February 29, 2008

Is it unacceptable for a white comic actor to impersonate Obama on SNL?

Wouldn't it be worse to use the black cast member who doesn't look at all like Obama?
[Lorne] Michaels said that the show auditioned "four to five" actors for the Obama role... "When it came down to it, I went with the person with the cleanest comedy 'take' on" Obama, Michaels said.

Michaels said he liked how [Fred] Armisen caught the tilt of Obama's head, the rhythm of his speaking style, "the essence" of his look. "It's not about race," Michaels insisted via phone....

Todd Boyd, a professor of critical studies at the University of Southern California, says viewers might have a different reaction if the roles were reversed. What if, he says, "SNL" had cast a black woman to portray Hillary Clinton? "Do you think there's ever going to be a day when we start casting Queen Latifah to portray Princess Diana?" he asks. "We just don't have the same representations going in other direction."
Why did the professor of critical studies come up with an example of a large American black woman playing a skinny English white woman? Kind of stacking the deck there, Professor Boyd. Now, if Queen Latifah played Hillary — with a lot of hair and makeup work, I can picture it — the issue would be: Did she do it well and was it funny? Which is the test SNL applied to Arneson. In any case, what is Boyd talking about? We are much more sensitive about a white person wearing blackface than about a black person playing white!

Remember Eddie Murphy in the 1984 SNL sketch "White Like Me"? Could white America have laughed any harder? "I've got a lot of friends, and we've got a lot of makeup. So, the next time you're huggin' up with some really super, groovy white guy, or you met a really great, super keen white chick, don't be too sure. They might be black." Was there any outrage over that?

ADDED: To be fair to Professor Boyd, if the question is whether a black actor would ever get the part of playing a white person, the answer may be that there are always plenty of white actors around to fill the white roles. It's not about whether we find blackface less acceptable than whiteface, but just that black actors don't get the chance to play white. But it's at least as rare for a white actor to get the part of playing a black person. And, as I implied at the beginning of this post, it would be more racially offensive to give the role to a black actor who doesn't look at all like the black person he's supposed to portray. It would represent the view that all black people look alike. 

120 comments:

TROBlog said...

No. And yes.

It's perfectly acceptable for a white actor to impersonate a black man on SNL, as long as that impersonation isn't intended to denigrate the black race as a whole, but rather poke fun at a specific personality - Jesse Jackson and his unique mannerisms for example.

But it may be unacceptable for a white man to impersonate Obama because he is the new hope of blacks and the new Messiah of the left. I think the ruling on that PC matter is still out, however.

AllenS said...

SNL should have hired Gary Coleman to play Obama. Now that would have been funny.

Palladian said...

Stuff White People Like

AShiningCity said...

What the heck does a "professor of critical studies" do?

Sounds like a job my father might have had.

Hoosier Daddy said...

We are much more sensitive about a white person wearing blackface than about a black person playing white!

Probably has something to do with minstril shows.

ricpic said...

We, what's this We? Do "We" think that condemning whites in black face will curry favor with the black community? Fools! And cowards, to boot.

Kirby Olson said...

Whereas the job of the SNL actor is to tickle our funny bone, the job of the Critical Studies Professor is to surgically remove the funny bone, and replace it with a black and white self-righteousness.

Trooper York said...

I thought Barak Obama was already playing a white guy on TV. Isn't that why they were saying he wasn't "Black" enough earlier in the campaign?

rdkraus said...

Imus had a black staff member play Hillary in a skit this morning.

Does that count?

joe said...

I thought the Clintons were black? I so confused.

Paddy O. said...

How is Obama any more black than white? Is there some kind of one drop rule in effect?

If Princess Diana had a black mother, then a black woman likely would have been able to capture her 'essence' quite effectively, though still not Queen Latifah (does Professor Boyd not know of any other Black actresses? How racist of him).

JohnAnnArbor said...

Billy Crystal played Sammy Davis Jr. on SNL back in the '80s. So it's not a first. And I think they had a white guy play Colin Powell once.

AllenS said...

Ann said...
"...it would be more racially offensive to give the role to a black actor who doesn't look at all like the black person he's supposed to portray."

I'm not sure why it would be more racially offensive than just offensive. I can't think of one black actor that looks like Obama.

AllenS said...

Remember SNL is trying to be funny. That means that somebody is probably going to be portrayed in an unflattering way.

Henry said...

Paddy O wrote: How is Obama any more black than white?

Touche.

Did they audition Derek Jeter?

Anyway, cudos to SNL for treating theater as theater.

George said...

What if a political cartoonist depicts McCain as Alfalfa and Obama as Buckwheat? Or Obama as a cannibal with a spear and a pot, boiling great white hunter McCain? Or Obama as the tarbaby entangling Brer Clinton? Or as some bizarre-looking rap artist, like the dude with the clock around his neck from Public Enemy? As Chuck Berry doing that duck walk? Or as Superfly decked out in a fur coat? Or his wife as Mammy from Gone With the Wind?

All of the above would be hugely controversial and likely deemed racist.

LJO said...

Don't forget the movie Watermelon Man, in which Godfrey Cambridge played a white man who became vblack - at least for the first part of the movie there was a very dark-skinned man (and a great comic actor) playing a caucasian. See http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0066550/.

TROBlog said...

I can't think of one black actor that looks like Obama.

Why the Fresh Prince of Belair himself, Will Smith, who as it turns out is Obama's pick to play him in his life story.

http://movies.yahoo.com
/mv/news/ap/20080226/
120404628000.html

Roger said...

What Henry said! SNL does theater; too bad the rest of the commentariat and professoriate lack SNL's sense of humor--it would be a much better world.

Trooper York said...

I think Halle Berry would make a great Princess Diana, just with bigger tits.

Original Mike said...

I saw the SNL skit last week and I was really unimpressed with Armisen's[?] Obama. He doesn't capture him at all, in my opinion. Now whoever plays Hillary has got her down cold. My reaction watching the skit is, too bad for SNL if Obama beats Hillary.

I also didn't notice that "Obama" was white. I don't know what that says about me.

Mortimer Brezny said...

To be fair to Professor Boyd, if the question is whether a black actor would ever get the part of playing a white person, the answer may be that there are always plenty of white actors around to fill the white roles. It's not about whether we find blackface less acceptable than whiteface, but just that black actors don't get the chance to play white.

One could say that's just discrimination.

There's no doubt that Samuel L. Jackson would play a rather good Napoleon Bonaparte, but he'd probably never get the role. You can say that's because he looks nothing like Napoleon, but the white guy they get to play Napoleon probably won't be short, have hemorrhoids, or look even remotely French. In other words, the white guy won't look like Napoleon, either.

We have all seen flicks in which a family consists of a number of actors that look wholly unrelated, but they're all white or all black or all Asian. I mean, the last time I saw over a dozen Asians in a film, it involved the Tong (Chinese mafia) and they clearly weren't all Chinese. Some were Korean, others were Japanese, a few Filipino, some Vietnamese, but you could tell. And we were supposed to believe they were all Chinese because we're supposedly visually unsophisticated. Is it really so hard to cast all Chinese actors for those roles?

No. I bet SAG sent over hundreds of glossies of Chinese actors. Some director looked at them and went, "Hmm. Not Chinese enough," and then he looked at a Korean guy's photo and said, "Now, that's a Chinese mobster!" (That's not an exaggeration; I used to work in film.) So I don't think it's a matter of supply. The considerations here are aesthetic and prejudicial. If you have explicitly racial roles (i.e., Chinese mobster), then it makes sense to cast for ethnobiographical authenticity.

But that isn't the rule. Because modern-day Brits play Juilus Ceasar and South Americans play Cleopatra. (Which is visually ridiculous, if you think about it historically.) So if that isn't the rule, we should either see more black people playing "white" roles or see fewer Eurocentric period pieces and fewer movies set in overly constricted settings (it's a romantic comedy about Upper West Side women over age 40 who work in the comestics industry as adverstising executives!). Because a lot of these films -- which don't sell well, by the way -- are just excuses not to employ minority actors. Going back to Samuel L. Jackson, the guy is a brilliant actor, but he had to play a crackhead for a decade and a half before he got a break. Generally-speaking, black actors are hired to play slaves, criminals, and drug addicts. It isn't because there are too many white actors to play the "white" roles; it's that the people in the industry think that's what black actors are for. If the character is a decent person who speaks in Standard English, the chances are, no one even contemplates hiring a black actor.

Stories like Sigourney Weaver getting the lead in Alien though the part was written for a man or Danny Glover getting the role of the veteran cop in Lethal Weapon even though it was written in a race-neutral way are few and far between. The professor is using the instance as a teaching moment to talk about systemic inequalities.

Most of the "white" roles aren't really white roles at all. (For example, Adolf Hitler: the Life Story should probably feature a white actor.) Instead, they're just characters in situations that are presumed to be "white". (And I say this as someone who has worked with screenwriters who would insist that every black character in their scripts be based on Chris Tucker.) Again, going back to Samuel L. Jackson, there's no real reason why in Changing Lanes, Ben Affleck and Samuel L. Jackson shouldn't have switched roles.

I think Halle Berry would make a great Princess Diana, just with bigger tits.

This is funny, but it is also true. That role is particularly suited to her acting talents (which are not great). Better Halle Berry than a stiff Diana look-alike who cannot act. But that won't happen, because Princess Diana is a "white" role reserved for actors of a certain skin color.

Trooper York said...

It's all about acting talent after all. I mean look, Tom Cruise plays a heterosexual most of the time and seems believable. That's talent dude.

Also, why can't we compromise and bring America together. Let a black actor play Obama half the time and a white actor play him the other half. Isn't that more racially accurate. Oh...what...we
aren't supposed to mention that...
Nevermind.

Ann Althouse said...

Mortimer, I definitely agree that more nonwhite actors should get roles that are written in a way that doesn't need a particular race.

Mortimer Brezny said...

I mean look, Tom Cruise plays a heterosexual most of the time and seems believable.

LOL.

Roger said...

Mortimer raised a question I have always wondered about: why do all shows about Rome have actors who have british accents--seems to me we should be hiring italian actors to play roman characters. James Gandolfino as Caesar, Stallone as Brutus; deNiro as Cato, Pacino as Caligula--you talkin to me? you talking to ME? That would be great theater.

Mortimer Brezny said...

Mortimer raised a question I have always wondered about: why do all shows about Rome have actors who have british accents--seems to me we should be hiring italian actors to play roman characters.

If I were an Italian actor and all I could get were mobster and goomba roles, I'd be pissed...!

froggyprager said...

It is ok for Fred to play Obama and it was not too bad of an impression but he will not be able to make it funny using his voice or movements.

