Tag Archives: Peter Dinklage

Evan and Gordon Talk: Racially Accurate Casting

EVAN: Today’s topic is something that I hold very near and dear to my heart. Years of research on the topic has made me witness to all of the arguments that can be used against needing to have racially accurate casting, and because of this I’m going to propose something a little different

GORDON: Namely?

EVAN: That I switch sides for this conversation, and speak out against it.

GORDON: Intriguing. Mind starting us off with the first salvo?

EVAN: Statement: Racially accurate casting is not important. The most talented actor should be the one who gets the role.

GORDON: Doesn’t appearance play a key role in what makes an actor good? Peter Dinklage is good, but you wouldn’t really find him believable playing Abraham Lincoln or Kareem Abdul Jabbar.

EVAN: In this case his stature, not his race, is what would keep him from playing either role in a convincing manner.

GORDON: But isn’t that essentially the same issue? Imagine the great Denzel Washington playing Lincoln- you’d be sitting there the entire time, no matter how much of a powerhouse Washington would be, taken out of the film because you have to deal with a black guy playing a white guy during the height of the civil war.

In any piece of film where you’re expecting realism, you’re going to expect the actors to conform to the styles and facts of the time. If you portray Georgia in the 1960s, you’re obviously not going to have a largely black cast portraying the upper class  or if you were to set the scene in early 1900s Ghana  you wouldn’t have a cast comprised of Caucasians. It wouldn’t make sense, no matter how good they are.

EVAN: If anything, Cloud Atlas at least proves that a talented actor can portray whoever they like, given an adequate amount of makeup. Halle Berry plays a Korean Man in the film, and does so in a convincing fashion that doesn’t at all take viewers out of the film in the least.

GORDON: I haven’t seen that film, so I can’t speak to the use of the actors for the parts they play. From my understanding that was a work of fantasy (or science fiction, I’m only going off what I can gather from the trailers). And in one or two movies, it’s probably not a big deal. After all, Cate Blanchett played Bob Dylan.

But imagine this applied to each and every movie, it simply wouldn’t work. Realism would deteriorate- and this would be especially detrimental in a film trying to deal directly with race relations.

EVAN: I personally feel that allowing any race to play any other speaks much more in terms of race relations. That’s a world where colour is a non-issue  because it shouldn’t be.

EVAN: I’m dying, Gordon. My life force is seeping out of me.

GORDON: Try to stick with it…

GORDON: And while it’s true that race ought to be a non-issue, that’s simply not how things are or have been in the past. Using black actors to play black characters and white actors to play white characters is fundamental to demonstrating past inequity and injustice with American racism and segregation. And that’s just one element.

Let’s talk about Indians playing Arabs. It happened in Lost and it happened in Community (with multiple actors), but Arabs look nothing like Indians. Indian actors are used simply because they fit the stereotype of what most people think an Arab looks like. It perpetuates an inaccuracy.

EVAN: Isn’t the fact that the role is an Arab important a large enough step? This is a minority with a major role on a TV show, and an opportunity for minority actors to step up, which they have in both cases.

GORDON: Barring Monk and Arrested Development, when’s the last time you saw an Arab actor? I’m not trying to argue against Indian actors, or actors of Indian heritage getting roles, but for the purpose of portraying the world as it is (or at least with some realism) we should have actors with some vague resemblance to the people they’re portraying on film.

After all, would you not be thrown off by guys with German accents playing French resistance fighters during WWII?

EVAN: If they had German accents then they simply wouldn’t be right for the role, which brings me back to my first point.

GORDON: Which, by proxy, brings us back to my first response. Ethnicity (depending on the situation) is just as valid an element of a guy’s candidacy for a role dealing directly with ethnicity as accents, or height, or any other factor (actual talent, of course, being the most important).

Vincent Cassel should probably not play Malcolm X. Adrien Brody should probably not play the Queen of England, though that would be pretty funny.

EVAN: If we’re going to stick with believability, than why is it so important that Indians not play Arabs? No one has ever made a big deal out of this, so clearly people believe that they are what their role calls them to be-

Likewise a Korean can to play a Chinese person can play a Japanese person. Audiences can’t tell the difference and believe that they are whatever the role is, and that’s okay.

GORDON: But Koreans do not look Chinese, Chinese people don’t look Japanese, and Arabs and Indians certainly don’t look like each other. The only reason this happens is because most people either don’t know (partly due to this inaccurate casting) or don’t care (in other words, all non-whites are basically one homogenous mass.

If all your life, you had seen black men and been told “these are Uzbekistanis,” then you’d go your whole life simply assuming that Uzbekistanis are, in fact, indiscernible from guys from Benin.

Your ignorance should not dictate which actors get which parts. Further, no Uzbekistan could really ever get a chance to play and Uzbekistani because of the years of misinformation.

EVAN: But there is a huge difference between a black person and an Uzbekistani. The examples I made have similarities that the example you used clearly does not.

