Thursday, June 28, 2007

Please Welcome Dr. Jolie

You might have heard about some controversy surrounding Angelina Jolie's casting as Marianne Pearl, a woman of mixed heritage, in the film 'A Mighty Heart.' Though Pearl is Dutch, Chinese, French, and black, few in America would confuse her for anything other than a black woman. I was pretty upset about the casting choice given the already small number of roles for black women and the historical legacy of blackface (and brown and yellow) in Hollywood. Then, I heard Pearl sought out Jolie for the role making it her decision and not one by the Hollywood establishment. While I still think it's a weird choice, who knows how Pearl self-identifies or thinks regarding racial issues. However, the production team has been very silent on the issue and even quietly persisted that Jolie did not put on any skin darkener, an obvious lie considering the picture above.

Also, Brad Pitt's production company bought the rights to this film awhile ago when he was still together with Jennifer Aniston. And, you guessed it, Aniston was scheduled to play Marianne Pearl until that ship sunk. My guess is Jolie, as the next Ms. Pitt, was tapped to play the role and giving the real Pearl any decisionmaking privilges was simply a courtesy that worked out conveniently with her eventual approval of Jolie.

Anyway, Jolie finally spoke to the issue at a recent press junket.

“The idea is, if you ask Mariane, because she did address that, and if you did actually want to find somebody that was her exact makeup, she's actually majority Dutch, and she's as black as she is Chinese, and she's Cuban, and she's French. So, it could have gone to many different racial backgrounds, probably, if you went technical on it. And that, you know, is a reality. At the same time, to her, the importance was the essence of her spiritually, and I think that was what mattered and I think that is a question to ask her. But no, if you break down the DNA, it's very complex.”

Thanks Jolie. Technically, black Americans who are the descendents of slaves have some pretty intense DNA results too. It's not an issue of DNA. It is one of representation, resources, and commercialism that always results in white actors getting a lion's share of Hollywood parts. This does not even begin to discuss movies where white supremacy is the focus (The Last Samurai, the first third of Batman Begins, Karate Kid, and almost any American movie about Africa). As always, I don't think things will change until we're allowed to break into the Hollywood system as writers and directors to tell our own stories and recruit allies who will reconsider their own storytelling.

In lighter news, congrats to Tim Story, an African-American filmmaker and director of Barbershop, who scored a #1 last week with Fantasic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. First one didn't exactly transform our discussion on race and I don't think the second one did either, but he's breaking barriers nonetheless. One of the few directors of color who have handled ready made blockbusters. Let's make it a trend.

So, what do you all think of the casting in 'A Mighty Heart'? Benign, disappointing, or just handled improperly?


Anonymous said...

I think it comes down to a matter to choice. If Mariane Pearl, as a person of mixed-race, really did think that Angelina Jolie would best capture the, "essence of her spiritually," and specifically choose Jolie, I'm fine with that.
If the decision was for all intents and purposes made without her, not so much.

Has Mariane Pearl chimed into this big debate? I've casually followed the story, but haven't seen any sort of quote from her offered in any article or analysis of this situation other than the standard, "She really really wanted Jolie to play her" line that's been paraded out as the justification by most articles, blog posts, etc.

A recent casting choice I do have an active problem with?

NBC's casting of Alias's David Anders(who has zero asian heritage) to play an ancient samurai warrior in the next season of Heros.

Joshua said...

I am in complete agreement with the David Anders casting. I about hit the fan when I read about it earlier. Whether it would be through makeup or ,again, white supremacy a la The Last Samurai, this just should not be happening.

Also, Marianne Pearl said it numerous times when appearing with Jolie on PBS' Charlie Rose show so unless she's getting paid for it...seems to be genuine.

Anonymous said...

Vis a vis the comment regarding American movies about Africa, I have to ask, "What about 'Shaft Goes to Africa'?"

I think one would need a dissertation to unpack that one.

Anonymous said...

Doesn't JJ Abrams, Alias's creater and exec. producer, have a hand in producing Heroes? The Anders thing could just be nepotism.

Joshua said...

No, there's a connection though. Tim Kring, the Exec Producer of Heroes, is friends with Damon Lindelof, the Exec Producer of Lost. And through that link Kring might know Abrams, who is the co-creator and EP of Lost.

Anyway, nepotism perpetuates the "'ol boys club" mentality so while logical, it's definitely not excusable. And sometimes, it's even more egregious.

Anonymous said...

Hmm, perhaps my eyes are bad, but if I had to ethnically classify Marianne Pearl just based on a picture, I would call her Latina or mixed. Obviously, she has Black in her, but I wouldn't call her Black unless she identified as a Black person. I do not really see it as an affront to black actresses that Jolie was chosen to play her. From the looks of it, any current Pitt lover was going to get the part, be it Jen, Angelina, or some random. Anyways, I think Jolie looks a hot mess with that curly mop weave on her head though, skin darkened or not.