Obama is a pretty normal guy and to play up the black preacher type of speech would be out of bounds. The only thing I see them doing with this is writing some funny dialogue (which would not be that funny) or trying to have the side charachers, like the reporter, be the funny part of the skits and he be the straight guy.

It was easy for Dana Carvey to make fun of George H.W. Bush or Hammond to do Bill Clinton.

Hoosier Daddy said...

Mortimer raised a question I have always wondered about: why do all shows about Rome have actors who have british accents

You know I wondered the same thing when I saw Enemy at the Gates. All the actors playing the Russians had such refined English accents. Of course they were all Brits. Then again, Bob Hoskins seemed to be the only Brit playing a Russin who could affect a Russian accent.

It kinda ruined the mood for me.

Trooper York said...

Ethnic casting is always stereotypical. I think I remember someone who broke Mexican actors into two groups according to their dental work:

Bad Tooth Actors:
Big sombrero, serape, twin bandeleros, unshaven with broken teeth:
"Badges, we don't need no stinkin'
badges."

Good Tooth Actors:
Trim and muscular with short bolero jacket, boots and little jaunty black hat;
"Senora there has not been such joy in mi casa since the horse ran over my sister."

I would love to give credit to the guy who wrote it originally but I honestly don't remember.

ricpic said...

I guess I'm not sophisticated enough to get it but in what way is Princess Diana a "white" role? Princess Diana is a white role. A black playing Princess Diana would be ludicrous.

michael farris said...

I think it's a question of colour blind casting:

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colour-blind_casting

It's long been the practice in opera, where performers are cast by vocal category and ability and ethnicity is not taken into account.

I've also heard of it in the musical theater.

I think Chicago might be a good example in movies. I really find it hard to believe that a black woman would be matron of an integrated facility in the 20's. But Queen Latifah did a fine job in the role and no one noticed/cared.

Also IIRC the black woman who played one of the prisoners ("squish" in Cellblock tango) had played Velma on stage (I don't know if it was an integrated or all-black version).

michael farris said...

trooper york, IIRC it was Pauline Kael (the one and only).

Defenseman Emeritus said...

This is just like when the Washington Post interviewed Prof. Boyd to get his reaction after Jane Hamsher posted a picture on the Huffington Post of Joe Lieberman in blackface during his race against Ned Lamont.

Disclaimer: my wife says I often remember things that didn't happen.

Trooper York said...

Well, one good thing we go going for us is if this political stuff doesn’t work out for John McCain, he could always revive The Grumpy Old Men franchise. Or is that type casting?

Michael said...

How ironic, SNL presents a skit about the media being in the tank for Senator Obama and they defend Obama. No liberal bias in the MSM.

former law student said...

On behalf of all diminutive Eurasian guys, we're still smarting at our being passed over in favor of Linda Hunt in The Year of Living Dangerously.

Mortimer Brezny said...

A black playing Princess Diana would be ludicrous.


Patrick Stewart starred in a "photo negative" production of Othello with an otherwise all-black cast.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patrick_Stewart

Hoosier Daddy said...

You can say that's because he looks nothing like Napoleon, but the white guy they get to play Napoleon probably won't be short, have hemorrhoids, or look even remotely French. In other words, the white guy won't look like Napoleon, either.

Actually Roy Steiger played a very good Napoleon right down to resemblance in Waterloo.

Better Halle Berry than a stiff Diana look-alike who cannot act. But that won't happen, because Princess Diana is a "white" role reserved for actors of a certain skin color.

Mort, there is a difference between typecasting a fictional role and playing a historical figure. Princess Di was white. Halle Barry is black. Acting talent is one thing, being able to accurately portray a historical figure(s) is another. Somehow I think replacing LaVar Burtin with say, Matthew McConaghay for the role of Kunte Kinte would have lost something in the translation don't you think?

Generally-speaking, black actors are hired to play slaves, criminals, and drug addicts.

And generally speaking, white actors are hired to play corrupt cops, corrupt corporate CEO types, corrupt politicians or corrupt bloodthirsty Army generals. Oh and all European bad guys have German accents.

Perfect example is Sum of All Fears. Radical Islamists with a nuke are replaced with...yes you guessed it, a neo-nazi from Austria no less.

Sterotypes abound and they aren't limited just to minorities.

Trooper York said...

“On behalf of all diminutive Eurasian guys, we're still smarting at our being passed over in favor of Linda Hunt in The Year of Living Dangerously.”

Dude, so you are the guy who voted six million times for Ramiele Maulbay! Good deal, she’s my favorite too!!!

John Stodder said...

What about Maya Rudolph? She is half-black, half-Jewish (daughter of the singer Minnie Ripperton) and on SNL regularly played not only black characters like Beyonce, Condi Rice and Oprah Winfrey, white characters like Donnatello Versace, Teresa Kerry and Paris Hilton, but also Latinas and Asian characters. I don't recall a flock of critical studies professors getting upset.

Armisen's ethnic background always struck me as ambiguous. He plays a lot of Latino characters, including a bongo-playing comedian named Ferrecito. And Darryl Hammond, a very white white man, plays a brilliant Jesse Jackson.

I can see why Lorne Michaels is nonplussed by the criticism. Perhaps it has something to do with graven images and the sin of portraying God in art or entertainment.

Cedarford said...

He's biracial.

Lorne Michaels would have been OK saying he just flipped a coin on a white actor or black actor playing him.

Though in truth he never had an iota of black uprearing as his feckless bigamist Biodaddy basically came, and left. Easier for a white actor with hammy religious "Faux MLK" preaching experience to play his personality, mannerisms, and speech properly.

peter hoh said...

