Alyssa's post on the remakes of A Star is Born and Annie with Beyonce and Willow Smith, respectively, is eloquent:
It seems almost fitting that the progression of these eternal American stories would eventually expand to include black women. We live in a world where African American women have only won acting Academy Awards for playing a prisoner's wife, a slave, a con-artist medium, a woman who becomes a star only after she has to take a fall into single motherhood, and a hideously abusive mother. Annie and A Star Is Born are much less complex stories than either of those roles. But maybe equality means not having to struggle against the burdens of history on-screen, just to embody a straight trajectory towards victory on the virtue of good nature that knows no color.
..but it also demonstrates how we constantly conflate whiteness (especially specific ethnic whiteness) with what is quintessentially American, or as Alyssa writes "eternal American stories." And how we think of this as a good thing, as progress.
In truth – inserting non-white actors into white parts is deeply problematic. It reinforces the notion that whiteness is default – everything and yet nothing. That the particular experience of a white orphan is the experience of all orphans so you can just plop an actor of any color into the part and not have to change anything. It erases ethnic whiteness and the race of the actor playing the part.
Think of the television show Greek. The producers' colorblind casting has resulted in a kind of ethnic and racial erasure that is just bizarre. Dilshad Vadsaria is an American actress of Pakistani and Indian descent playing the daughter of a senator played by Italian-American Melrose Place actor Thomas Calabro. Her character's race is never mentioned or talked about so she's effectively playing a white character. The entire show is white even though, in addition to Vadsaria, there are two black actors in the main cast.
Alyssa is right when she says that we are all tired, black people especially, with stories about our "burdens of history", but there is a lot that exists between those stories and telling white stories with black bodies. At some point, we have to be honest about what it says that we still don't want to do the work of telling stories about ordinary people of color. Inserting non-white actors into white parts is just lazy. It means that screenwriters don't have to do the work of thinking about how a story might be different with a black character, or an Indian character, etc.
And it means that we never get to see the lives of ordinary non-white people, the specific and unique way we live. And we miss an opportunity to make those stories "eternally American."
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