Angelina Jolie as Mariane Pearl in A Mighty Heart
The wife of slain Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl is of Afro-Chinese-Cuban descent. One look at Mariane Pearl and it becomes clear she’s not white. So it’s not hard to imagine how outraged supporters were when actress Angelina Jolie was cast as Mariane in the 2007 biopic A Mighty Heart.
Remember the racist backlash over the casting of a young African-American actress as Rue in the 2012 blockbuster hit The Hunger Games? The indignation was high, even though Rue is described as having “dark brown skin and eyes” in the book on which the film was based.
It is interesting to note that there was no outrage that the character Katniss Everdeen, widely regarded as a woman of color by many readers of the book, was played by naturally blonde-haired, blue-eyed Jennifer Lawrence in the film.
Author Suzanne Collins describes Everdeen in the book as having straight black hair, olive skin and grey eyes.
In the 2003 film, The Human Stain, Anthony Hopkins plays, Coleman Silk, a Jewish college professor who, despite his appearance, turns out to be a Black man.
For obvious reasons the filmmakers decided against all the blackface shenanigans, but the suspension of belief required to make Hopkins’ performance as a Black man successfully passing for white convincing, is just humanly impossible.
The casting decision in The Human Stain was baffling because there are a number of good actors in Hollywood who already have the ability to pass as white, but were passed over for the role.
Stuck is a 2007 thriller, loosely based on the true story of a Black woman, Chante Mallard, who irresponsibly ran a homeless man over with her car and left him to die on her windshield.
Mallard’s character is called “Brandi Boski” in the film.
The white actress cast to play Brandi was American Beauty star, Mena Suvari. To add insult to injury, the filmmakers thought it was appropriate to have Suvari wear cornrows in the film, as if to hint at the character’s true ethnicity.
Kevin Spacey starred in the 2000 film Pay it Forward in the role of Eugene Simonet, a teacher who inspires main character Trevor McKinney to change the world.
The filmmakers may have been pushing creative license to the limit because in the book on which the movie is based, Simonet’s name is Reuben St.Clair, and he’s a Black man.
The role was apparently offered to actor Denzel Washington, but because other Black male actors are apparently hard to find in Hollywood, directors thought Spacey would have to do.
Hollywood’s tendency to bypass Black actors for Black roles is rooted in the industry’s historic use of white actors in blackface to portray Blacks in film.
One example is the 1965 film, Othello, based on the Shakespearean play of the same name. Lawrence Olivier sported blackface and was nominated for an Academy Award for playing the Shakespearean character, described as a “Moor” in the play.
**** The article does not explicitly mention that Katniss Everdeen, Coleman Silk, Eugene Simonet/Reuben St.Clair, and Eugene Simonet are actually fictional characters. Although it’s implicit within the copy of each one of these items, we felt it important to point out the discrepancy with the title.