I’ve Got a Lot of Friends and We’ve Got a Lot of Makeup

6 Jun

This Vulture post about a spate of recent and upcoming movies in which white actors don bronzer (dubbed “The Summer of Brownface”) includes several strained inclusions/conclusions.  Although it does beggar understanding that Mena Suvari is a white actress playing a role based on a real life black woman, there really isn’t anything that crazy about Adam Sandler playing an Israeli (except that the movie will be a goofy, hummus obsessed dud) because he is, in fact Semitic.  “Israeli” is a nationality (one that happens to correspond both  to a state and a religion).  If Sandler is crossing some kind of ethnic boundary then so would Golda Meir.

The standard used to attack Fred Armistead is likewise confusing:

And when Fauxbama raised some eyebrows, SNL was quick to use Fred Armisen’s own “exotic” background (Venezuelan-Japanese) as a shield. No ethnic vaudeville here, just good-natured biracial-on-biracial ribbing! In other words, nobody involved is willing to say that what they’re doing is, in fact, what they’re doing — and, as a direct result, everyone ends up looking a little ashamed.

Perhaps there’ll be less hemming and hawing if cross-race casting ever becomes a two-way street (the stultifying White Girls notwithstanding, the only such performance that readily comes to mind is Jeffrey Wright as a Latino in Shaft).

Would Idov have preferred that Kennan Thompson play Obama because Thompson is black (though not biracial)?  It’s important that Obama self-identifies as black (and, I would argue, that many Americans would regard him as such even if he didn’t) but seems less important for the person portraying him (and what about Darryl Hammond playing Jesse Jackson for the past decade).  Why does Wright playing a Latino make it more of a two-way street but Armistead playing Obama not?  And I’m surprised Idov could only think of two examples of cross-race casting the other way, forgetting Dave Chappell’s hilarious “Racial Draft” (among others) and Eddie Murphy’s classic “White Like Me” (from which the title of this post is taken).

The more important argument seems to be “why aren’t there more non-white actors getting roles” (or being shut-out) rather than pretending context and the somewhat fluid and constructed nature of racial categories is an excuse “more sickening, in a way, then outright minstrelsy”.


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