn’t a protected species like social justice would dictate. All facets of his character, including his sexuality, are made light of. A few years ago, The Simpsons was listed as the most influential show for homosexual representation and the breaking down of homosexual stigma. Is it possible that social justice is standing in the way of diversity? I think it would be very interesting to look at the effects of social justice on the advancement on diversity and how we should move forward with more diverse characters.
Thank you for this topic; I think there's a lot of mileage to be gotten out of it. You raise a valid point, and one I agree with. As a personal example, I have a physical disability. Therefore, I would like to see more people with disabilities represented in the media. But I *hate* it when characters with disabilities only exist to be "inspirations," or to promote social justice. In my view, we all exist to grow into ourselves, to find our purposes, and to be decent people. We're not meant to use each other just so one group can feel better about itself. – Stephanie M.6 years ago
I long for the day when characters are portrayed simply as people, regardless of whatever 'differences' they might have. A great idea for a topic. – Amyus6 years ago
Ideally a role should include both individuality and the person's interaction with society. To have a character without examining the individual's place in society would be an odd omission. Remember the show Remington Steele. It had a mystery to solve in each episode and a feminist arc back over each season back in the 80s. The show Campbell's today is a funny sitcom that shows interactions across race/gender/generations in a hilarious way today. I think the best characters on a show are a combination of the two aspects of a person, not to mention how a person is in one's family. Another example would be Big Bang Theory. Smart, successful people but struggling in love, life and legacies from their families. – Munjeera6 years ago
This is something I've always felt but never put into words. By over-emphasizing on social justice, we take away from the identity of a character. This is especially true whenever a lead is not a heterosexual white male. It's as if the character by itself is not interesting or strong enough to stand without the stigma to be PC. – superdilettante6 years ago
Master of None is a great combination of a person's life with some commentary on racism thrown in as would normally happen to a person of color. Bring It On is another movie that touches on a social justice theme but concludes in a surprising direction. Snowpiercer and Hell or High Water are two movies that portray the males leads in unusual ways. CSI had a coroner who had prosthetic limbs and he was portrayed without social justice themes throughout his tenure. There are successful movies and TV shows that do have diverse characters without social justice themes. The question here can be likened to if someone takes an example of a single character on TV who is not married, they are usually portrayed as searching for a partner. Can a single person ever be portrayed without the search for a significant other? The dating lives of single characters form the basis of so many characters on TV. Why can't single characters be portrayed as happily single and not dating? Because dating is a normal part of single life ad makes for fun TV viewing. Racism is a normal interaction in daily life and often forms the basis for a POC's life trajectory. Sobering but true. Also true is that it does make for interesting viewing. Whether that interest translates into actual action and effectively leads to change is another story. – Munjeera6 years ago
I completely agree Munjeera that racism and other forms of bigotry are part of daily life for some, and obviously that is a topic that is worth exploring; but I think it should be about maintaining balance. If you only show all members of a minority as victims, it sends a message to those people that they will forever be victims. It is like the handling of gay characters in Glee. Every gay character was a victim. They were always defined by their minority status and how society oppressed them. It then instills the notion in young (in this instance gay) people that they will never achieve anything because everyone is out to get them. – AGMacdonald6 years ago
Absolutely agree 100% that portrayals of diversity are trite with the idea that social change is not directed by individuals and their respective communities. But I don't think we should overestimate the influence of the media, rather we influence media. Media feeds our appetites not the other way around. Audiences are comfortable with the idea of diverse characters as victims or comedic targets rather than heroes or characters that have contributions to make. As for instilling in people, young and old, that these stereotypes are acceptable, people need to take responsibility for their viewing habits. I personally have made the decision to crtically examine entertainment for myself and my children and speak out against victimization roles. I do seek out forms of entertainments, plays and movies, that do offer nuanced and critical portrayals with complex characters. The more we support these types of high quality entertainment in its various forms, the more our responsible choices will have an impact on the entertainment industry. We need to stop enabling and blaming the media for their immature portrayals and start being mature and responsible in how we respond. Media will offer diverse characters with depth and nuance when we start demanding it. – Munjeera6 years ago
Absolutely agree. It's such a complicated issue, which is why it will make for a great article. – AGMacdonald6 years ago
It’s always a monumental feat when a novel, especially in YA, gets recognized for having a diverse cast of characters, and even more impressive, if it has a diverse lead, and a diverse author writing it. So, what’s the middle man, per se, in getting us from being readers going through page-turners about characters of all types, only to end up with their more cliché, whitewashed, able-bodied counterparts?