To be such a stickler for accuracy is the other extreme, and just as wrong. You wouldn’t get someone with mental problems to accurately portray a character with mental problems, that just doesn’t make sense. Race should matter if it is noticeable, and like I said in the case of shows like Lost it is not.

EVAN: The logic above was used against me by someone in a thread on Reddit  You can check out our exchange here.

GORDON: Granted, my example was extreme, but that doesn’t change the point. Even though a Thai guy and a Japanese guy share more similarities than a Beninese guy and an Uzbekistani guy, there are still distinct differences between people from Thailand and people from Japan.

With regards to being a stickler- I admit, as I have previously, that you don’t have to have an exact replica of the character you’re trying to portray. Jet Li, I imagine, is doing pretty well for himself, and I still wouldn’t doubt his ability to portray a poor man very well. However, while you don’t need to be point for point, you do need to have some general similarity. That’s why we don’t have Emma Stone portraying Fidel Castro.

EVAN: I feel like the extremeness of your examples is damaging your point. If we’re sticking with race we should do that, and not bring in gender.

GORDON: It’s to demonstrate the underlying point in all of this: Verisimilitude. Realism. Accuracy.

EVAN: And since you said “you don’t have to have an exact replica of the character you’re trying to portray” why isn’t it okay to have Naveen Andrews play Sayid Jarrah on Lost?

GORDON: But the distinction is great enough. The accent is Indian, not Iraqi. Naveen does not look Iraqi. When an actor neither looks nor sounds like the character he is meant to portray, we have a problem.

EVAN: So if Jarrah had managed to sound Iraqi, would that have helped?

GORDON: It would’ve added to the realism and accuracy, yes. But that doesn’t change the fact that he’s very clearly Indian, not Arab.

EVAN: Clear to a very select few. As mentioned, people didn’t seem to notice for the most part.

GORDON: Clear to a very select few. As mentioned, people didn’t seem to notice for the most part.

Most people don’t know what an Arab looks like. Do they know that Monk is Lebanese? That Cousin Maeby is Iraqi? Most do not. Ignorance is not an excuse for inaccurate casting.

EVAN: And that brings our exhausting exchange to an end. Trying to argue for something I so strongly disagree was one of the more difficult things I’ve ever done. I hope that in reading this you were able to see the holes in my argument and the truth in Gordon’s.

GORDON: Booyah.

The past few paragraphs alone have had the same effect on Evan as that life-sucking device in the Princess Bride. Commend him for biting the bullet.

And as for our discussion next time, your options are: What do we make of the upcoming Star Wars sequel?

EVAN: And. . . how about . . . How much artistic merit is there in a show like Adventure Time?

GORDON: I like it.

And to our beloved and devoted followers (who would organize into a vicious and unholy army of darkness if we ever were to ask it of ’em), feel free to suggest your own topic down in the comments section.

EVAN: And, as usual, thanks for reading.

TLC (That Lousy Channel)

A couple weeks ago, I unleashed my wrath against NBC for their exploitative and fetishistic show, Stars Earn Stripes. Despite their cold, calculated attempt to make a quick profit off of the sacrifices and hardships of the armed forces, NBC, as a channel, still manages to pump out a handful of decent shows.

The same can’t be said for TLC.

If you’re not familiar with TLC, they’re the channel responsible for such shows as Toddlers & Tiaras and those fifteen different series about midgets (yes, I’ll be using the term ‘midget’, get used to it). Now there’s been some criticism already that TLC (The Learning Channel) doesn’t have a thing to do with learning (not anymore, anyways), but my issue with TLC goes further than that. TLC isn’t just unhelpful or unintelligent- it’s straight-up bad for you.

Here’s Why:

I. Whites Only?

When Evan and I were having a discussion about TLC a few days ago, I brought up how strange it was that they had so many shows about midgets. His response was that he suspected it had something to do with the “celebration of diversity.” That’s probably how TLC would spin it, too. Their plethora of shows centering on midgets (Big Tiny, The Little Couple, Little People- Big World) unusually large families (19 Kids and Counting, Table for 12, formerly John & Kate Plus 8, United Bates of America), and other shows such as High School Moms, Sister Wives, or My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding are all part of their mission to portray the diversity our world and help us all learn from each other.

Only that’s some ol’ ********.

See, if TLC were actually showing you giant (by Western standards) families or midgets in the interest of promoting understanding, they might actually show some diversity. But just go to the TLC television show page and tell me what you don’t see.

Where are all the black people? Where are all the Asians? Where are the shows about Hispanic families? For Pete’s sake, the combined non-white population of the US is nearing 50%, and TLC doesn’t have a single show starring a non-white family! What’s up with that? Not only are there no shows centered on non-whites this year, but if you look at their “Past Shows” section, you will find one show with a black star and one show with an Asian co-star. Not only is TLC pretty lacking in racial diversity when it comes to its shows, but other major demographic groups are left out as well. Non-Christian religious groups make up nearly 20% of the population- where’s the show about the day-to-day lives of American Muslims, Buddhists, or atheists? Wouldn’t we benefit from a show about life on a Navajo reservation more than Long Island Medium? I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say “Yeah- yeah, it would be.”