John Stodder said what I wanted to say. SNL has used Fred Arneson and Maya Rudolph with a great degree of racial flexibility.

Remember when they used a woman to play Ross Perot?

Darryl Hammond's Bill Clinton impersonation is so good. Frequently on Weekend Update with Tina Fey, he'd start flirting with her, biting his lower lip, looking at her with that gaze he does so well.

Pissed Off Hillbilly said...

T Shirt Hell has a shirt with Obama's picture that says' "Half Honky, All Donkey".

Mortimer Brezny said...

Actually Roy Steiger played a very good Napoleon right down to resemblance in Waterloo.

Since no one doubts there has been at least one great actor to play Napoleon, I do not understand your point. Not to mention Roy Steiger is dead. I am talking about future casting calls, based on systemic trends in the industry.

And generally speaking, white actors are hired to play cops, corporate CEO types, politicians or Army generals.

Agreed. No one disputes that white actors have more opportunity in the entertainment industry.

Mort, there is a difference between typecasting a fictional role and playing a historical figure. ... Somehow I think replacing LaVar Burtin with say, Matthew McConaghay for the role of Kunte Kinte would have lost something in the translation don't you think?

Yes, because Matthew McConaghay is a terrible actor and Roots is about racial slavery. The Princess Diana story is not about being a white woman. ("Princess Diana: A Story of Whiteness")

A photo negative version of Roots could work. But I still wouldn't cast Matthew McConaghay. Your argument hinges only on the shittiness of Matthew McConaghay as an actor, which proves my point.

Halle Berry, by contrast, seems perfect for the role of an alienated, isolated, beloved figure who married into a hostile family. I agree she doesn't look like Diana. That isn't the point.

Whether an audience would take her skin color as an indicia of that alienation, etc., or ignores it once they fall into the story, is really a matter of the production and the director's vision. On the other hand, if you were correct, Patrick Stewart's "photo negative" Othello would have been laughed out of the Kennedy Center. It wasn't. And Cate Blanchett would have been laughed at for her portrayal of Bob Dylan. She wasn't.

In any event, I already made a distinction between roles that call for ethnobiographical authenticity and those that don't. I think if a historical personage is particularly salient, it doesn't matter. Must Genghis Khan be Mongolian? Not really, no. It's the character, not the look of the personage that matters. Given the right production values and director and a high-quality actress, I don't think a Catherine the Great film with a non-white woman in the lead would appear odd at all. No more odd than those Romans with British accents and Venezuelan Cleopatras and Korean Tong members and Vietnamese yakuza. I think that because Hitler was a white supremacist, it matters for him to be white, but one could certainly do a Hitler production that is historically accurate save for the casting. The fact of the matter is Hitler didn't meet his own Aryan ideal and one interpretation of his lust for the Final Solution is he was rejecting his quarter Jewish ancestry. So long as all the "Jewish" characters in the film looked like the actor playing Hitler (e.g., all are Mexicans), the difference between Hitler and the other "Germans" (who actually looked Aryan, and may in fact be Scandinavian) would serve a point. This kind of deconstructing technique is more common in theatre, as someone already pointed out, but it works, depending on the director's vision and the quality of the acting.

Perfect example is Sum of All Fears. Radical Islamists with a nuke are replaced with...yes you guessed it, a neo-nazi from Austria no less.

I actually didn't see the movie for that precise reason. But even if Sum of All Fears were my favorite movie of all time, this is a quite different issue. Concerns over offending Muslims -- i.e., political correctness -- are different than eradicating racial discrimination in the entertainment industry. Because Islam is a religion and not a racial classifcation, the very same actors who played the Neo-Nazis could have been cast for the roles of Radical Islamists.

JohnAnnArbor said...

Mort, that's dishonest to delete words from a quote without indicating you did so.

Mortimer Brezny said...

Mort, that's dishonest to delete words from a quote without indicating you did so.

Oh, stop. I was making a point. It was quite obvious.

JohnAnnArbor said...

No, you were pretending there are no white-directed stereotypes.

Mortimer Brezny said...

No, you were pretending there are no white-directed stereotypes.

No. My point is that when there are all sorts of other roles in suffient volume to balance out, if not drown out, the stereotypical ones, there is a drastically lower probability that the stereotypical roles are stigmatizing. In other words, I am mocking those who cherry-pick to avoid reality.

Paddy O. said...

The Princess Diana story is not about being a white woman.

I beg to differ. The British royalty is supremely about whiteness. Classic, Northern European whiteness. The pinnacle really, what with the British Empire and all that defining white influence over countless countries for centuries.

The royalty is established by bloodline going back generations and generations. They can't even be Catholic. WASP in its purest essence, what what.

Mortimer Brezny said...

The royalty is established by bloodline going back generations and generations. They can't even be Catholic.

I agree. That's why the Princess Diana story isn't about being a white woman. Her story is about not fitting in a constricted ultra-white culture. You don't necessarily need a white woman to portray that, as should be obvious....

Mortimer Brezny said...

The pinnacle really, what with the British Empire and all that defining white influence over countless countries for centuries.

I would also note that so long as people believe this, you'll get Brits playing Russians and Italians in historical period pieces.

Simon said...