The way you're using the word "diverse" is problematic. Human beings are not diverse. Populations are. To answer your suggestion, it's important for whoever wants to write this article to realize that films and novels function differently as artistic media. We can read both as narratives, but the audiovisual nature of film is really important towards the ways that directors envision a work. The reasons why movies continue to feature whitewashed casts is because most readers have a tendency to ignore these "diverse" descriptions when they read. The basic template for a human being in the American imagination is a white person, and therefore descriptions which deviate from this are easily ignored or taken with a grain of salt. It tends to be people of color who are disgruntled with whitewashing because it contributes to their historical erasure and because they are the most sensitive to these issues. – X7 years ago
The largest problem with this topic, as mentioned, is that both forms of media have different purposes. Novels have the simple job of entertaining an engaged reader, while film has the complex job of making money. If this topic is explored, the researcher would need to include this as one of the major reasons for the "whitewashing." Since producers and directors mostly care about making money instead of diversifying and representing the correct culture and racial groups, the topic would be unfortunately straightforward, I would think. – Steven Gonzales7 years ago
Like previous commenters have said, money is a big reason, but on the other hand it's audience's reactions to diverse content. In a lot of fandoms if you write a fanfic with a poc character, many fans will say that they can't "imagine" that character being a minority. For instance even though there are plenty of stories featuring your typical white, straight character, if you create one story featuring a minority character, some people will react by saying that you're taking stories away from white characters. – seouljustice7 years ago
To expand on what seouljustice said, I think that diversity is easy to ignore in a good book. Looks are not as important as values and motivations in books, but are much more important in more visual media, including films. Engaging with characters and projecting yourself onto them means finding similarities between yourself and them, while being able to ignore differences. Target audiences for most popular movies have large percentages of white viewers who would then have trouble empathizing with characters of different backgrounds, including (but not limited to) race and sexuality. – C8lin7 years ago
Hmmm...what comes to mind is actually Disney's recent film, Zootopia. Totally hilarious, classic Disney fare. But also a pretty clear race allegory, as many reviewers have noticed. Gets to the heart of racialized discourse: are people of certain races (or in Zootopia's case, bunnies) inherently passive, while others (see wolves in the film) are aggressive and still others (see foxes) sneaky and conniving? Of course not, but these are the assumptions we inherit and perpetuate, even on the subtlest levels. Ruminating on these topics in animated form is, I think, rather ingenious. – alissac8 years ago
There are a ton of different ways this could go. Some specification is probably needed: films from a certain era? Country or region? About certain race(s)? Different genres? There are a lot of different factors that will affect the role race plays in a movie. – chrischan8 years ago
Qu'Allah bénisse la France (2014) a French film, shot in black & white that takes a look at the racism, France's well-known unemployment issue as well as heavy drug use and how these factors affect the youngsters in a devastating manner. The film is based on a true story. – oksly8 years ago
I might be interested in this topic. But, in order to give any step further, I am going to need examples, a project with a thesis, an explanation of the relevance of the undertaking, and proof that this idea is original and hasn't been explored before. – T. Palomino1 year ago
Thor is a woman, Spider-man is black, and the Hulk is Korean-American. These popular characters were once all white males, but Marvel Comics has undergone some re-branding and decided to branch out with character diversity. Are these changes to be praised and the new line-up celebrated? Can this truly be called diversity when these female and minority characters are launched from the platform of popular, established, white male characters?
This article will argue whether or not this kind of "diversity" is valid.
I always thought about why didn't they just create new characters as opposed to changing the old? I like that they are trying to be progressive and gain a more diverse audience and appeal to the masses, however, I feel as if it's kind of a half-hearted move. Sounds like they said to themselves, "Oh hey, it's 2015, we need to have more diverse characters. Oh, let's just change Thor into a woman and make Spider-man black." Upon hearing these changes, I didn't feel moved. I think for this topic, it would be important to see how their readers have reacted and what their thoughts are, and if this made an impact on Marvel's comic-book sales. – Jmarie8 years ago
While I am incredibly glad to see that more female characters are being added, I am hesitant to praise the way in which it is happening. Representation is everything; it's what pulls people in and keeps them buying, volume after volume. People of all colors, creeds, identities, religions, and orientations deserve to be explored and promoted - correctly.
