In The News : Meritocratic Acting

An interesting couple of stories in the news about the film industry and how it picks its actors.

Various actors are not happy about a straight man being cast to play a gay man in a Disney film.  Comedian Jack Whitehall will star alongside Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt in Jungle Cruise. A source told The Sun that Whitehall’s character would be “hugely effete, very camp and very funny” and confirmed: “He is playing a gay man.”

The Times reported sarcastic tweets about the difficulty in finding gay men able to play gay men while Gabe Friedman lamented “the lack of LDGBTQ+ representation on screen.”

Also in the last week, a black actor has (allegedly) hinted that he might be playing a white man.

Apparently that’s Idris Elba saying that he’ll be taking over the roll of James Bond from Daniel Craig.

Similar casting discussions have happened in the past.  We have the first female Dr Who, for example.  In July of this year, Scarlett Johansson withdrew her participation in Rub & Tug having been cast as transgender Dante “Tex” Gill because of “insensitive” casting.

We’ve seen female casts replace previous male ones in Ghostbusters and in the latest Oceans film.   Those along with up coming “gender-flipped” versions of Lord of the Flies, The Hustle and Splash serve a dual purpose for Hollywood in allowing them to keep a franchise going as well as stoking political debates.

Whether or not the movies are actually any good, the problem with the reboots is that the opposite sex creating the remake are still having to walk the road already trodden by their predecessor.  As much as a statement that they’ve made, those fictional worlds weren’t built by them.

Which begs the question… In a world where meritocracy can often be seen as one of the greatest ideals reflecting that the best people for the job ultimately get the reward that their efforts deserve, should actors get to play a role based on their acting ability or some other sort of protected characteristic, a protected characteristic written inherently in to the character they are supposed to play?  How does that reflect real world rather than that shown on the silver screen?

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