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Why Hollywood hires their actors

Sofia Hashi | Fulcrum Staff

BLACKFACE. THIS TERM ignites images of vaudeville and minstrel shows of past. Smudging a bucket full of charcoal on their faces and donning ratty clothing, Caucasian actors would then take to the stage to imitate black folk. Today, this practice is regarded to be inherently racist, but judging by some recent Hollywood casting decisions and make-up choices, we’re willing to look the other way when celebrities are involved.

Mega movie star Zoe Saldana has been slated to play Nina Simone, the iconic singer, actress, and civil rights activist in another big budget biopic. This choice of casting, however, has left some people scratching their heads.

Saldana, who’s known for her blockbuster roles in Avatar and Columbiana, isn’t black. Born to a Puerto Rican mother and Dominican father, the American actress, with her light skin and narrow nose, doesn’t resemble Simone in the least. In an attempt to make Saldana more “black,” producers have resorted to providing her with a prosthetic nose, Afro wig, and, of course, skin-darkening makeup.

To add insult to injury, Simone was celebrated for her Afro-centric looks and penned songs about racism, and was a major player in the civil rights movement. So why does Hollywood feel the need to “whitewash” her character?

Frankly, this isn’t the first time La La Land has handed out roles without regard for ethnicity. Argo, the recently released political thriller, based on the true story about six Americans trapped in revolutionary Iran of the late 70’s and early 80’s, stars Ben Affleck as the dashing Tony Mendez. Affleck’s character goes on a daring and brave journey to save his fellow countrymen and earns an award from the American government. The only problem with the film, besides its grotesque portrayal of Iranians, is that the real Mendez wasn’t white—he was Latino.

It may be Hollywood and it may all be make believe, but is it too much to ask for casting directors to consider race when hiring actors to play characters of colour? By deliberately casting actors who aren’t similar to their characters, the movie industry is doing a disservice to the audience and the families and history of the people they’re portraying.

I get it. The whole point of acting is to, well, act. To attempt to pry into someone else’s psyche and embody them in such a way that spectators believe it. But my issue comes with these “based on true events” biopics that attempt to be as real as possible. These dramas shouldn’t be touted as honest portrayals, because at their very core, they’re not. It wouldn’t have hurt producers a Latino actor in Argo; in fact, it might’ve even been better.

While these hiccups won’t stop me from quitting my Tuesday ritual of attending the movies, these thoughts will always be there. I mean, really, Zoe Saldana in blackface is just a hard mental picture to abolish.