Having Thor be a woman is an interesting change, but I think it was a cop out. Jane Foster could have been so incredible on her own. She didn't need Mjolnir and the power of Thor to be "super," but that's the angle they chose.
The Spiderverse is taking a slightly better approach to it. This opens the path for there to be multiple personalities with the same powers. That sort of open-ended story telling could do so much good for representation. What could all of these different people, all from different backgrounds, do with the same set of powers?
While all of this is all well and good, I want to see original characters that aren't being slapped with the merits of their "previous" versions. Jane is going to have to break away from readers who have the white, male, Norse "god" mindset. They could have easily taken a bit from the movies - why was Jane Foster, a normal woman, able to absorb an Infinity Stone? There is so much potential there! Let's have new characters that are black, latina/o, trans*, gay, asexual - but let them be themselves. No recycling of names to get attention. Let the characters speak for themselves. – crypticlyric8 years ago
I worry about this change in comics. I absolutely think that creators need to be creating more diverse comic universes, however some of these changes seem half thought out and sloppy. I'd much rather see new characters of different races than old characters redefined. No matter what the main stream public is probably going to remember the white character, thus taking something away from both versions of the character. I also worry that these changes are temporary grabs for publicity and lacking in real substance. – SomeOtherAmazon8 years ago
Who writes comics and for whom? – Munjeera8 years ago
Comics have been done a better job with representation than most other mediums; however even though we see more sexualities, genders, and races, many of them are still being produced by cis caucasian writers. Do people who are not affected by the oppressive manners of a nation able to tell an honest story or are we taking opportunity away from the writers who can?
(ex. Strange Fruit is a comic made by a white creative team on the topic of racism in the American south for instance, so it’s more a question of authority and credibility. Can people who do not have a glass ceiling over their heads have the ability to write about people who do without bias interfering?)
For the first sentence, the comma after the word "mediums" should be changed to a semi-colon. Then, the word "and" between "story" and "we" in the second sentence should be rewritten as "or" instead. – dsoumilas8 years ago
I believe they can but they'd have to be really, really careful about how they approach their subject matter, and if you side with me, then it'd be great to bring up specific examples. For example, "Saga" is written by a cis white male writer, and it's a fantastic and very diverse comic. On the other hand (for something more realistic), "Incognegro" is written by a mix-race male, and I don't think that type of comic could have been written correctly by a cis white male author. So yeah, fun stuff. – CaptainSwift8 years ago
I think that people are able to accurately tell a story from a perspective of a cultural group other than their own, but that it requires research and more thought than when writing through your own personal culture. No matter who writes, there will be bias and stereotypes, even about your own culture, that you include. – nsnow8 years ago
I worry lately that some of the diversity they're adding is sloppily done for PR purposes. This is an interesting topic. – SomeOtherAmazon8 years ago
So many video games seem to have the same type of protagonist – or at least as the "default" protagonist design. White, straight, cisgendered male in his thirties with dark hair, a "rugged" feature, and questionable character. We see it again and again in some of the most popular titles. The Last of Us, Bioshock Infinite, Mad Max, The Order, even Mass Effect when it comes to their default version of Male!Commander Shepard. I know diversity is a bit of a hot-button issue in many different fields right now, but how could the video game industry change the standard? It’s not like every single game can have a create-a-character sytem.
That's certainly one component that the industry glosses over at times, although I feel as though most popular titles grow within their own molds, to say. You can easily examine Call of Duty and other mainstream games, there's clearly a lack of diversity in every concept of an original game, including the protagonist physique.
Honestly, it's usually up to the independent (Indie) developers of the gaming community to rectify that, as most of those companies crank products in mere interest of reaping treasures. There are a great many small titles that grind against the grain, and are amazing in their own right. But for the big names, unless a widespread consumer whiplash shakes those groups, they will stick with their typical formula, almost every time. – N.D. Storlid8 years ago
Even beyond the topic of diversity, when games have the same protagonist mold over and over again, it becomes an issue of creativity and lazy writing. For example, the rugged middle-aged white male is a popular protagonist choice in the survival horror genre because it fits into the 'gritty' atmosphere. It's almost too easy to create that protagonist for that environment, and it would be interesting to see how writers could fit a completely different character archetype in. Ellie was a much loved character in The Last of Us (probably a lot more than the protagonist) because she was younger and more upbeat, and the writers worked to fit her into the environment. It takes a lot more effort to include a character that breaks the mold, but they are generally appreciated far more. – Grace Maich8 years ago