Guy Adams: Bending the rules on ethnic casting

Share
Related Topics

If you can bring yourself to brave the discomforts of a multiplex, do try to catch Jake Gyllenhaal's new Prince of Persia film, which is as lively an action movie as you'll see all summer but thanks to a disastrous opening weekend here in the US, where it made just $37m, is likely to be pulled from cinemas in a couple of weeks.

The inquest is already out regarding why Disney spent $200m on what turned out to be such a flop. Alongside the Sex and the City sequel, which also opened to $37m – roughly half the expected figure – it has contributed to Hollywood's worst summer Bank Holiday weekend for 15 years.

Is it too early, though, to wonder if issues of race contributed to this underwhelming box office performance? Sex and the City spends almost three hours trying to advertise Abu Dhabi, but ends in a pseudo-feminist set piece which is deeply offensive to Arab culture. Prince of Persia is set in, well, Persia. But it doesn't star a single actor from an Iranian, Middle Eastern or even Muslim background.

Instead, casting agents told Mr Gyllenhaal to grow a beard, and then covered him, and his co-star, the British actress Gemma Atherton, in rather too much fake tan. The practice, according to a recent LA Times exposé, has become known in the film industry as "race-bending."

There will be plenty more race-bending in the summer's other big action movie, M Night Shyamalan's adaptation of a TV cartoon called The Last Airbender. It features white actors in three of the four principal roles. Yet to the displeasure of fans (who are calling for a boycott) they play Asian and Native American characters.

Of course, race-bending is as old as Hollywood. Orson Welles blacked up to play Othello, while Mickey Rooney's Mr Yunioshi in Breakfast at Tiffany's is an object lesson in crass stereotype. But it's recently become a touchy subject: witness Australian actor Russell Crowe's reaction to being asked, in a BBC interview, why his Robin Hood had an eye-rish accent.

Film-makers could once justify a relaxed attitude towards cultural affairs, since movies only had to wash their face at the US box office to be a commercial success. But these days, as budgets creep ever-higher, they need to attract global audiences to secure a profit. Avatar, for example, made $2bn of its $2.7bn on the "international" market.

So the hit films of the future will almost certainly be multicultural. By which reasoning, the great white hope of the summer box office is a remake of The Karate Kid which is the first major Hollywood project of the modern era to be entirely made in China – a funny country for film-making, given local attitudes to free speech, but that's a debate for another day.

There's more to public service than mere war

America's latest political buzzword is "misspeak," a term that lawmakers increasingly seem to favour over the Anglo Saxon alternative: "lies." Richard Blumenthal, the Attorney General of Connecticut, is the most recent hapless individual to use it, after he was caught giving tub-thumping speeches about his time in Vietnam during the 1970s.

There was one problem: Blumenthal actually avoided deployment to 'Nam several times, and instead stayed in the US, helping disadvantaged kids through the "Toys for Tots" programme. His fabricated tales of derring-do recall those of Hillary Clinton, who claimed to have "misspoken" during the 2008 presidential race, when she falsely recalled dodging sniper fire on a trip to Bosnia in the late Nineties.

Both "misspeakers" have of course been widely vilified. But shouldn't we also be wondering why they felt compelled to tell these clattering fibs in the first place?

The "Toys for Tots" programme is, after all, a perfectly honourable way for a future public servant to have served his country. So was Mrs Clinton's diplomatic visit to a war zone. Yet 65 years after the last really just war, Clinton and Blumenthal still reckon that being shot at is a bigger vote winner than having once helped people. The really sad thing is that they're probably right.

We need to talk about Kevin's cleaning method

Like many a Brit abroad, Tony Hayward of BP is getting terribly sunburnt, and it's hard to watch him bumbling around Louisiana without wondering why no one in his vast and increasingly discredited PR team bothered to pack a tube of sun-cream in their emergency suitcase.

Kevin Costner, who arrived at this potential crime scene two weeks ago, has by contrast been the epitome of disaster-zone cool: wearing linen shirts, action trousers, and a fresh crop of the manly stubble we all grew to love in films like Waterworld and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.

Appearances are deceptive, though. For while the inelegant Mr Hayward is still running the show, with his "junk shots," "top kills" and other unlikely schemes for solving this looming catastrophe, Mr Costner's plans for staving off Armageddon are being cruelly ignored.

The actor claims to have invented a machine which can separate oil from sea water. Over the past 15 years, he's invested $26m, of his own money, in making it work (that's $26m more than the oil industry appears to have invested in new clean-up technology). Now Costner reckons his machine can clean up the Gulf, but BP isn't listening. Films have been made about smaller tragedies.

g.adams@independent.co.uk

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Senior Research Fellow in Gender, Food and Resilient Communities

£47,334 - £59,058 per annum: Coventry University: The Centre for Agroecology, ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Taking on Ukip requires a delicate balancing act for both main parties

Andrew Grice
Today is a bigger Shabbes than usual in the Jewish world because it has been chosen to launch the Shabbos Project  

Shabbes exerts a pull on all Jews, and today is bigger than ever

Howard Jacobson
Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker