Friday, July 17, 2009

Finding a Perfect Match

OK - as I sat watching a re-run of NCIS (yes, I am a fan), I couldn't help but notice Cote de Pablo (pictured above) - the actress who plays Officer Ziva David. The interesting thing about her is that she is of Chilean descent, raised in Miami...and she is portraying an ex-Mossad agent from Israel.

It just makes me wonder: Is there a shortage of good actors and actresses who actually MATCH the nationality/ethnicity of the character they portray?

I can think of so many examples of this - where do I begin?

How about in the movie portrayal of Memoirs of a Geisha - Chinese actress ZiYi Zhang was cast as the main character, Chiyo/Sayuri. As someone who lived in Kyoto, and is of Japanese descent, this was infuriating to me! It was a fine example of market-driven decision making. Even though I knew that the producers thought, "Hmmm...who's a popular East Asian actress who we can cast in the role...who's going to bring in the big bucks?", it still didn't make me feel any better. In fact, it made me feel worse that the integrity of the story was compromised in this way. I know that the commentary from the director and producers deny this, claiming "artistic license" in how they represented Arthur Golden's story. But, seriously, let's evolve a little in our perceptions of certain ethnic groups, especially Asian women. We do not all "look alike." There are distinct differences between Chinese, Japanese and Koreans (all of whom were cast in this movie). And with the myth of geisha = prostitute...the production team missed a great opportunity to shed light on this topic and dispel the myth ("geisha" literally means "artist" because of their training in music and dance to entertain). Please, if you watch this movie, take it for what it is: an artistic interpretation of historic fiction.

So, really, does the movie/TV industry think that we are blind to these mismatched castings? Or perhaps I should challenge the actors/actresses themselves to think twice before accepting a mismatched or stereotypical role?

I'm reading a book called The Asian Mystique by Sheridan Prasso. She references Lucy Liu stating that she "felt that she has no choice except to play stereotypical roles (for Asian women)." Well now that you've made some big money, Lucy, I hope you can afford to be more choosy in your future roles.

I know that my post has a cynical edge to it...but, really, I am not trying to slam any of these actresses' skills. I enjoy watching Cote de Pablo (NCIS), Lucy Liu (Charlie's Angels) and Zhang Ziyi (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon). I also like Michelle Yeoh who was in both Crouching Tiger AND Memoirs of a Geisha. I'm just wondering when the media industry will leave their tiresome ways of casting and start showing some ethics and social justice in their decisions.

I hope it's soon.

Note: Two other things that I'd like to mention:
1) In Kung Fu Panda, why is it that the main characters of this movie (set in China) were not Chinese? And why were the secondary characters Chinese? Shouldn't it have been the other way around? Similar parallels can be drawn to Memoirs of a Geisha.
2) Despite my initial impressions of Kung Fu Panda, it wasn't as filled with demeaning stereotypes as I thought it would be. I actually enjoyed the movie for entertainment:-)

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