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Entries in LGBT (1)

Tuesday
Mar042014

Did Jared Leto Steal Someone's Part?

I first "noticed" Jared Leto in Oliver Stone's "Alexander." Not because he's dreamy - which he is. Hephaistion has always been one of my favorite "characters" in the Alexander story. Leto was wonderfully heartbreaking as Alexander's friend, companion and lover.  Just a great, great actor.

I studied acting for a small portion of my life a very long time, and I know a great actor when I see one. It's more about performance. They expose our own messy, beautiful humanity to us in a way that is both comforting and uncomfortable.

Anyway, enough acting theory. I haven't even seen "Dallas Buyers Club" because I'm very committed to catching up on "Supernatural" and I'm only on season 3 and commitment requires priority, etc. Apparently,Leto plays a transgendered character, and heated discussion has resulted from this casting of a straight (is he? I have no idea) man as a transgedered person. Man. I really, really want this to be a world where straight people can play gay people and the other way around.

Where a Democrat can play a Republican.

A Latino can play a Middle Easterner.

White can play black.

Wait. Scratch that.

We don't live in that world, though. The biggest indication of this fact is that we're still talking about it, and we're still talking about it because the casting of "privileged" individuals in the roles of minority characters continues to resonate poorly with those minorities. It underscores the feeling of not being seen, not being represented and thereby being invisible even when when attempts are made at making us visible in the movies.

When I was fifteen, I auditioned for "The Miracle Worker". I read for the part of Annie Sullivan. If you're unfamiliar with the work, Annie is the young, blind woman who teaches Helen Keller how to read and write.

She was also Irish.

 

I didn't get the part. It wasn't because I wasn't a good actress. Because I was. May still be. The United States' was sparse on Middle Eastern looking women in those first few years after the Civil War, so that was the real obstacle. The beautiful, pale complexioned, auburn haired girl that was cast as Annie ended up playing the part really well, so all's well that ends well. (See what I did there?) 

But, you know what? If we'd done a production that was set in India, I don't know which play that would be -- let's say an adaptation of The Far Pavilions -- most of the actors would've been white because the majority of Indian people would've been busy being doctors and IT Managers and that'd leave some parts uncast. The white folks would've worn tastefully darkened their make up and perhaps donned darker wigs. Their elegantly fashioned costumes would have helped propagate an adequate suspension of disbelief and after all that, and nobody would have even noticed that they weren't Indian.

Except actual Indian people. They would notice because even the best make up in the world cannot make you something that you are not. It will only offer the suggestion of what you're supposed to be representing.

There is an undercurrent of a point being made about how those who inhabit the fringes of visual hierarchies are simply offered as "suggested" members of the broader reality being constructed. A whispering bubbles beneath the darkened eyeliner, the painted face, the boy in a dress, "Acknowledge their presence, but you don't have to think about them as actual real people if you don't want to."

Jared Leto is a fine actor -- an incredible actor. I'm glad he won an Oscar because that guy had me at Hephaistion. My admiration for Mr. Leto aside, though, I maintain his casting is a highly evolved, very subtle version of black face. You can say he's a bankable actor and there are financial considerations. You may be right, but I seldom find a speck of integrity or compassion in arguments that rely on "it's about the money" as the strongest point for their case. It may be about the money, but we should take a firm stand on whether we feel it's right or not.

The money ends up following our convictions at some point.