The latest brouhaha in Hollywood (aside from Paris Hilton and Lindsey Lohan) revolves around Angelina Jolie being tapped for the part of Daniel Pearl’s (the slain Wall Street Journal reporter) bi-ethnic (black and white) wife in an upcoming movie. Apparently there is a fair amount of grumbling from some in the black acting community, particularly black female actors, that the part should have gone to a black actress rather than a white woman, or at worse, the role should have gone to a multi-ethnic actress, like Halle Berry or Jennifer Beals.
I have a couple of problems with this notion. First, as a director, I try really hard to fill roles according to “open casting” ideals. In open casting, you try to put the best person in the role regardless of race or ethnic concerns. Of course, this ideal can only work up to a point to be believable for the audience however. For example, I don’t pay attention to ethnicity when casting a husband and wife, but if they have a child, and the child is supposed to be biological, then I would be asking too much from the audience if I cast a Korean child in that role. But whenever possible I think Hollywood should try to think outside the box when casting. By doing this, minorities can only benefit since the majority of roles are indeed written with whites in mind. I think of Louis Gossett who took on the famous role in “Officer and a Gentleman” though the role was intended for a white actor originally.
Now when we are talking about an historical or real person, then again, there are limitations without causing the audience to step out of the world of make-believe. Which may be why some are focused on this role. But that brings me to my second disagreement with those who say Angelina should not have done the role. If Mrs. Pearl was half black and half-white, then to say that only a black person can play her is ignoring the fact that she is equally white so therefore a white woman has as much right to play the role as a black actress.
Now there is the argument that says then at least give the role to a bi-ethnic woman. But here again, that is such a limiting way to cast. And a mindset that in the long-run will not do minorities any good since it is saying in essence that the only person that should get a role is someone that fits the original writer’s perception of a character.
I say let Angelina do her thing. But I also say, let’s hope that the attention she will get in doing this part, will draw more focus on the idea of open-casting. I’m not naive enough to think that this is a given, but if we want others to accept different types in casting, then we have to be willing to accept it too. And don’t get me wrong, I am well aware of the difficulty black women have in getting good parts in Hollywood. I just believe that in the long run, the only way to broaden the field for them, and others, is to push open casting whenever it is legitimately doable.