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Home :: Archive :: 2003 :: August ::
Re: Colour-Blind Casting
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.1568  Wednesday, 5 August 2003

[1]     From:   John-Paul Spiro <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 05 Aug 2003 12:44:46 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.1557 Re: Colour-Blind Casting

[2]     From:   Sam Small <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 6 Aug 2003 00:01:21 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.1557 Re: Colour-Blind Casting


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John-Paul Spiro <
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Date:           Tuesday, 05 Aug 2003 12:44:46 -0400
Subject: 14.1557 Re: Colour-Blind Casting
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.1557 Re: Colour-Blind Casting

A few things that aren't directly Shakespeare-related but may be
pertinent to this post:

1) Denzel Washington generally has a policy of playing positive
characters.  His roles in "He Got Game" and "Training Day" were
exceptions because he felt he needed to broaden himself a bit, but
generally he plays heroes.  This seriously limits his roles. (Several
years ago he warned Will Smith against debuting in "Six Degrees of
Separation" because he thought the role was too negative for the image
of African-American men.)

2) That said, Denzel Washington's color was not so important in
"Philadelphia," "John Q," "The Bone Collector," and "Fallen."  Those
roles could have been played by white actors without much change in the
content of the role (though Denzel's race in all these cases adds
something).

3) I mean no slander whatsoever, but I have heard rumors that Denzel
Washington is not interested in specifically being an object of
attraction for a white woman.  He personally cut lines from "Malcolm X"
wherein he engages in sexy talk with his first white girlfriend.  His
relationship with Angelina Jolie in "The Bone Collector" is conducted
almost entirely over the phone.  Exploring interracial relationships is
not his interest in choosing roles.  This is not just "Hollywood"; it's
Denzel's own choosing.

4) Denzel Washington is a very good actor, though he has a tendency to
play righteousness and authority to a fault, sometimes at the cost of
emotional complexity.  (His roles in "Training Day" and "He Got Game"
countered this typecasting directly, to mixed results.)  Would he really
make a great Hamlet?  What about Posthumus?  Lear?  Angelo?  Richard
II?  He would probably make a fine Brutus, perhaps a good Antony.  I
have always felt he would be more suitable for a Homeric or Virgilian
hero than a Shakespearean one; imagine him as Hector, for example, or
Aeneas.

5) A black Richard III would be fascinating but explosive.  To play
Richard III in Central Park is fine; to make a movie with Denzel
Washington is a cultural event, and if he played Richard III onscreen
this would invite quite a lot of talk, not all of it good.  His race
would almost certainly overshadow the other parts of the role, in
particular Richard's alienation because of his ugliness (could Denzel be
ugly?), and everyone would see it as a movie about an alienated, angry
black man instead of a study in political collapse.

6) A black Petruccio is fine; Morgan Freeman did a great one.  And
Adrian Lester did a superb Hamlet a few years back.  David Keith was
good as Leontes; James Earl Jones an excellent Lear.  It's not just the
race, though race is a factor; the actor also matters, and there are
many good actors who aren't right for certain parts.  There are very few
actors, even great actors, who have real range.  It's a rare actor who
can do Macbeth, Othello, Richard II, Polonius, Bassanio, Cassius, Puck,
Hotspur, and then do a lot of Moliere, Ibsen, Chekhov, O'Neill,
Williams, Beckett, Richard Foreman, and Neil Simon, and be good in all
of it, if not half of it.

7) Denzel Washington is slated to play Bennett Marco (Frank Sinatra's
part) in a remake of "The Manchurian Candidate," directed by Jonathan
Demme.  Liev Schreiber will play Ray Shaw, Meryl Streep Ray's mother
(roles originated by Laurence Harvey and Angela Lansbury,
respectively).  I'm more fascinated than excited.

John-Paul Spiro

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Sam Small <
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Date:           Wednesday, 6 Aug 2003 00:01:21 +0100
Subject: 14.1557 Re: Colour-Blind Casting
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.1557 Re: Colour-Blind Casting

Supporters of the "anyone can play anything" theory, such as Brian
Willis, forget one glaring fact in their world view of commercial
dramatic performance.  Their examples of this lurid cross casting is
almost exclusively in the theatre.  The reason for this is that no-one
really cares what people do in theatres anymore.  Theatre simply don't
matter.  Theatre is either a cheap training area for actors and
directors with a wily eye on the silver screen or an extension to a wine
bar for middle class chatterers who grin and clap at anything unusual
simply because it is unusual.  If an overweight Collie dog were to play
Richard the Third the chatterers would grin and clap and make up some
nonsense about how it worked wonderfully in that the stray dog
represented a traditional social outcast and how perfect innocence was
corrupted but now he is cornered  . . . (shall I go on?).

The Wooden O is now called Hollywood.  The compatible satellites CBS and
NBC work their own specialties.  The dramatic performances that moves
the majority of people to form their moral tenor are soaps and
blockbuster movies.  Dramatic theatre is seen by so few people that its
influence is almost insignificant.  Look at the current London stage.
The Globe is an inscrutable tourist attraction, successful plays are
actually comic turns and the really big stages are filled with horrific
musicals.

An all female cast at the Globe will get you the grins of the faithful
few but miscasting a feature film costing fifty million dollars will get
you shot.  I doubt whether the permissive casters on this list would
toss their houses into the success or failure of a film which had a
one-legged woman as the leading man etc etc.  I doubt it very much.

SAM SMALL

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