Color-blind casting still doesn't get a pass

The casting of the "Wonder Woman" actress Gal Gadot as the Egyptian queen Cleopatra in a new movie has stirred debate online. CNN's Chloe Melas reports.

Posted: Oct 17, 2020 9:31 AM
Updated: Oct 17, 2020 9:31 AM

History has a way of repeating itself.

I've written about controversy surrounding White actors portraying characters of color -- a practice that has existed throughout Hollywood's history -- multiple times.

In the most recent iteration of this pattern, Israeli-born actress Gal Gadot has been cast to play Cleopatra, ancient queen of Egypt, in an upcoming film that will reunite her with "Wonder Woman" director Patty Jenkins.

This is not a new story, but it is a complicated one.

Because while Cleopatra ruled over Egypt, there has long been debate over whether she had African ancestry, given that she hailed from a long line of Macedonian Greeks. (As a geography reminder, Egypt is located on the continent of Africa.)

The belief that Cleopatra was a woman of color also caused consternation in 2010, when Stacy Schiff, the author of the biography "Cleopatra: A Life," suggested Angelina Jolie would be the perfect choice to play the queen in a film adaptation of her book. (Jolie also caught flak for playing real-life French journalist Mariane Pearl, who is of Afro-Cuban-Chinese-Dutch descent, in the 2007 film "A Mighty Heart").

But the issue is bigger than just one role.

"Color-blind casting," as it has come to be known, has both its critics and its supporters for myriad fair and important reasons.

Blackface, the offensive portrayals of Asians and Latinos by White actors, and underrepresentation of people of color behind the scenes all point to the fact that the entertainment industry has long had a race problem. So, it rankles when people believe a character to be "whitewashed."

Here are a handful of casting choices that have inflamed public feeling against Hollywood.

Jake Gyllenhaal: Folks were none too happy when the actor played the lead role in the 2010 fantasy film "Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time." Gyllenhaal didn't love it, either.

"I think I learned a lot from that movie in that I spend a lot of time trying to be very thoughtful about the roles that I pick and why I'm picking them," he told Yahoo Entertainment last year. "And you're bound to slip up and be like, 'That wasn't right for me,' or 'That didn't fit perfectly.' There have been a number of roles like that. And then a number of roles that do."

Scarlett Johansson: Johansson caused a huge uproar in 2015 when she agreed to play an Asian woman in the film "Ghost in the Shell." The live-action remake of the Japanese manga (a comic or graphic novel) did not do well at the box office.

Leonardo DiCaprio: All it took was for Oscar-winning screenwriter David Franzoni to publicly express interest in DiCaprio playing 13th-century Persian poet and scholar of Islam Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi for people to be up in arms in 2016. For the record, DiCaprio has not been cast in the role.

Joseph Fiennes: Even Michael Jackson's daughter Paris expressed her displeasure when Fiennes was cast to play her father. A 2017 episode of the British TV series "Urban Myths" was pulled amid this controversy.

The list goes on and on. And it's not always White actors who are taken to task. Plenty has been written about complaints regarding "Hamilton" having a diverse cast playing real-life historical figures who were White.

The reality is that if Hollywood were a level playing field, we would be at a place where the argument could be made that all roles should be open to anyone and may the best person be cast.

But we aren't there yet.

And until we are, there will continue to be consternation -- especially from those craving better representation.

For your weekend

Three things to watch:

'A West Wing Special to Benefit When We All Vote'

There is no way to escape politics this year, even if you wanted to.

For those who loved the TV series "The West Wing," Thursday is the day the reunion special airs on HBO Max (which is owned by CNN's parent company).

I, for one, will welcome the calming influence of Martin Sheen as President Josiah "Jed" Bartlet.

'Time'

Amazon bills this as an "intimate yet epic love story filmed over two decades," in which "indomitable matriarch Fox Rich strives to raise her six sons and keep her family together as she fights for her husband's release from the Louisiana State Penitentiary, commonly known as Angola."

For anyone who wants to be reminded of the power of love, "Time" starts streaming on Amazon Prime Friday.

'Batman: Death in the Family'

We have a bit of a wait for "The Batman" film, which is currently in production, but Warner Bros. (also owned by CNN's parent company) has a little something to tide us over.

According to our favorite critic, Brian Lowry, the "latest choose-your-own-adventure exercise falls into the category of DC's edgy direct-to-Blu-ray movies (earning, and carrying, an R rating), so the target audience is grown fanboys, not kids.

"But unlike a lot of these exercises, the viewer's choices take the story in wildly different directions, to the point where it feels like a distinct experience watching each version and its various forks in the road," Lowry wrote.

Will Robin die or live another day to assist the Dark Knight?

You tell us, since the ending is up to you.

"Batman: Death in the Family" is available on Blu-ray or for digital download.

Two things to listen to:

Shout-out to my fellow Baltimore native Mario, whose new album, "Closer to Mars," drops on Friday.

I've been following his career since 2002, when as a teen he burst on the scene with the hit R&B single "Just a Friend." Just last week, I cued up his ballad "Let Me Love You" to test our new surround system.

