One of the biggest movie premieres at the recent Cannes film festival was that of A Mighty Heart, starring Angelina Jolie. It is based on the book (and true-life story) of Mariane Pearl, the wife of slain journalist Daniel Pearl, who was pregnant at the time of his kidnapping in Afghanistan. I have to say that I think this is an amazing story and the movie looks like it is amazing and really highlights all of Mariane Pearl's efforts to find her husband.
But something has been really bothering me since they announced that Angelina Jolie would star in this movie as Mariane Pearl. It is quite obvious to me that Mariane Pearl is not caucasian. She is a bi-racial woman. I have heard several times that Mariane Pearl personally chose Angelina Jolie to play her and that the two families have grown very close. But, despite Mariane Pearl's preferance that she be played by Angelina Jolie in this movie adaptation, I find it somewhat disturbing that a black woman or a bi-racial woman was not chosen to fill this role. While large strides have been made in the past few decades to cast more people of color in movies and television, there is no doubt in my mind that minorities are not represented (and especially not accurately represented) in popular media in the same percentages as they appear in our country. This is why I feel like, more than ever, popular culture should, when trying to recreate a part of a real person of color's life, cast people of the same color.
In many ways this argument taps into another area in which I disagree with Hollywood casting: the casting of LGBT roles. As gay and lesbian roles go, there is a double edged sword here. Many actors/actresses do not want to come out of the closet because they feel they will forever be known as that gay actor/lesbian actress and that they may only be offered gay/lesbian roles in the future. So there are very few openly gay/lesbian actors/actresses. This in turn leads, many times, to big studios casting straight actors/actresses to these roles in big pictures that they hope to make loads of money on. They want well-known, big name actors/actresses to fill these roles, hoping that their names alone will bring in a significant amount of viewers. But if there are no well-known, big name gay actors/lesbian actresses, they tend not to cast an actor/actress who is openly gay or lesbian. It's a catch-22 for gay actors/lesbian actresses.
What bothers me just as much is the way that most transgendered characters are cast. I don't think I've ever seen a transgendered person cast in a transgender role. Never. For movies about MTF transgendered people, usually they cast people who are biologically female, like Felicity Huffman in Transamerica. This is especially true the more mainstream the movie or tv show is supposed to be. When a bio male is cast in the role, it is usually to bring attention to the fact that the character can't pass as female, and is thus not really sucessfully transitioning into a female. Here I'm thinking of To Wong Foo, Priscilla Queen of the Desert, and Hedwig. On the other hand, I can think of very few movies about FTM transgendered people, though they almost always cast bio females who are able to sucessfully pass in the movie, which seems to be to be a little bit better, but they still never cast transgendered people.
While I know that Hollywood casting is based on financial concerns surrounding how much money that actor/actress can bring in as well as their acting ability, their ability to accurately portray that character/person, I really wish that casting was truer to a character's ethnic background and/or gender expression.