So, I’ve continued to follow the debate about Elizabeth Olsen playing Wanda Maximoff, and I’ve heard a lot of reactions along these lines from those defending this casting choice:
“But Romani can be white. A lot of them are white. Jewish people are considered white by [insert region of the world here]. Wanda herself is white! She won’t even be Magneto’s daughter in the film so she’ll be a completely different character whose ethnicity doesn’t matter!”
Here’s the thing, friends:
- Comics aren’t always the best medium to portray ethnicity due to limitations of style or technique…check out how folks like Talia al Ghul or even Vixen have come across very whitewashed in comic book pages, but this doesn’t change their established ethnicity. Wanda Maximoff may look like any other white woman in comic books, but that doesn’t change her established ethnicity.
- Race and ethnicity are semantic, societal constructs that vary wildly based on culture. People who would be considered “white” by (the impressively fluid) American standards of the term might not be considered white by standards of other cultural regions. Or vice versa.
- Moreover, the fact that people of ethnic backgrounds can and often do pass as white in our eyes does not open up the Jewish or Romani community as a free-for-all for white actors to portray, particularly when it looks like more ethnically-appropriate actors weren’t even being considered for the part. Please read up on the historical and continual contemporary persecution of Romani people who don’t have the luxury of passing as “white” to their neighbors — the exact group with whom Wanda herself has most identified throughout the course of her storylines — and then get back to me about how two of the only such superheroes of that ethnicity get to to be portrayed by vanilla-white actors.
- Because the fact is that someone of Wanda’s ethnicity can indeed be pale-skinned, bright-eyed, or even blonde…but I’m sorry, I don’t care how politically-incorrect this sounds, but if the first person you think of when I mention “Jewish-Romani biracial” is someone who looks like Elizabeth Olsen, then I’m calling that out for the bullshit that it is. And I think there is something incredibly disingenuous about taking some of the rare minority superheroes out there, who is finally getting to chance to be showcased in a major blockbuster film alongside some other major heroes, and making her and her brother as white as you could possibly get away with and then saying “Oh no, see, they’re still Romani, because there are some Romani who can pass for white folks!” It’s Jake Gyllenhaal as the Prince of Persia all over again, and Benedict Cumberbatch as Khan, and a dozen other instances of whitewashing justified with whatever excuse we can come up with to keep white actors onscreen and minority actors from even playing themselves.
- Let’s pretend that there are entirely equal ratios of Jews/Roma who have more ethnic coloring and those who have more hegemonic coloring. Let’s just imagine for a second that someone of these ethnicities have identical chance of looking dark or looking white, whether this is actually true or not (it isn’t). If this is the case…then it’s still bad that both actresses chosen for this role so far look like they do. Why? Because if all else is deemed equal and yet we still trend towards whiter complexions in representation, well, this is not actually equal, this is not being neutral, this is not showing racial ambiguity; if you say “this character can visually be any racial coloring in the world” and we still land right back on white as a result, this is showing a clear bias towards white as “default.” If she can resemble anything, why does she resemble a white girl with a dye job?
- Finally, not being Magneto’s children need not alter Wanda or Pietro’s ethnicity in any way. If their ethnicity itself is going to be erased entirely, then that’s whole other, separate offense on top of the preexisting offensiveness.
This site is notorious for claiming that characters like Spider-Man or the Human Torch can be played by black actors since, hey, being black doesn’t change their characterizations or backstory…in theory. Well, alright, here is a character whose characterization and backstory would change a whole darn lot if you alter her ethnicity in any way, and yet we think getting blonde Aryans to play her is no different than Emma Stone playing two different white women with different hair colors or Daniel Craig playing a slightly different white James Bond than Pierce Brosnan? If people honestly think that then I’m sorry to say we’re speaking completely different languages here in a way that simply cannot be bridged.
So I take it from the all the diatribes in the Scarlet Witch tag, people are upset over Marvel Studios casting blonde white girls to play a person of colour (POC) for Avengers: Age of Ultron? Well, good on you all for speaking up because Hollywood whitewashing goes beyond just superficial complaints about accuracy to source material. However, I see a lot of misinformation being chucked around, so I’ll just clear up a few things, then have a little rant of my own at the end. :)
I present to you, select choices from my preferred Batman reboot cast. According to Rule 63. And racebent. Guys, this would be glorious. I’m tellin’ ya: glorious.
