Why Stacey Dash Is Wrong: Hollywood’s Whitewashing Tries To Paint Minorities Out
“Roles should not be dictated by race,” Stacey Dash said last Wednesday, in response to the casting (and following uproar) of Joseph Fiennes as Michael Jackson in a coming comedy biopic about a road trip Jackson took with Elizabeth Taylor and Marlon Brando after 9/11.
The way that Dash presents her ideas on her blog seems to show she knows exactly what the arguments are about. “People are complaining, since there are too few roles for blacks,” wrote Dash. “When a major biopic about a black is made, why give the role to a white man?”
But instead of the expected response, the African-American Stacey Dash commends the casting saying: “BRAVO!” She explains that her feelings are in response to her always being told, “Sorry, Stacey, this is a Caucasian-only role.”
Dash, however, doesn’t understand that roles, to a certain extent, have to be dictated by race, especially those with historical roots.
It’s true as Dash says, “There’s no reason why the lead roles in Homeland, Veep or Penny Dreadful have to be white.” But that is because they are set in fictional worlds, where unless its part of the plot of the story, not everyone should be white. Michael Jackson, however, is black, it’s not only historically true, but very much a part of his identity. His alleged skin-bleaching (and real life vitilogo) is a part of his biography as well. Jackson and his blackness are inseparable. Part of his career was knocking down barriers put up against black entertainers in the business. Casting him as a white person negates that part of his identity.
Furthermore, it’s not as if the street goes both ways. Historically white parts have never been cast by people of color, no matter what Dash says.
“What’s the hottest ticket on Broadway right now?” Dash teases. “Hamilton, the musical by Lin-Manuel Miranda based on the biography written on Alexander Hamilton’s life.”
Yes, in Thomas Jefferson is Black and Alexander Hamilton is Puerto Rican in the Broadway musical, but they aren’t acting as if they aren’t. Hamilton is a full re-imagining of Hamilton’s life with the purpose of bringing the history closer and more relevant to modern day America, so people can’t dismiss it as a story about dead white men, Lin-Manuel Miranda says so himself. He told the New Yorker that he saw Alexander Hamilton as “someone who embodies hip hop.” While the story is historically based, the purpose is not the same as a biopic. The point is to highlight Hamilton’s character and the political atmosphere of the time, not portray Hamilton and his contemporaries exactly as they were. As Oskar Eutis, the director of The Public Theater, also said to The New Yorker, “Lin is telling the story of the founding of his country in such a way as to make everyone feel they have a stake in their country.”
Hamilton is truly an achievement, a wonderful creation of Miranda’s, but not relevant to Dash’s arguments.
This decision to cast Fiennes doesn’t “throw the white-only card out the window” as it doesn’t solve that fact that there are many more parts written for white people rather than people of color, which is the actual issue that she battles with when casting directors turn her away because of her race. In fact, it adds to the problem as it also closes black actors from a chunk of their limited opportunity to advance in their career and edges people of color out of the entertainment forefront. That wretched white-only card is being thrown into places where it shouldn’t be allowed.
Dash comes from a genuine place – she is clearly not just trying to get attention with all her controversial views. But race cannot be separated from identity. It’s not that Dash should have been cast in a role that is imagined as white, but rather than there should be more roles imagined as non-whites. If she truly wants to see people “thinking outside of the box” she should look to the iconic Shonda Rhimes and Jenji Kohan‘s Orange is the New Black. They are trying to paint the world as it is, rather than repaint what the world was.
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