Jamal is a graduate of Northeastern Seminary and writes on a broad range of topics. His writings are based on other points of view.
What I am about to say might seem traitorous as I am a Black man. When the casting announcement was made for Spiderman: Homing Coming, it was revealed that Zendaya was going to be playing the role of Mary Jane Watson. The character, both within the comics and the prior Spiderman movies, had been portrayed as a red-headed, White woman. The actress, however, is not.
Taking Sides With Type Casting
I should be clear that I have no issue with the casting. My question has to do with a larger issue that is connected with it. Recently, Hollywood movies have been marked by a struggle to become more diverse. However, nowhere was this more apparent than with the ‘white-washing’ of ethnic roles. Several movies have found themselves scandalized because the actors they choose for certain roles did not match the traditional race of the character or the region they came from. This included Gods of Egypt, Pan, Aloha, and Doctor Strange.
I had written to my local paper op ed a piece about how this type of casting is nothing new and has been done for decades. However, that was coming from the point of view of minorities. This is not dealing with that angle. The casting of a non-white actress in a traditionally white role has been highly praised so far, which again isn’t a problem.
The problem comes up when comparing the situations side by side, as many people will inevitably do the next time a film is called out for white washing. At least in recent years, casting done by most Hollywood directors and producers is done for either skill or ability to bring in money to make up the expenditure, hopefully both. Casting done as outright racism like in the 40s and 50s isn’t an impossibility, but also not as likely in a progressive-focused Hollywood. If we presume for the moment that to be the case, what would happen if there was an uproar over casting a minority performer as a character that was another race?
Actually, that did happen, with the reboot of Fantastic Four came out. Human Torch, a character who was known to be blonde and blue-eyed, was instead played by Micheal B. Jordan. When there was an uproar over that, people who were protesting were immediately called out as racist, and maybe they were. The question remains; is this a double standard?
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Equality or Power?
The purpose for progressive moves in society is to establish justice, equality, and opportunity to those who have had it denied to them. However, human nature, something that we all have, swings like a pendulum. It will go from one extreme until it is pulled towards the other extreme. And there are many people who feel that the pendulum is starting to go too far in the other direction.
The danger of any movement done in the name of justice or righteousness is that it can too easily make the transition from true justice to power. I heard a comedian once note that changing the law isn’t about justice but about who is holding power at that particular time as many of the things we consider unjust were once legal. The argument has been made by some with the counter question, “Well why not?”
This view holds that those who have been oppressed are deserving of having a little more power than normal, maybe all if they’re extreme enough. This view poisons the equality that earlier minority actors struggled to get and still is struggling with. It’s the pendulum swinging in the other direction and it's only a matter of time before it returns to the other side.
Congratulations But With a Caution
It is great that minority actors are having an easier time getting roles now.. Fifty years ago, it may have been near impossible for them. However, in that quest to try and reach a balance, we have to ensure that the ball doesn’t swing too far the other way. When people start getting what they want or the position that they want, they can rationalize the shit out of it, without caring that they actually might be turning into what they are fighting against: “That’s not the same! That’s different because…”, fill in the blank.
So great news that Zendaya won the role in Spiderman, truly. For those on the look out for whitewashing, just be careful the next time someone calls out another film for casting an actor who doesn’t match the original race for the role. When you point the finger at someone, three others are pointing back at you.
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.