Brooke Wayne/Batwoman: Gina Torres
Reasoning: Her breathtaking performance as kicker of asses, Zoe Washburne. She can do cool and stoic under fire. I’d like to see her brood.
Alma Pennyworth: Loretta Devine
Reasoning: Literally the only woman with enough sass to portray a Pennyworth.
Richelle Grayson/Robin: Nikki Soohoo
Reasoning: Freaking adorable. Aaaaaaand experience pretending to be a gymnast.
Shane Kyle/Catman: John Abraham
Reasoning: Look at him. LOOK. LOOOOOOOOOOK.
Commissioner Jamie Gordon: Jennifer Beals
Reasoning: I just really miss The Chicago Code, and her performance as an utterly dedicated, no-nonsense officer of the law.
Victor Vale: Godfrey Gao
Reasoning: Okay seriously, are you looking at him? That’s why.
Harper Dent/Two-Face: Kelly Hu
Reasoning: One of my absolute favorite actresses, she’s fabulous good or evil and I’d love to see her waver between the two.
The Joker: Angela Bassett
Reasoning: I can’t think of any other actress with the chops to pull this off. She’d be phenomenal.
Parker Isley/Poison Ivy: Santiago Cabrera
Reasoning: He looks good with a beard and he can do sorrow like no other. See Merlin.
Evelyn Nigma/The Riddler: Dichen Lachman
Reasoning: Her constantly changing performance on Dollhouse makes me think she’d be perfect to develop a mysterious, unique take on the Riddler that the movies have not yet seen.
You write a musical. It’s called “The Nightingale”. Based on Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale. It’s not finished yet, different drafts and versions abound, each getting its own try-out in the form of a workshop. You put a lot of work into it. You want it to succeed.
“The Nightingale” being set in China and involving Chinese characters, there is of course one workshop where all the roles are played by Asians. Duh.
But you didn’t like that version.
Something about it struck you as …
Well, it felt small.
Small when it should be grand. “The Nightingale” is a myth (well, more accurately a fairy tale, but who’s going to parse the difference?) and being a myth, it should be … mythic.
Grandeur. That’s it. That’s the word you’re looking for.
Grandeur and universality, a mirror into which so many different people can see themselves, unalienated, because a myth has to have universal application, universal endorsement, universal, um, you want help, you’re running out of words …
But in the workshop, one Asian face walked on stage, followed by another, and then yet another, a whole chorus of them, and suddenly …
Well, it just kept getting smaller and smaller.
It was literal. That’s it. Literal. And not mythic.
Literal when it should be mythic.
Literal because well — you’ll just say it and risk a chorus of disapproval — an Asian walks on stage and he can only be himself. He does not bring the world with him. Ingenue, lover, fighter, villain, protector, monarch — nuh-uh, none of these. He reads small. And that smallness will transfer to your work. And a small work is an unendorsed work. You have ambitions. You want endorsement. Of course you do.
An Asian walks on stage and he reads small. Case-study-sized. Life-sized. Literal. Only himself, and no other discernible qualities that would make the surrender of heroic transference by an audience easy and pleasurable.
Civic lessons, yes. Well, if this were a musical about civics lessons …
In the audience, you among them, watching the Asians making “The Nightingale” smaller and smaller, you thought of each act of heroic transference that couldn’t occur marked by a dollar sign. You’re smart. And pragmatic. Such a thought would be no stranger to someone smart and pragmatic.
Think of the negative hole that puts you and your work in.
Nuh-uh. Let’s do another workshop. The monarch in China is white. White is the universal solvent. Into him so many other colors will fold. In white is yellow, black, brown, red. The size of the world. Grandeur. That’s the word. Grandeur. And mythic. Grandeur and mythic. You will repeat the words in tandem or singly over and over. A mantra.
Bu in white is yet another color. In white is green. But this is something you will never say."
An excerpt from Asian American writer Han Ong’s Facebook status essay, “The Nightingale Affair,” regarding the play “The Nightingale” being put on in La Jolla, Calif. by the creators of the Broadway musical “Spring Awakening.” Although the play is set in ancient China, the main character (the Emperor of China) is played by two white actors. There are no Asian American men in the cast and only a small handful of women of color in supporting roles. As Ong writes, the situation is about “ Asians fighting to be able to play themselves on stage.” (via racebending)
As someone who saw Spring Awakening and adore it still…
Seriously. Fuck Sater and Sheik. All that cred they got after Spring and this is what they do?