II. The “Freak-Show”

So we’ve established TLC’s programming is more or less exclusively about white people, let’s take a look at what white people. Counting up the subject material of this year’s shows, we have 19 out of 36 programs centered on what could certainly be titled “abnormal”. That is, one out of two TLC shows deals is about midgets, huge families, addiction, hoarding, teen pregnancy, fringe religious groups (see Breaking Amish or Sister Wives), and the like, with the other 17 shows centered (largely) on wedding dresses and people who bake stuff. Is there anything inherently wrong with all of this? Not at all. In fact, a lot of the subject matter these shows cover looks pretty interesting- most notably Abby and Brittany, a series following conjoined twins. You can’t tell me that you aren’t really intrigued by that.

But that’s not the problem. The problem is the vicious redundancy, and what it says about TLC’s motives here. Currently, TLC is airing two shows about large families (to say nothing about all their past shows about large families), as well as three shows centered on midgets (again, they’ve had other shows about midgets in the past). Why the redundancy? Because it’s about money. The concepts behind both sets of shows are being squeezed for every last penny, meaning when TLC has a camera crew following a family of twenty or a four-foot couple, it’s not because they want to make a quick buck.

“But Gordon, you veritable living library of knowledge, do intentions really make a difference?”


If I went around with Peter Dinklage and said, “Meet one of the most talented actors of our generation who is also a midget”, that would be constructive. If I went around with Peter Dinklage shouting “Yo! Check out the midget!”, that would be awful. Same goes for anything- just look at Michelangelo’s David. The inention of the piece as a representation of Florence as a brave and mighty city is what makes the statue art instead of marble porn.

Like so…

With this in mind, doubt must be cast upon the rest of TLC’s programming- we’re forced to strongly consider that shows like Long Island Medium, Addicted, Strange Sex, and the like aren’t here for our edification, but for our entertainment. This is all just voyeurism- a chance to stare at people who are different than us. TLC doesn’t keep pumping out these shows about midgets and massive families because they think each show is unique, but because each show is the same. Because they don’t look at the individual qualities (or lack-thereof) of these people- they’re just reduce them to being nothing more than “abnormal”, which is why they feel they can keep making these series. It’s objectification, pure and simple.

III. Only Encouraging Them

In addition to their lack of diversity, and objectification of people who are (by our standards) “abnormal”, TLC is also responsible for for delightful little pile of festering garbage we all know as Toddlers & Tiaras.

Even if you thought my previous point was a little shaky, you really can’t argue with this. TLC openly advertises T&T as a show you’re meant to laugh at. The ridiculously dolled-up girls, the psychotic mothers, the manipulation, the abuse. It’s a show meant to make you feel better about yourself as a human being; that you’re not some morbidly-obese Midwesterner or spray-tanned monstrosity on your fifteenth cosmetic surgery desperately trying to live out your crushed dreams of glory by slathering your daughter with her weight in makeup. Now I’ve got a seriously dark sense of humor, but not even I think that’s funny.

“But Gordon! It’s not like TLC is promoting this idiocy- you say yourself that you’re meant to laugh at these people!”

Ah, but TLC is rewarding these people. Keep in mind that attention is what this is all about, and that the message here is “You don’t have to be talented or smart or funny to be on tv! If you’re a big enough *******, you can still get on!”. Torment your little girl, and you can still get on nationally-viewed television. If we’re going to make any progress towards getting rid of this child-abuse, we need to stop airing this- it’s just rewarding bad behavior and making us worse on the whole. What’s it say about TLC that they show mothers berating their five year-olds and expect us to be entertained?

No, I am not.

And again, with Toddlers & Tiaras as a major TLC show (along with their spin-off Here Comes Honey Boo Boo), this casts serious doubt on TLC’s intentions with their other shows. If you’re expected to find a collection of mentally disturbed women abusing toddlers funny, are you also really expected to be edified by watching The Little Couple or My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding, or are these just “freaks” with their lives filmed for your voyeuristic pleasure.

So let’s review what we have here. A channel whose programming is centered almost exclusively on whites, with a majority of its programs centered on “abnormal” families and individuals, presented not for any educational or instructive value, but for your entertainment, demonstrating TLC’s complete and utter contempt for both the “stars” of its shows and for you as an audience. And the rotten, mildewed cherry on top of this bilge-pie is that the entirety of TLC’s programs are presented with this veneer of tolerance and understanding, so they can pass off their twisted side-show as somehow healthy and admirable.  At least when the circuses advertised a chance to see the wolf-boy or bearded woman, they were up-front about it.

As with NBC, I have this to say to the folks over at TLC: