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Home :: Archive :: 1993 :: September ::
Re: Denzel Washington, Race, and Casting
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 4, No. 576.  Thursday, 23 Sept. 1993.
 
(1)     From:   Tad Davis <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 22 Sep 1993 09:34:31 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Re: Denzel Washington, Race, and Casting
 
(2)     From:   Nancy W Miller <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 22 Sep 93 13:00:04 EDT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 4.0570  Re: Denzel Washington, Race, and Casting
 
(3)     From:   Nina Walker <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 22 Sep 93 15:40:06 EDT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 4.0570  Re: Denzel Washington, Race, and Casting
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Tad Davis <
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Date:           Wednesday, 22 Sep 1993 09:34:31 -0400 (EDT)
Subject:        Re: Denzel Washington, Race, and Casting
 
To me, the real question is not why Branagh cast Denzel Washington, who
can act, but why he cast Keanu Reeves, who can't. Reeves's performance is
the major blot on an otherwise delightful film. (Even Michael Keaton's
performance, strange as it was, didn't bother me as much; at least he was
doing SOMETHING.)
 
Tad Davis

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(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Nancy W Miller <
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Date:           Wednesday, 22 Sep 93 13:00:04 EDT
Subject: 4.0570  Re: Denzel Washington, Race, and Casting
Comment:        Re: SHK 4.0570  Re: Denzel Washington, Race, and Casting
 
Can we stand one more comment about Branagh's casting of _Much Ado_?  I can't
help thinking that Denzel Washington and the other American actors (who, for
the most part, stood out as significantly less talented than the British
actors) were cast as a double-edged sword: a) to try to coax a presumably
unlettered American audience into attending (and thus funding) the film; and b)
to offer a gentle (?) dig against Americans via the contrast between acting
abilities.  Personally, I can't imagine why anyone would cast Keanu Reeves in
anything, and I'm certain he could have found a host of talented American
actors, well-trained in Shakespeare, if he had tried.
 
(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Nina Walker <
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Date:           Wednesday, 22 Sep 93 15:40:06 EDT
Subject: 4.0570  Re: Denzel Washington, Race, and Casting
Comment:        Re: SHK 4.0570  Re: Denzel Washington, Race, and Casting
 
I, too, am coming to the discussion late, having been away most of the
summer. It is one that interests me however and I'd like to add....
Color blind casting is nothing new to those of us who are opera fans. It
has become old news, as well it should. As a subscriber to the ART in
Cambridge, MA (American Repertory Theatre) I can vouch for its continued
success for some time now. This, however, I believe to be somewhat beside
the point--to the best of my recollection Branaugh's casting is a first
in film. Thus it takes on an added significance. It's a breakthrough, I
hope, albeit a little discussed one. As a matter of fact, I am suspect
of the lack of discussion in the press criticism and review. Silence on
the subject is deafening. Were the critics pretending they didn't
notice? I'd sooner the truth--they'd prefer to distance themselves from
the subject and hope it will just go away.
 
I don't believe for a minute the PR response that Washington was cast
because he was best for the role. He's a fine actor but as we know
Shakespeare is a specialty. I do believe that Branaugh and Washington
must have been bracing for an adverse response and the PR response is
the proper challenge to it. It's very regretable that response never
came so that we might have aired some of the dirty linen that lurks
behind all kinds of film casting. Branaugh and Washington are too
intelligent not to have been ready for the argument that never came.
Washington cast as one of two blood brothers was not done without
thought. This role makes it impossible to ignore.
 
To Susan Harris: Yes, I was also effected by the scene you speak of,
almost exactly as you were. I expect we will be bringing our own context
to such situations for some time to come if color blind casting ever
makes progress. However, as with opera, eventually we will become blind
to the color of the performer, as long as the performer is truly the
best for the job. In this case, Washington (who may himself never be a
great Shakespearan actor) opened the door for all those young non-white
actors and actresses who may be inspired and must wait until some
convoluted setting is invented for a staging of Shakespeare's play.
 
Three cheers for Branaugh and Washington and for everyone willing to
discuss their doubts and impressions. I fear, however, the film powers
that be are keeping this discussion in the closet. So much for progress.
I expect we'll see this again in film now that Branaugh has broken the
barrier. Perhaps in my lifetime it will move beyond classics and into
popular film.
 
It should, of course, not threaten any drama in which race is a
'character'and racial casting is necessary to the context. There's room
for both.
 

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