John Stodder hits the nail on the head with much the same point that the WaPo makes in the story Ann linked to: "Nobody much cared about Armisen's racial background (he is of white and Asian heritage) when he played Prince and Steve Jobs during seasons past of the NBC show. Nor did it seem to matter that SNL's Darrell Hammond, who is white, has impersonated the Rev. Jesse Jackson for years. Or that decades ago on SNL, Billy Crystal played Sammy Davis Jr." That answers the question for me. If none of the above outrages you, you've got no claim on outrage over the present skit. There's no difference at all, and the WaPo's reedy attempt to distinguish this from those ("[b]ut in 2008, Obama isn't just any politician or celebrity") is malnourished to say the least. Now, if someone really was outraged by all those earlier events, then they have some standing here to renew their earlier criticism.

Paddy O. said...

Brits playing Russians and Italians in historical period pieces.

Even historical pieces taking place in a galaxy far, far away.

The Empire was a pale white bunch, and the whole lot of them sounded like they came from the planet Britannia.

Mortimer Brezny said...

The Empire was a pale white bunch, and the whole lot of them sounded like they came from the planet Britannia.

You know, I grew up on Blake 7 and Doctor Who, so I originally thought those were simply sci-fi genre requirements. Then the prequels came out and they were rife with racial stereotypes. You are so right.

Now, if someone really was outraged by all those earlier events, then they have some standing here to renew their earlier criticism.

I don't think anyone is outraged by Darrell Hammond's Jesse Jackson impression because it is good. Armisen does a funny Jobs and a funny Prince, especially because he comes across as creepy. But Armisen's Obama is absolutely terrible. It looks like Lorne Michaels just snatched up the first guy standing in the hallway sipping a latte and said, "You're on in 5."

It also is a bit weird. If Obama does win the nomination and the Presidency, are we really going to have a white guy in blackface for 8 years impersonating the first African-American President? Does that sound even remotely right? It sounds a little insane. The real problem is that SNL doesn't really hire black comedians. And we know it isn't true that black people can't be funny. I mean, please.

Paddy O. said...

That's why the Princess Diana story isn't about being a white woman. Her story is about not fitting in a constricted ultra-white culture. You don't necessarily need a white woman to portray that, as should be obvious

Not fitting in, but still being ordered to do so. It was precisely because Diana was so white that the story went the way it did. That's why QE2 had her knocked off, she wouldn't let the symbol of Whiteness be sullied by a swarthy muslim. The whole symbolism of the British Empire was in the balance.

Something had to be done!

The nations, not so blest as thee,
Must in their turn, to tyrants fall,
Must in ,must in, must in their turn, to tyrants fall,
While thou shalt flourish, shalt flourish great and free,
The dread and envy of them all.
Rule Britannia!
Britannia rule the waves.
Britons never, never, never shall be slaves.

Hoosier Daddy said...

Since no one doubts there has been at least one great actor to play Napoleon, I do not understand your point. Not to mention Roy Steiger is dead. I am talking about future casting calls, based on systemic trends in the industry.

You’re the one who claimed a white actor probably wouldn’t resemble Napoleon and I simply provided an example to the contrary.

And generally speaking, white actors are hired to play cops, corporate CEO types, politicians or Army generals.

Agreed. No one disputes that white actors have more opportunity in the entertainment industry.


That’s pretty disingenuous to edit what I actually said. I thought you had more class than that.

Yes, because Matthew McConaghay is a terrible actor and Roots is about racial slavery. The Princess Diana story is not about being a white woman. ("Princess Diana: A Story of Whiteness")

What does his acting ability have to do with anything? Princess Diana was white. Now Halle Barry could play a role based upon a Di like person but to cast her as Di? Sorry it doesn’t work no matter how much you want it too.

A photo negative version of Roots could work. But I still wouldn't cast Matthew McConaghay. Your argument hinges only on the shittiness of Matthew McConaghay as an actor, which proves my point.

Huh? Ok, how about Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Daniel Day Lewis, Mel Gibson?

Halle Berry, by contrast, seems perfect for the role of an alienated, isolated, beloved figure who married into a hostile family. I agree she doesn't look like Diana. That isn't the point.

Uh, yeah it is. If you’re going to portray a historical figure, it does help the audience to relate to the figure by resembling them.

Whether an audience would take her skin color as an indicia of that alienation, etc., or ignores it once they fall into the story, is really a matter of the production and the director's vision. On the other hand, if you were correct, Patrick Stewart's "photo negative" Othello would have been laughed out of the Kennedy Center. It wasn't. And Cate Blanchett would have been laughed at for her portrayal of Bob Dylan. She wasn't.

Well considering that Cate was pretty much the spitting image of Bob Dylan in that performance pretty much proves my point. Had she looked like she did in LOTR I doubt it would have worked.

Kirby Olson said...

Eddie Murphy was at SNL for a long spell.

What can be funnier -- the division between black and white -- Steve Martin playing a poor black guy in The Jerk -- or black guys dressed up as hot white chicks in that forgettable flick

OR

The gender divide, in such films as Victor/Victoria, and Tootsie?

I think that the humor quotient is the only thing that matters here and you're never going to get a Critical Studies prof to laugh about anything at all, so you can't worry about them as an audience.

Mortimer Brezny said...

That's why QE2 had her knocked off, she wouldn't let the symbol of Whiteness be sullied by a swarthy muslim. The whole symbolism of the British Empire was in the balance.

LOL. I forgot about that part of the story. Interesting. I'd watch that movie, too.

Trooper York said...

