I recently saw Noah in movie theaters, and like most, I thoroughly enjoyed the drama and the beautiful graphics. However, I couldn’t help but notice that there were absolutely NO brown people in the cast. In fact, this realization induced a laugh out loud reaction from me while I was in the movie theater. Like, really—you can’t even cast one brown person?
Bob Smietana from Huffington Post writes:
“While much of the conversation about the “Noah” film has focused on theology and the degree to which it strays from the biblical text, few people seem to notice the all-white cast, said Gafney, an Episcopal priest and associate professor of Hebrew and Old Testament at the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. That’s worrisome, she said, especially at a time when the United States is becoming more and more multiethnic.”
There are several biblical films that just refuse to cast brown people. I grew up watching many Jesus flicks on tv, and they were all white. Think of Robert Powell as Jesus of Nazareth—he actually had a British accent…like really? While I *loved* the film, and I thought Powell was absolutely amazing as an actor [and gorgeous…is that weird?], I couldn’t help but laugh at Jesus being British.
As I say all of the time after I leave a movie screening, brown people should be able to get discounts when they go to see a film when they’re not represented at all. Why should I have to pay the same amount for a ticket as a white man when brown folks are almost never represented? I have to labor harder just to enjoy entertainment and that’s not fair. I don’t even have any other options…it’s not like I can go to the screening next door because it will probably be Captain America.
Noah represents just one of the many instances in which white people have played characters who are supposed to be brown. It’s like a modern-day minstrel show. Minstrelsy was a type of entertainment where white performers would apply burnt cork to their faces to mimic black people. Here’s a quick example:
Similarly, one could argue that minstrelsy still exists today, except white people no longer have to blacken their faces when they perform. Minstrelsy has become a normal part of white culture. White celebrities are always taking on roles where they are “putting on” other cultures or races, or in Noah’s instance, they change mythological stories to accommodate white skin. Here are some examples below. Think about Katy Perry’s new music video for “Dark Horse” where she essentially steals Egyptian culture, and places herself in the center as the leader:
The white colonization of everything saturates our entertainment industry. Most of us have known this for a while, but what makes all of these new instances of appropriation so unique is that the conversation surrounding all of this is so mainstream! Like, how could you NOT know that stealing culture is inappropriate when everyone has been writing about it? You can even think about Selena Gomez [yes, I know she is not white, but her appropriation reflects the trend of white colonization] and her whole I’m going to use a bindi as an accessory because that’s totally okay!
Don’t even get me started on Miley Cyrus and her appropriation of “ratchet” culture:
Oh, remember Johnny Depp who played a Native American in “Lone Ranger” and then received a bunch of criticism from Native American communities?
Let’s talk about Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen. While I’m a *huge* fan of Lawrence because I genuinely think she’s a strong actress, I was slightly dismayed by the fact they chose another white actress for the part of Katniss, rather than a brown woman. Eva Hattie L. Schueler states:
“Fan theories flourished as people speculated on Ms. Everdeen’s nationality, because the only hints Suzanne Collins gave us were dark hair, olive skin, and gray eyes. Was she black? Hispanic? Native American? Indian? Greek? No one knew for certain, although the two most readily accepted fan theories of Katniss’s race label her as either biracial or of Native American descent. However, that was the truly wonderful part. No one knew anything about Katniss’s racial heritage, so the possibilities for her ethnicity were endless…Gary Ross, director of the Hunger Games films, blatantly ignored the chance he was given to put a minority actress up on the big screen.”
Rather than just casting a brown woman, Hollywood decided to cast a white woman, and then try to make her look brown. That just makes no sense to me. Ironically, they cast a biracial girl in the part of the Rue character, and tons of racist backlash occurred. UGH.
I could probably add on 1000 more examples of white appropriation, or how Hollywood keeps white-washing entertainment, but I’m sure that you get my point. We continuously disenfranchise brown people by casting white people to play them or by white-washing stories [think of Noah] where we pretend white people were born first and brown people mystically came around later. This just shows you how white supremacy still operates as the norm. It becomes a joke when all religious figures are white, when all action characters are white, when all musical entertainers are white. Dipping into brown culture by wearing an accessory or wearing a headdress just doesn’t cut it.
I’m glad that this conversation is becoming more and more mainstream. I’m waiting for the day when I can actually watch a film and not have to be distracted by the gleaming whiteness coming off the screen.