Monday Morning Critic – Tiger Lily, Peter Pan, The Human Torch And The Power Of Race vs. Character

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I had no topic for a column this week until a friend of mine’s wife posted something on the Facebook thingie that got me interested. Tiger Lily from the latest adaptation of Peter Pan has been cast and it’s a decidedly non-Native American actress, Rooney Mara, in the role. The fallout from this has been slightly interesting, of course, especially after Michael B. Jordan was cast as Johnny Storm in the reboot of the Fantastic Four. The big to do was that both are decidedly not the same race as the characters they’re playing.

Both caused controversies but for the same reasons … but in a decidedly different manner. Jordan is a black actor playing a character who decidedly isn’t. Mara is a white actress playing a character who’s Native American.

Many comic book fans had a problem with Jordan as Storm, of course, because of the usual fidelity to the comic concerns. It’s understandable but comes off as insanely racist no matter how logical and fact based it is. The nature of the argument against Jordan is that he is black and Johnny Storm (as well as his sister) is white. They’re both “cracker” white even, with the whole Aryan thing going on in the comic book, and Jordan doesn’t fit that bill.

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Jordan had a great 2013 and the casting was the culmination of a lot of good work. He carried a lot of the dramatic heft in That Awkward Moment earlier this year and should’ve been Oscar nominated for Fruitvale Station in 2013. He was the big surprise to not be nominated, as many thought that the Oscar Matthew McConaughey won should’ve been his. Him being in the F4 reboot is interesting and it’s a great young cast of actors being placed into roles that have been shortchanged across two films of substance in the modern Marvel era of superhero film-making.

Mara is a controversial one, as well, because this is the case of Hollywood casting a white actor when there are plenty of Native American actresses who could fit the bill. Oscar nominated for The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo remake that I thought was awful, Mara is a great casting choice on that standard but an exceptionally awful one on nearly every other criteria that matters to a lot of people. It’s not quite the equivalent of M. Night Shyamalan replacing an all Asian character set for his adaptation of Avatar: The Last Airbender with a nearly all white version, of course, but it’s fairly close.

I’m not a fan of Mara as an actress because I don’t think she’s as talented as people think she is, preferring her sister Kate instead, but I think it could be an inspired one based on the material alone. I’m the same guy who’s been accused of being on the take for thinking Jesse Eisenberg could be a great casting choice for the Superman series, of course, but let’s remember that Michael Clarke Duncan was an odd choice for the Kingpin for Ben Affleck’s Daredevil and he turned out to be near perfect for the part.

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So there’s precedence for casting for the best actor, not who looks like the comic book, and it turning out well. Me, I tend to have one opinion on both situations because I feel it’s the one with the least amount of hypocrisy to it. And let’s be fair: you can’t be against either, or for one and not the other, without being hypocritical on one level if you’re basing your reasons behind anything having to do with the race of the character or the actor.

We should be above looking at an actor’s race, first and foremost, as criteria for their casting and it’s intellectually dishonest to dismiss Mara for doing the same thing we’re celebrating Jordan for.

I am the same guy who made fun of Keanu Reeves for this nearly four years ago but that was more of the history buff inside of me yearning for something to not be corrupted to suit a star. I generally tend to object if history is rewritten so profoundly in one direction that’s it farcical and Reeves as a samurai was that way. I’ll admit that I was pleasantly surprised that Reeves wound up being in the role he was, and that it worked because the script accounted for it wonderfully.

The fact that 47 Ronin wound up being another of 2013’s big bombs was a sign that sometimes you can’t go all Frank Miller on history and get people to come out. For what it’s worth I adored that film but not everyone agreed with me and that’s ok. Sometimes it happens but I’ll give them credit for taking the basic story, using a star like Reeves to get a huge budget to get it made, and then making the film they wanted to. This is why I have no real problem with Mara or Jordan’s casting, for the most part.