Now 34 and an actor who appeared in the live TV production of the musical "Rent," Mario talked to Revolt about how different it is making music these days.

"People create from a different space today. A lot of our music is influenced by the culture, whereas before we're influencing the culture," he said.

"Now, we're influenced by what we hear. 'Okay, this is going to work for TikTok' or 'this is going to work for this or that playlist' -- in the mainstream. There are a lot of artists who make music they love to make and it lands wherever it lands. Whoever's supposed to receive it, receives it."

Tom Petty left us in 2017 at the age of 66, but his music lives on.

"Wildflowers & All the Rest" contains a remastered version of the original 1994 "Wildflowers" album, plus previously unreleased songs.

The multi-LP project drops Friday.

One thing to talk about:

Sia may have hidden her face for years, but we can see her heart.

InStyle on Tuesday published a piece in which the singer talked more in-depth about adopting a pair of teen boys who had aged out of the foster care system.

She said she had long wanted to be a mom and had tried for years to get pregnant via in vitro fertilization with her ex-husband, filmmaker Erik Anders Lang.

"I learned the story of a 16-year-old boy (whom Sia prefers to keep anonymous to protect his identity) and instantly fell in love with him," she said. "Older children have a really hard time getting adopted, and when I saw him, I said to myself, 'That's my son.' I knew I wanted to help him."

He was 18 by the time Sia found him. She opened up her heart and her home to both him and his 18-year-old cousin, who had lived in a group home with him. Weeks after adopting them, the 44-year-old announced she was a grandmother after one of the boys became a dad.

Brava to a star of her magnitude reminding us that all children, no matter their age, deserve a family.

Something to sip on

Megan Thee Stallion has had some major ups and downs this year, but she's owning all of them and walking in her influence.

The New York Times published an opinion piece this week where she both celebrated the power of Black women and called out the world for not protecting them.

While Thee Stallion has been topping the music charts, she has continued to pursue her bachelor's degree in health administration at Texas Southern University.

Plenty of women in the rap game spit lyrics about being a boss, but Megan Thee Stallion is actually living it.

And proudly.

"I will never stop using my voice," she tweeted on Tuesday.

We are all the better for her speaking up and out.

Pop back here next Thursday for all the latest entertainment happenings that matter.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 314509

Reported Deaths: 7247
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto21626259
Hinds20359415
Harrison17934309
Rankin13634278
Jackson13447246
Madison10099217
Lee9980174
Jones8381163
Forrest7683152
Lauderdale7191241
Lowndes6401147
Lamar623086
Lafayette6200118
Washington5339134
Bolivar4802132
Oktibbeha462798
Panola4588107
Pearl River4512146
Marshall4443103
Warren4393121
Pontotoc420772
Monroe4113133
Union411076
Neshoba4031176
Lincoln3968110
Hancock379386
Leflore3497125
Sunflower336090
Tate334084
Pike3325105
Scott315973
Alcorn313368
Yazoo311669
Itawamba300477
Copiah297065
Coahoma295479
Simpson295288
Tippah288768
Adams286882
Prentiss279760
Marion269280
Leake268373
Wayne262641
Grenada261487
Covington259681
George248048
Newton246861
Winston227281
Tishomingo226967
Jasper221148
Attala214473
Chickasaw207857
Holmes189173
Clay185454
Stone182833
Tallahatchie178841
Clarke178080
Calhoun170832
Yalobusha164338
Smith162434
Walthall133945
Greene130633
Lawrence128624
Montgomery126942
Noxubee126734
Perry126338
Amite123142
Carroll121829
Webster114532
Jefferson Davis107133
Tunica105726
Claiborne102430
Benton99525
Humphreys96733
Kemper95828
Franklin83823
Quitman80916
Choctaw76418
Wilkinson67331
Jefferson65728
Sharkey50217
Issaquena1686
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 532895

Reported Deaths: 11001
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson771431528
Mobile41089808
Madison34837505
Tuscaloosa25810454
Montgomery24355588
Shelby23730249
Baldwin21191309
Lee15892171
Calhoun14522316
Morgan14324279
Etowah13861353
Marshall12250223
Houston10581281
Elmore10060205
Limestone9986151
Cullman9705194
St. Clair9702243
Lauderdale9441242
DeKalb8846187
Talladega8255176
Walker7246277
Autauga6938108
Jackson6815112
Blount6694137
Colbert6310134
Coffee5524119
Dale4850111
Russell443238
Chilton4308112
Franklin426282
Covington4136118
Tallapoosa4039152
Escambia393977
Chambers3578123
Dallas3557152
Clarke351161
Marion3130101
Pike311377
Lawrence300798
Winston275673
Bibb261564
Geneva251477
Marengo249664
Pickens234761
Barbour231756
Hale223277
Butler216469
Fayette212562
Henry189044
Cherokee184745
Randolph181742
Monroe178040
Washington167639
Macon159950
Clay156857
Crenshaw152757
Cleburne149141
Lamar142935
Lowndes139053
Wilcox127130
Bullock122841
Conecuh110629
Coosa107928
Perry107826
Sumter104832
Greene92534
Choctaw61124
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Columbus
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