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April 28th, 2010


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07:11 am - All about Idris
Idris Elba - Stringer Bell from The Wire (see icon) - is in the news a lot at the moment. It's about time he got the recognition he deserved, having played arguably The Best character in The Best TV show ever made, you would think that was a bit of a boost to the old CV.

So he now has his own British TV show Luther, playing a genius detective. This is the lead role on Prime Time BBC1, which is literally the best TV slot an actor can get in British television. This is a link to a Youtube clip of Idris discussing the role. (Personally I worry that the BBC are over-cautious about plot and vision in their headline shows, but I hope it is as good as it might be).

And Kenneth Branagh - always a good eye - is casting him as the Norse god Heimdall in his interpretation of the comic book Thor.



Comic fans (no, this is wrong, just a few fans) have reacted stupidly:
"This PC crap has gone too far! Norse deities are not of an African ethnicity! … It's the principle of the matter. It's about respecting the integrity of the source material, both comics and Norse mythologies."

"At the risk of sounding like a bigot, I think this is nuts! Asgard is home to the Norse Gods!!! Not too many un-fair complexion types roaming the frigid waste lands up there.

I will not point out the flaws in this argument, as I am sure they are apparent to all. Get a bleedin' grip guys. You should be on your knees thanking the gods you've got a man of this stature involved in your pet project.

(27 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments:


From:(Anonymous)
Date:April 28th, 2010 06:19 am (UTC)
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So it's fine to cast white actors as Asian or African characters?
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From:communicator
Date:April 28th, 2010 06:20 am (UTC)
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I repeat myself: get a grip
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From:communicator
Date:April 28th, 2010 06:24 am (UTC)
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No, I should respond fairly to your fair question. The relationship between European and African is not a purely symmetrical one. For most of the history of European drama white people colonised the stage, like they colonised other parts of the world. Othello, in particular, was routinely played by white men up until a few years ago. Black minstrels were played by white singers in insulting face paint, on prime time British TV, when I was a teenager. This means the casting of white poeple to play black roles has a long and unpleasant history.

Secondly, Heimdall is not a European character, he is a god.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:April 28th, 2010 07:09 am (UTC)
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A white actor cast as an Asian god, then?
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From:communicator
Date:April 28th, 2010 07:15 am (UTC)
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Certainly the relationship between colonised and colonial applies to Asia as much as to Africa, although obviously the relationship is differently nuanced in different circumstances. And the casting of white actors as Asian gods is routine - for example Charlton Heston as Yahweh.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:April 28th, 2010 11:58 pm (UTC)
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Ah, the Charlton Heston _10 Commandments_ as a model of Political Correctness to be followed in 2010.
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From:gair
Date:April 29th, 2010 09:18 am (UTC)
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Yes. And there are all the issues of the whitewashing of history that khalinche alludes to below (IN THE PAST EVERYONE IN EUROPE WAS WHITE MMMKAY), plus, as you say, dude's a god, so we don't actually need to decide that Idris Elba's skin colour signifies 'African origin' in the character. (I mean, we don't even have to do this with colourblind casting in human characters.)

But also this isn't just a historical issue: there's an active set of debates among present-day worshippers of the Norse gods, some of whom are awesome (may I introduce burningblood, and some of whom are raging Fascists. I'd see this piece of casting as an excellent and timely intervention into the attempt by white-supremacists to APPROPRIATE* the Norse gods for their nefarious purposes. (Here's a post by burningblood with links to some essays on the race debate in Folkish and Asatru religion/practice).

*because the Norse gods DO NOT BELONG TO WHITE PEOPLE.
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From:communicator
Date:April 29th, 2010 09:30 am (UTC)
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I think racism is an issue that paganism needs to confront, and it looks like it is being confronted. Can only strengthen paganism.
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From:altariel
Date:April 29th, 2010 11:30 am (UTC)
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Also an issue in the folk scene right now.
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From:watervole
Date:April 28th, 2010 07:07 am (UTC)
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People tend to make their gods in their own image. Thus, personally, I'd expect Thor to be white because he's a Nordic god.

It's not a major issue for me because it's based on a comic and I don't ask comics for historical accuracy, but it would bother me if it was a serious historical production.