I mean I just suggested Hallie Berry because I would like to see her in a sex scene with Billy Bob Thorton playing Camilla Parker Bowles....oh...what..they already
did that...never mind.

Simon said...

Mort, I agree with you about the qualities of Armisen's impressions, but I don't think that can possibly bear on the question of whether it was racially inappropriate for him to play a black character. I think it's also critically important to consider the context: it would be a different matter, I think, if we were talking about a movie, or if SNL routinely had non-cast members playing key roles in sketches, or if Armisen had been cast notwithstanding a black cast member who could plausibly play the role. But the show works within its format and does the best with what they have.

Should Obama win the nomination and the Presidency, I suppose SNL will all-but have to add a black cast member who can plausibly play Obama. Talented and personable though he may be, Keenan Thompson can't play Obama, and not just because he wouldn't be plausible in a character that is neither of those things. And I agree with you that the scenario you outline would be intolerable. But it's not a problem without a solution.

(My interest in SNL, I have to admit, sank considerably when Fey left. She was a vicious, evil, vindictive whacko-liberal bitch. So, needless to say, I was therefore completely in love with her. Good gravy that woman can write.)

Mortimer Brezny said...

You’re the one who claimed a white actor probably wouldn’t resemble Napoleon

Talk about dishonest! I was talking about the way casting directors generally work, not about any particular white actor. I think Rod Steiger was a great actor, and would cast him as Napoleon whether he resembled Napoleon or not. But I also would have cast Al Pacino as Napoleon, or Samuel L. Jackson. And neither one of them resembles Rod Steiger.

I think we all know that Alexander the Great did not resemble an Irishman named Colin. That is no less ridiculous than Chow Yun Fat as Alexander the Great.

Sorry it doesn’t work no matter how much you want it too....it does help the audience to relate to the figure by resembling them.

If you can't relate to characters as anything but the racial categories that they happen to fit into, that's your own problem. But your problem isn't rooted in logic, as most people -- including historians -- have no real certainty as to what many historical personages actually looked like, and in most cases we wouldn't want actors as ugly as what the historical personages actually looked like in any event.

Sure, I think in a "photo negative" Roots, Mel Gibson would make a fine Kunta Kinte. Just like I think Patrick Stewart made a fine Othello. Patrick Stewart does not resemble a Moor.

And Cate Blanchett didn't really look like Bob Dylan. She looked like Cate Blanchett in ugly make-up. But her performance was good.

Trooper York said...

"She was a vicious, evil, vindictive whacko-liberal bitch. So, needless to say, I was therefore completely in love with her. Good gravy that woman can write."

Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmm!!!!

That explains a lot.

Mortimer Brezny said...

Mort, I agree with you about the qualities of Armisen's impressions, but I don't think that can possibly bear on the question of whether it was racially inappropriate for him to play a black character.

I guess I don't think there is a strict "racial" test here. How good the impression is matters. If Arimsen had a dead-on Obama impression, criticizing him for doing it would just be discriminating against Armisen because he's not black. (Like, you know, not even letting Halle Berry audition as Princess Di...) But he sucks. You can say he needs to go because he sucks. Race is irrelevant.

Yeah, Tina Fey is evil.

Simon said...

Kirby Olson said...
"I think that the humor quotient is the only thing that matters here and you're never going to get a Critical Studies prof to laugh about anything at all, so you can't worry about them as an audience.

I have to admit that virtually since I started studying law, I've thought Judge Kozinski had crit's number - crit is tangible proof that even the silliest idea (the school of thought overbearingly and smugly pretentious enough to call itself "legal realism") can be pursued to its illogical conclusion. I can think of precisely one critter I respect, viz. Prof. Tushnet, and then only because he is blessed with one of the felicitous gifts that so glaringly single out Ann's work, the ability to write not only with elegance and perspicacity, but in a way that I find thought-provoking and useful even when I disagree.

Hoosier Daddy said...

You’re the one who claimed a white actor probably wouldn’t resemble Napoleon

Talk about dishonest! I was talking about the way casting directors generally work, not about any particular white actor.


I'm sorry Mort, English is my first language. Please look at what you said and tell me where I went wrong.

There's no doubt that Samuel L. Jackson would play a rather good Napoleon Bonaparte, but he'd probably never get the role. You can say that's because he looks nothing like Napoleon, but the white guy they get to play Napoleon probably won't be short, have hemorrhoids, or look even remotely French. In other words, the white guy won't look like Napoleon, either.

I think we all know that Alexander the Great did not resemble an Irishman named Colin.

Well consideirng that bronze and stone carvings are about all we have to go by for Alex's image, a little leeway is probably acceptable.

Sure, I think in a "photo negative" Roots, Mel Gibson would make a fine Kunta Kinte. Just like I think Patrick Stewart made a fine Othello. Patrick Stewart does not resemble a Moor.

No he doesn't and speaking for myself, Patrick Stewart wouldn't impress me as Othello. Why do a photo-negative when you could simply get Laurence Fishburne to play the role. Wait...they did.

And Cate Blanchett didn't really look like Bob Dylan.

Well opinions vary. She certainly looked like him to me. Then again that is the point isn't it? If her performance was so good, why the makeup? Why not just have her portray Bob Dylan as she truly is since its all about her performance?

Mortimer Brezny said...

Why do a photo-negative when you could simply get Laurence Fishburne to play the role. Wait...they did.

Sure. But who says there must only be one Othelloe production in the world done precisely in one way for the entirety of time? I don't see why Laurence Fishburne and Patrick Stewart can't both play Othello...or anyone else for that matter. They're actors.

