Gender—and color—blind casting catches on
For a long time now, female film stars have been complaining that the male-dominated entertainment industry has a decided preference for “masculine” stories and protagonists, leaving actresses little to do except to provide the heroic leads’ “love interest.”
This season, however, some female stars have gone beyond complaining, and have actually done something to rectify the onerous situation. They are led by Sandra Bullock, whose latest film role in “Our Brand is Crisis” was originally written for a male actor.
She used her considerable clout as one of Hollywood’s most bankable female leads (“Gravity,” “Speed”) to convince producers that the project would do just as well, if not better, with her portraying the protagonist, as a woman.
In the topical drama, Bullock’s character is a top political image-maker who is hired to make a Bolivian candidate win.
Expectedly, therefore, she has to play it tough as nails, so the actress has to be “in charge” of the political drama, from start to finish!
This is a radical departure from many films that limit their lead actresses to merely “yearning” or “supportive” participation—and could be a sign of a more “gender-blind” and enlightened films to come.
In fact, reports have it that a producer is about to green-light a new take on “Ocean’s 11”—with all of the original’s macho and testosterone-driven lead characters to be played by women!
This is exciting news not just for actresses, but also for other female film artists, like directors and scriptwriters.
So, they’re keeping their fingers crossed that both projects do well, resulting in even more movies that give women the importance they deserve.
After all, half of the filmgoing market is made up of women, so why would they be left in the lurch, and end up as mere side stories and also-rans?
Supporters of this incipient trend point out that there have been previous attempts at gender-blind casting.
For instance, in 2010, Julie Taymor megged “The Tempest” with a woman, Helen Mirren, playing the key role of Prospero.
Other intrepid instances in film or theater include Glenn Close as the protagonist in “Albert Nobbs,” Hilary Swank as in “Boys Don’t Cry,” Kathryn Hunter as the Fool in “King Lear” and Hunter again in the title role of “Richard III.”
More: Janet McTeer as Petruchio in “The Taming of the Shrew,” Cate Blanchett as Bob Dylan in “I’m Not There,” Fiona Shaw in “Richard II,” Amanda Bynes as Sebastian/Viola in “She’s the Man,” and Gwyneth Paltrow in “Shakespeare in Love.”
A related development on the film and theater scenes involves the “blind” casting of male actors in previously “color-specific” roles, even famous ones like “Othello.”
The “black” role has been played by Caucasian actors with significant success, further pushing back boundaries and traditional limitations that used to “box” casting choices in.
Yes, it’s important for portrayals to look physically and visually believable, but there are other factors involved in a person’s makeup that are similarly relevant and could serve as a fresh take on an already “codified” character.
That’s the wonderful thing about “blind” casting; it helps artists and viewers understand traditional material in a different way—and thus see the light!
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