(I was disappointed that Earthsea was made with white actors when Ged and his people are clearly Amerindian) (and clearly, any film on the life of Jesus should have a Jewish actor - that's been abused time after time after time)
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From:communicator
Date:April 28th, 2010 07:17 am (UTC)
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Jesus is almost always portrayed as European-featured in Africa and Asia and America, and that is due to the status that Europeans had as conquistadors I think. But, I don't think gods have to resemble the people who worship them. Krishna is blue. I suspect that the Norse did not see their gods as big white guys, but as cosmic forces who may be embodied. But I don't know of course.
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From:communicator
Date:April 28th, 2010 07:20 am (UTC)
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PS - just leaving to go to a meeting that may last half a day - and I was just getting into this discussion :-(
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From:katlinel
Date:April 28th, 2010 07:33 am (UTC)
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Yes, but won't someone think of the white people? head!desk

Strange isn't it, that people say thay they're coloublind in casting which just happens to result in an entirely white cast because obviously those are the best people for the roles, but when a black person gets cast, suddenly it's just 'PC'?

I hope both Elba's projects are successful.

ETA: And it's another example where, white, for the most part I suspect, fans are objecting to having to make the imaginative leap to identify with the protagonists and heroes of the stories that black people have had to make for years. ETA 2: In fact, white fans have been explicitly protected from having to do that for years and they still are. See this image from this blogpost by N. K. Jemisin.

Edited at 2010-04-28 08:32 am (UTC)
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From:communicator
Date:April 28th, 2010 04:06 pm (UTC)
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Woah, that's a bad Octavia Butler cover. I wonder if the illustrator had not read the story, or not read it properly, or whether they were told the protagonist had to be drawn as white
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From:matildabj
Date:May 1st, 2010 09:58 am (UTC)
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fans are objecting to having to make the imaginative leap to identify with the protagonists and heroes of the stories that black people have had to make for years

I just want to say how perfectly you've nailed the problem here, imho.
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From:altariel
Date:April 28th, 2010 09:39 am (UTC)
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I agree with everything you have said. Also, Idris Elba looks magnificent in that hat.
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From:communicator
Date:April 28th, 2010 04:04 pm (UTC)
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also he gets points for an Oscar Wilde quote
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From:communicator
Date:April 28th, 2010 04:09 pm (UTC)
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Oh yes, Denzel as Don Pedro, that's Branagh's 'Much Ado' isn't it, which was great fun
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From:pigeonhed
Date:April 28th, 2010 10:41 am (UTC)

arguably The Best character ?

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Omar walking!
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From:communicator
Date:April 28th, 2010 11:40 am (UTC)

Re: arguably The Best character ?

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Trufax - I thought of Omar and that's when I went back and added 'arguably'. Both are cracking characters.
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From:khalinche
Date:April 28th, 2010 03:25 pm (UTC)
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That's outrageous, everyone knows that historically, Norse people were all insular stay-at-homes and had NO contact with people of other ethnicities - it's not as though they had a seafaring empire involving active trade routes between Scandinavia, the Mediterranean and the Middle East for large chunks of the first millennium, and bought and interacted with people of colour all the time. Chuh. Political correctness gone mad.
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From:khalinche
Date:April 28th, 2010 03:26 pm (UTC)
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*cough* second-last sentence should be 'bought and sold from, and interacted with people of colour'. As it stands the wording is quite unfortunate.
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From:hafren
Date:April 28th, 2010 05:35 pm (UTC)
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Not entirely inaccurate though; yr average Viking would happily enslave anyone he came across, which is how all those Celtic folks got to Iceland:)

Certainly the idea that all Ancient Norse folk were fair-haired and blue-eyed is bonkers; you only have to read the sagas.
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From:kalypso_v
Date:April 29th, 2010 03:29 am (UTC)
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The first time I ever saw Paterson Joseph, he was playing the King of Norway in Ibsen (The Pretenders). Part of my brain was amused, because some of the plot turns on whether he really is the son of the previous King of Norway, and his mother was played by a white woman, so by implication this had been going on for some time... but the other part just accepted that this beautiful boy was the King of Norway, the same way that one accepts that these characters are Norwegian despite speaking English.

He must like Ibsen, as I've seen him in A Doll's House too; he's probably the Torvald I remember best. Same applies; I think it's simultaneously possible to register that this character probably has a different ethnicity and to ignore it, because we understand that drama doesn't represent things exactly as they would be in real life.

(Not to mention, of course, that when I spent time in Sweden there was a great deal of ethnic diversity, so to present modern Scandinavians as a bunch of Aryans would be silly.)
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From:matildabj
Date:May 1st, 2010 10:00 am (UTC)
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Firstly, you've reminded me that I need to go hunt out Idris Elba's Jonathan Ross interview, so thanks for that.

Secondly... just yes to everything (except The Wire being The Best TV Show Ever Made, obv). And I can't wait to see Luther.
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From:pinkdormouse
Date:May 2nd, 2010 08:57 pm (UTC)
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I'm looking forward to Luther muchly.

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