Simon said...

Trooper (and Mort), this being a thread about SNL, I am of course camping it up just a little - the underlying point is that she and I are worlds apart ideologically, but I think she's very smart, very articulate, very good at what she does, and I find all those things appealing.

Simon said...

Mort, I agree with that - I mean, I'm not saying Armisen should play that role, or that he shouldn't be criticized for the performance. But he should be criticized for the performance, not because he isn't black. SNL isn't quite sui generis, but it is a very specific context, and within that context, I don't think it's remotely offensive that Armisen was cast in that role. :)

the-exterminator said...

Go to:
http://roachesandtwinkies.blogspot.com/2008/02/obama-portrayed-by-white-good-god.html
For my take on the whole situation.
It's a bunch of BS

the-exterminator said...

http://roachesandtwinkies.blogspot.com

Dust Bunny Queen said...

The Princess Diana story is not about being a white woman

No, the Princess Diana story is about being Princess Diana a historical person who happened to be white married to the white Prince Charles. It would be ridiculous to have any other ethnicity playing that part. Now then, if you wanted to make a "fictional story" about people in the positions that they found themselves to be in, you can use any ethnicity.

It would be like having Jackie Chan play the part of George Washington. Or Denzel Washington be acting as Genghis Khan. Almost as stupid as John Wayne as Genghis Khan.....almost. Nothing beats that bit of miscasting.

You people, who are so easily offended and oh soooo politically correct need to get a grip and distinguish between historical and fictional stories.

Trooper York said...

Napoleon: Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa... stop right there. Eatin' a bitch out, and givin' a bitch a foot massage ain't even the same fuckin' thing. I rubbed that bitch Josephine like a mutafucka!
Marshal Ney: It's not. It's the same ballpark.
Napoleon: Ain't no fuckin' ballpark neither. Now look, maybe your method of massage differs from mine, but, you know, touchin' his wife's feet, and stickin' your tongue in her Holiest of Holies, ain't the same fuckin' ballpark, it ain't the same league, it ain't even the same fuckin' sport. Look, foot massages don't mean shit.
Napoleon: Have you ever given a foot massage?
Napoleon: [scoffs] Don't be tellin' me about foot massages. I'm the foot fuckin' master.
Marshal Ney: Given a lot of 'em?
Napoleon: Shit yeah. I got my technique down and everything, I don't be ticklin' or nothin'.
Marshal Ney: Would you give a guy a foot massage?
[Jules gives Vincent a long look, realizing he's been set up]
Napoleon: Fuck you.
Marshal Ney: You give them a lot?
Napoleon: Fuck you.
Marshal Ney: You know, I'm getting kinda tired. I could use a foot massage myself.
Napoleon: Man, you best back off, I'm gittin' a little pissed here. Now I think it’s about time to do something before that motherfuckin’ Wellington wins the motherfuckin’ field.
Marshal Ney: Ok, Ok. Chaaaarrrrgeeeee!!!!!
(Pulp Napoleon, 2009)

Chip Ahoy said...

Let me make sure I've got this right; Obama is black?

An Edjamikated Redneck said...

Almost as stupid as John Wayne as Genghis Khan.....almost. Nothing beats that bit of miscasting.

Except for the fact that role was written for Brando, IIRC; I'm sure Trooper can help me with this one!

Mortimer Brezny said...

the white guy they get to play Napoleon probably won't be short,

Rod Steiger is dead. I am talking about how casting directors work today. If you read more closely the passage you cite, you can see it envisions casting directors who are choosing between Samuel L. Jackson and someone else. That would be in today's market.

But if you want to go back to decades ago (when there were even fewer working black actors with the chops to be in competition with the likes of Rod Steiger), I would note that Rod Steiger and Marlon Brando both played Napoleon, and neither one of them resembles the other (thus, if one looks like Napoleon, the other doesn't). (I'm sure you find a side-by-side photo of the two, as they both were in On the Waterfront.) I don't think either one should be disqualified from the role, because they're both great actors. But according to you, the one who looks less like Napoleon shouldn't get the job. Why? Why not have a Marlon Brando Napoleon movie and a Rod Steiger Napoleon movie? What the hell do you have against Marlon Brando?

Well consideirng that bronze and stone carvings are about all we have to go by for Alex's image, a little leeway is probably acceptable.

So an Irishman, but not a Cuban, right? Leeway just happens to correspond to employing only white actors. How coincidental.

Revenant said...

How is Obama any more black than white? Is there some kind of one drop rule in effect?

That's exactly what I was wondering. It seems like his mother gets ignored, which is pretty weird considering that she's the one who raised him.

Tibore said...

Wow. Whole lotta words for an academic injecting race where it doesn't belong.

Arneson bears a vague, not-quite-but-close-enough-for-comedy resemblance to Obama. So why are people bitching? Just because they touched the precious candidate? I'll bet Obama himself is probably nowhere near as uptight about the portrayal as the commentariat blathering in that WaPo article.

Oh, and a note to Hannah Pool of the Guardian: There's a wide gulf of a difference between the racist, stereotypical evocations of minstrel-show blackface and the makeup that Arneson donned in the skit. One's beyond exaggeration and actually reaches the point of distortion, whereas the other's subtle change to blend into a portrayal. Pool needs to quit exaggerating.

Trooper York said...

