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Racist Backlash Against Blind Casting in Live-Action Adaptations

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The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at ODU chapter.

The recent increase in live-action adaptations has led to more discourse regarding the race of actors when casting than ever before. People are wondering why it is okay for a person of color (POC) actor to play an originally white character in a live-action adaptation when it would be considered racist for a white actor to play a POC character. However, it seems that people are using these debates to spread their racist sentiments and outright attack POC actors. Some seem to think that casting a brown or black actor to play a white role will somehow diminish caucasian representation. When arguing against POC actors playing white characters, people seem to overlook multiple important factors that impact directors’ casting choices and do not consider that these choices are not just “forced diversity” as some seem to think.

When it comes to media where the main focus is a POC character, their race is typically one of the main plot points. For example, Disney’s “Princess and the Frog” highlights  Tiana’s status as a black woman and how it stops her from getting the building she needs to open her restaurant. If a white actress is chosen to play Tiana in a live-action adaptation, the entire storyline of the movie will have to be changed. This is rarely, if not ever, seen in media where the main character is white. In the live-action adaptation of “Percy Jackson and the Olympians, actress Leah Savah-Jeffries was cast in the role of Annabeth Chase and as a result received threats and hate mail for months. People chose to send death threats to a 12-year-old despite the casting choice having no effect on the plot whatsoever. This raises the question of why so many portrayals of POC are always focused on their race, and why audiences cannot empathize with a POC’s story without seeing their race negatively impact them in some way. Why is it that for some people, POC can not exist outside of their race?

When debating about POC being cast as white characters in live-action adaptations, people often offer up the controversy a white actor playing a POC would cause as a rebuttal. However, they seem to have conveniently forgotten Hollywood’s long history of casting white actors to play POC characters, as well as characters that only existed for the entertainment of white audiences with jokes made at the expense of POC. Less than 100 years ago, finding a POC character in a popular piece of American media that was portrayed in a positive light would have been impossible. Even to this day, negative stereotypes of POC are still being portrayed in the media.

There is a severe lack of representation when it comes to POC characters in comparison to white characters. POC occupy only 29.2% of speaking roles in popular media, so it is worth considering how small of an impact having a POC playing an originally white character has on white representation, and how much of an impact it will have on a POC to see more people who look like them on-screen. People attacked Halle Bailey when she was cast as Ariel in Disney’s live-action adaptation because “making Ariel Black is ruining childhoods and changing the character” when there was already the original “Little Mermaid” movie for them to watch and be represented, as opposed to young black girls’ only having Princess Tiana as representation.

Representation and inclusivity of different races in the media should not be such a controversial topic, but should instead be celebrated. Every time a POC gets cast in the role of an originally white character there is an outrage, and that outrage is fueled by racism and prejudice. There is no other reason to hate and attack a POC for getting cast in a role because the directors found them fit for the role when casting. Those who have a hard time with the idea of a POC on their screen need to look inward and try to find what is really causing their repulsion.

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