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Both film-makers are trying to make the films they want to, not trying to satisfy a particular audience, and let’s be fair. I think we should give both productions the benefit of the doubt before we decry one as straying too far from the source material, and the other white-washing

If they hired Channing Tatum as the Human Torch in the F4 reboot, and his crappy acting nearly destroyed that film like it does in nearly every other film he’s in, no one’s going to say “well, at least he looked like the Human Torch am I right?” Of course not … they’ll rightfully trash his crappy acting and give points for at least having read a comic book before the film based on his interviews to hype the film.

In the same manner if they cast someone who was Native American in the Peter Pan film instead of Mara, and described as the “Native American Blake Lively” in a negative Twitter comment about the film, no one’s going to think that it’s acceptable to cast a bad actress for a part because she had the requisite ethnic background for the part.

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And if both Michael B Jordan and Rooney Mara are excellent in both of their respective films no one will have an issue with their skin color and this whole argument will seem fairly petty in retrospect. I like to use the example my father pointed out many moons ago.

James Caan has been celebrated by a ton of Italian-American organizations over the years because he was Sonny Corleone in The Godfather. I remember an interview he did when a Chicago Italian organization of note gave him an honor and flew him in for an award dinner. He did a radio interview beforehand and thought the whole thing was hilarious in a certain way over the years because he was just a Jewish kid of German immigrants from the Bronx being honored for playing an Italian.

Stuff for General George S. Pimpage, Esq

From elsewhere in the Inside Pulse Network:

I reviewed Legit Season 1 on DVD. Wasn’t a fan.

Travis wrote a great piece on Boyhood at SXSW.

Mike Noyes liked Wes Anderson’s latest.

And now on MMC … we REMEMBER THE TIME WHEN SUGAR RAY WASN’T LAME AND ROCKED OUT!

If you want to pimp anything email it to me with a good reason why. It helps to bribe me with stuff, just saying ….

A Movie A Week – The Challenge

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This week’s DVD – Man of Thai Chi

I’m always curious when an actor of substance decides to get behind the camera and become a director. Keanu Reeves is the last guy you’d suspect to want to direct. And yet late last year he made his debut behind the camera, and in front of it as the villain, in the martial arts film Man of Thai Chi.

Reeves is a billionaire owner of a security company who runs his own underground fight club. He recruits Tiger Chen (Tiger Chen), a man versed in Thai Chi, into it with the promises of fame and money. As he keeps winning fights, and lives a life of luxury, Chen finds himself seduced by the power and money that losing himself into the fighting lifestyle brings. As the police try to bring down this fight club, Chen has to figure out what he wants in life: the ability to practice Thai Chi as it was intended or to be the best fighter he can. Both aren’t inclusive with one another.

It’s an interesting film for Reeves, who plays a bad guy for the first time in a long time. The last time I can remember was for The Watcher, a film from 2000 that Reeves did because someone forged his signature and he’d rather avoid legal struggles. Reeves never plays the bad guy, but has played a lot of anti-hero types over the years, because he doesn’t have the chops to be an effective bad guy. He’s not a scenery chewer, which is a big part of most action movie villains, but he makes a great martial arts villain because of it.

I dug the film, which I bought to finish off using a gift card from a recent birthday. It’s not a great martial arts film, a good one at best, but it’s enjoyable. And sometimes all you can ask for is a film to just be enjoyable.

Recommended … though watch it on Netflix first if you can.

What Looks Good This Weekend, and I Don’t Mean the $2 tall boys of Red Fox and community college co-eds with low standards at the Fox and Hound

Divergent – The chick from The Descendants gets her own tween franchise.

Skip It – Another young adult franchise trying to come into existence, to fill the vacuum of Twilight, and studios haven’t figured it out yet. Twilight was a black swan, once in a generation franchise and nothing will ever match it. This will fail, fail hard and be awful.

Muppets Most Wanted – Kermit and the gang steal stuff, I think. I haven’t seen a trailer for it yet.

See It – It’s a Muppets film … for a certain generation that’s enough justification, like how Star Wars on the marquee is good enough for another.

Scott “Kubryk” Sawitz brings his trademarked irreverence and offensive hilarity to Twitter in 140 characters or less. Follow him @ScottSawitz .

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