Earlier this week, we learned that Rooney Mara — a white actress — had been cast as Tiger Lily — a Native American character — in the live-action version of Peter Pan. This is not cool. But as Felicia Day learned, when you try to explain in a 140 characters why that’s not cool, a particular segment of the Internet will respond by saying, “Well, why is it not OK for Tiger Lily to be played by a white woman when it’s OK that Human Torch in The Fantastic Four — who is written as a white character — is being played by a black actor (Michael B. Jordan has been cast in that role).
The difference to anyone with three-quarters of a brain cell is fairly obvious, but Felicia Day took to her tumblr to elucidate it more clearly, hopefully in ways that people who are prone to missing THE OBVIOUS could more easily understand.
I am not upset about Tiger Lily, a role originally written for a Native American female character in the book, being cast as white because it upsets the canon. Screw canon. I am upset about a role that was expressly written as a female minority being given to white actor instead. And here is why.
Most lead characters and lead actors of movies are white. Period. I even dug up a recent study to back that up, like this is some fucking term paper or something: Across 100 top-grossing films of 2012, only 10.8% of speaking characters were Black, 4.2% were Hispanic, 5% were Asian, and 3.6% were from other (or mixed race) ethnicities. Just over three-quarters of all speaking characters are White (76.3%).
(In referring to “speaking characters”, I also assume that’s counting judges and store clerks and taxi drivers with just a line or two. You see a lot of casting stick minority characters to check the boxes of “yeah, we had diversity, look!” So we’re not even talking about opportunities to carry the whole movie here.)
Another thing to note from the study: “These trends are relatively stable, as little deviation is observed across the 5-year sample.” Gee, no movement towards reflecting the country or world we live in! Fantastic.
Bottom line, actors of ethnicity don’t get a lot of work to begin with. And that very fact creates a scarcity in the number of actors of different ethnicities to choose from when casting. It’s a chicken and the egg syndrome. In what instance can you point out a role where a Native American actress has a chance to be a lead in any movie? Almost none. So why chase a dream that doesn’t seem like it could come true, because the system would never allow it?
It’s a self-perpetuating reality we live with, so the only way to change it is to break the norm, and cast more leading characters with more diversity. At the very least give roles that are intended to be ethnically diverse to ethnically diverse actors, I mean, BARE MINIMUM, PEOPLE.
So for me, the opportunity to give a leading role that could be a Native American, a possible protagonist role that the audience could relate to and live the story through, to a white actor, is kind of shitty and backwards to me. And that’s why I posted my initial tweet.
To compare Tiger Lily being cast as a white women to Human Torch or Heimdall being cast as an African-American is not equivalent, because I don’t think this issue is about violating or adhering to “lore,” I think it’s about providing more representation. And that’s why I think that the Human Torch being cast as African-American is an awesome thing, because that move evolves Hollywood and storytelling and the Marvel universe.
If you’re still not convinced of why it’s not OK to cast a white actress where there’s an opportunity to cast a non-white actress, let me reduce it down to a simple three word phrase for you: “You’re an idiot.”