All I can think of is that Madonna is the cause of so much of our discourse in the world. Seriously.
In the mid-1990s, producers were looking for someone to play a singer who slept her way to the top and couldn't act for a little film they were doing called "Evita." And the first person that came to mind was a singer who pretended to sleep her way to the top, and probably really can't act, and they found Madonna.
Now I kid Madonna ... a big fan (of her music, and of "Evita," but that's about it). But it just seems to me that ever since that casting, people have it in their mind that if you are looking for someone to play a certain character, you better look in that character's community first.
That's what I get from the whole hubbub over "Snow White & the Huntsmen." If you haven't heard, Little People of America have denounced the film for not using, well, "little people" (I hate to use that term) as dwarves in the movie.
Instead, "Snow White" had the likes of Ian McShane and Bob Hoskins play a couple of the famed Seven Dwarfs -- and they're not exactly, well, dwarfs in real life.
Actor Warwick Davis (from Star Wars and Harry Potter fame) puts it this way:
"Considering the vast experience of many short actors working in the film industry today, I think it inexcusable that in casting for 'Snow White & the Huntsman,' producers did not utilize this pool of talent," Davis told E! Online. "My colleague Peter Dinklage won an Emmy for his performance in 'Game of Thrones,' proving that short actors need roles that will not only challenge them, but allow them to express themselves as actors in their own right. It is not acceptable to 'black up' as a white actor, so why should it be acceptable to 'shrink' an actor to play a dwarf?"
I agree in part -- Dinklage definitely deserves the Emmy he got for "Game of Thrones," and future accolades. But he got that for being a great actor, not for being "little." And yes, I also feel that sometimes the great acting pool that does exist among this particular community is underutilized, but I don't think that a short character necessarily means that you have to have a short actor.
Movies and television work hard to play with the height of actors all the time. You watch Patrick Stewart or William Shatner on "Star Trek: The Next Generation" or "Star Trek," and you would imagine them as strong, tall, characters played by strong, tall actors. But you would be wrong. Stewart is 5-foot-10 (and I think that IMDb is being a little generous there), and Shatner is 5-foot-9-1/2. Yet that's not how they are shot.
I also think that talking about blackface is the wrong context to make here. Are we saying that only black people should play black characters? Someone should call Jon Hamm's agent for his recent (mocking) blackface portrayal on "30 Rock." And do I need to bring up Robert Downey Jr.?
Only gay people can play gay characters? Well, damn, Eric McCormack, shame on you. And gay actors playing straight characters? Someone get Neil Patrick Harris off "How I Met Your Mother."
And only women can play women, or men can play men? I don't have to look much further than John Travolta ("Hairspray"), Dustin Hoffman ("Tootsie") or even Glenn Close ("Albert Knobbs") for that.
I made this argument before when it came to disabled Americans calling for "Glee" to replace Kevin McHale with someone who really was bound to a wheelchair. Why? Shouldn't it be the best actor gets the job?
Yes, I know, I'm a bit wishy-washy on this subject, especially since I once joined George Takei to call for more Asian actors to be cast in a live-action version of "Akira." So maybe I don't feel as strong as others might on this topic.
I feel, however, that it hurts causes like those that Little People of America are trying to fight when they say only their community can play characters that are not at full height. It calls for special treatment, and takes away from the fact that acting is, well, acting, which means you are usually playing a character that is much different from yourself.
The real discussion here is that actors in various minority communities still get overlooked far too often. And while we have come a very long way, there is still a lot of road ahead of us. We win this battle by calling for equality, not for special treatment. That's the only way we win this battle.
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