Anonymous said...

Angelina Jolie claims Native American (Iroquois) heritage - so in her own way, she is racially mixed (although I have never heard she was black or Latina).

Regardless of what Pearl wanted, it seems unfair and wrong to cast a person identified by most as Euro-american to play a person of color. I might feel differently if there were tons of roles out there for women of color, of course there are not. Also, there are plenty of fine actresses who would have played the part well. Since when do casting agents listen to authors anyway?

Another thing - I saw the film and did not realize Jolie was playing someone with African heritage - they said in the film her mother was Cuban but she was from Paris. Since I was not familiar with what Marianne Pearl looked like, nothing in the film indicated she was in black face (except that hair that never changed throughout the film).

Anonymous said...

I personally feel as though people are putting far too much significance on this issue. Firstly, we should stress the fact that Marianne picked Jolie herself. Also, we are not defined solely by our race and racial background. I feel as though the most important and inspiring thing about Marianne is her incredible spirit and beautiful soul. Angelina tapped into these things wonderfully. Marianne is or at least should be recognized predominantly for her undying strength and courage and not her racially diverse background.

Angry Warhol said...

Pimpin’ ain’t easy unless you’re Al Sharpton and poor American’s are your prostitutes!

98.7 Kiss FM New York - Hi, this is Reverend Al Sharpton we’re calling on our community to come forward and become partners for justice. In the next 30 days we’re calling on 100,000 people to become justice partners with the National Action Network by going to our website or mailing “ten dollars” to keep the justice movement on track. If it’s racial profiling, if it’s police misconduct, if it’s Don Imus, wherever it is all over the country, we’re there. We need you to be a partner with just “ten dollars” to keep justice on track. No justice, no piece!

What you’ve read above is Al Sharpton calling out to poor people in New York City to send him a million dollars ($10 dollars a piece) so that he can fly around the country to reprimand white men who say something or do something racist.

If Al Sharpton wants to play the role of a mammy by chastising good ol’ white-boys after they have misbehaved then there’s enough racism in New York City for him to “address” and to give racist, within the white community, a piece of his mind….

Anonymous said...

Why would a woman who has been through so much to prove her passion for honesty agree to be paid to lie about a hollywood movie?

Anonymous said...

Sheesh...go find another ax to grind for Pete's sake! This kind of gossipy racial conspiracy theorizing is as bad as what Marianne experienced with high govt officials in Pakistan - claiming with great thoughtfulness and sagacity, that her husband Danny was a spy for the CIA or Mossad. Except in the present case, you should know better :-|

Anonymous said...

I'm American, but I would never have guessed Mariane Pearl is of black heritage. I guess I've been to too many countries and seen too many people of varied athnicities to have assumed this. Don't have a problem with Angelina's casting at all.

Anonymous said...

Why is it that when someone has some black blood in them they are automatically labelled as being black. Black blood isn't poison it doesn't consume all other nationalities. The woman is multiracial. There is such a thing and we need to recognize it and accept it. I am not saying to deny the black part of you, but it seems as though if you are not white, you are automatically black. I personally am 1/2 indian 1/4 black 1/4 english. I don't look black, I look mixed. Some people think I'm spanish although I don't see it. But for some reason mostly white people consider me black, even after I tell them what nationalities I am. They label me black, even though I'm mostly indian which is funny.

Plus why is this even an issue? Its a bloody movie. Shouldn't we be more concerned with its contents rather than the actors who were in the movie?

Black people and women need to stop playing the victim. This is were negative stereotypes that all we do is sit and bitch about everyone being against us and it's true cause what are all you people doing now??

Anonymous said...

Who says Angelina Jolie is not a person of color? Maybe she doesn't even know it. She doesn't look white to me.

I think if we all stop over analyzing and look at people as they are not what they are marketed to be.

My good, common sense tells me that when I look at her she is not white. She may believe she is, she may want to be but she's obviously not.

I see why Marianne Pearl chose her to play the role. It was a good match.

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Anonymous said...

I honestly don't believe this! Out of all the black women in North America, out all the black people in the freekin U.S, out all the fuckin mixed raced ppl that hav ever existed...Marianne Pearl or the fuckin casting directors couldn't choose anyone else. LIke this goes to show the racism that still exists in a America which is just sad. and no the black women are not always playnig the victim were only placed as victims when were not given the same oppurtunities as white women. look at roert downey jr. playing a black man when there are black actors flooding fuckin America and you mean to tell me that not one of them is good enough? This is the very reason that black women in a leading actress role have hardly ever one! like when was the last fuckin time? This is ridiculous. it's already hard for pppl to become actors but its now ten times as harder for black ppl particularly black women when women like Jolie are stealing our parts.

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