Right you are, Brando turned it down as did Victor Mature. Wayne took it to make a buck, but there was something very wrong with the whole production. It was filmed in Utah near the site of some nuclear bomb tests. The site was definately contaminated by radiation. They had even shipped some of the dirt to Hollywood to film inserts and that seemed to futher the exposure. Almost everyone who was in that film died of cancer. The movie was produced by Howard Hughes who remained obsessed with it. Let's hope it wasn't because of the Duke's tits...Jane Russell....The Outlaw....never mind.

Mortimer Brezny said...

It would be like having Jackie Chan play the part of George Washington.

No. That would be a bad idea because Jackie Chan can't speak English and he's known for falling all over himself. It would not be ridiculous to have Jackie Chan in a remake of a Buster Keaton film or a Charlie Chaplin film, given that Jack Chan is an international star known for his physical comedy that is in the style of Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin. I don't think Russell Wong as George Washington would be ridiculous at all.

http://www.chssc.org/honorees/2006/russellwong.htm

Tibore said...

"How is Obama any more black than white? Is there some kind of one drop rule in effect?

That's exactly what I was wondering. It seems like his mother gets ignored, which is pretty weird considering that she's the one who raised him."


Same thing happens with Tiger Woods all the time.

Mortimer Brezny said...

Same thing happens with Tiger Woods all the time.

No, he is Cablinasian.

Trooper York said...

"Trooper (and Mort)......the underlying point is that she and I are worlds apart ideologically, but I think she's very smart, very articulate, very good at what she does, and I find all those things appealing."

We are still talking about Tina Fey right?

Paddy O. said...

Denzel Washington would make a badass Ghengis Khan. It'd be the biggest blockbuster of the year.

And we all know that Daniel Day Lewis would get another Oscar if he was cast as the lead in Martin Scorcese's remake of Roots.

Mortimer Brezny said...

Denzel Washington would make a badass Ghengis Khan. It'd be the biggest blockbuster of the year.

And we all know that Daniel Day Lewis would get another Oscar if he was cast as the lead in Martin Scorcese's remake of Roots.


This is true.

Paddy O. said...

I would totally see a movie with Ken Watanabe as George Washington. Different facial features, same bearing.

Trooper York said...

This great counter intuitive casting. How about Tom Arnold as
Dr. Martin Luther King? They are both exactly the same size and weight. It's meant to be.

Mortimer Brezny said...

I would totally see a movie with Ken Watanabe as George Washington. Different facial features, same bearing.

Even better than Russell Wong.

Trooper York said...

Napoleon: Enough is enough! I have had it with these motherfucking snakes on this motherfucking royal carriage!
(Snakes on a Royal Carriage, 2009)

Paddy O. said...

"How about Tom Arnold as Dr. Martin Luther King?"

I have never thought of Dr. King as being that fidgety. How about George Lopez in his debut dramatic turn?

Trooper York said...

How about George Lopez in his debut dramatic turn?

That would have been good, but he lost a lot of weight because of his kidney illness.

How about Sherman Hensley as Patrick Henry. Also, the same size and weight. Plus he gets to wear a wig. It's a win-win.

Mortimer Brezny said...

How about George Lopez in his debut dramatic turn?

Doesn't have the voice for it.

Simon said...

Mortimer Brezny said...
"I don't think Russell Wong as George Washington would be ridiculous at all."

I think there'd be an interesting movie to be made from something akin to your race-inversed Othello, upthread: a founding-era movie with, I don't know, Laurence Fishburne as Washington, Eddie Murphy as Hamilton, and so forth- that is, a race-reversed founding era movie.

Trooper York said...

Actually, Queen Latifah is about the same height and weight as General Washington. She does have all of her teeth, so it's not a perfect match. But they both have the same round face. It could work.

Paddy O. said...

Doesn't have the voice for it.
Oh, definitely not. And the voice really is everything in that role.

Sherman Hensley as Patrick Henry.

Sherman Hensley would be a perfect Napoleon.

How about Snoop Dog as Abraham Lincoln Same height and build, both folksy orators. Bill Murray could play Frederick Douglas.

ricpic said...

As I understand MB's argument, if a producer could come up with a dignified oriental actor with an aura of command about him, said actor could make a plausible George Washington.

Nonsense. Such a notion could only be put forth by someone who has bought into the argument that willful PC blindness trumps history, race and culture.

Mortimer Brezny said...

Bill Murray could play Frederick Douglas.

This works. Explains the whole tired, hangdog mien better.

Sherman Hensley would be a perfect Napoleon.

I was thinking Rasputin.

Trooper York said...

How about the newly stout Chris Tucker as Teddy Roosevelt and Cedric the Entertainer as William Howard Taft. With Halle Berry as the Beaver.

(Hallie Berry is always the Beaver)

Mortimer Brezny said...

As I understand MB's argument, if a producer could come up with a dignified oriental actor with an aura of command about him, said actor could make a plausible George Washington.

It depends on the production. I think Simon's race-reversal idea for the Founding era makes more sense than just slotting in an Asian guy. You'd probably need to make other changes, too, so that the theme was coherent and served a purpose, like in the Mexican Hitler example, the Martin Scorcese photo negative Roots example, or the Denzel Washington Genghis Khan example, which, unlike the rest, just works because no one cares what Genghis Khan looks like, but they do like the idea of a great actor chewing up the scenery in an epic movie about war. It depends on how it was done. I think the problem you're having is you can't imagine it being done well enough to appeal to you.

That's your problem.

As for insulting me as some PC-nik, I already noted upstream that I boycotted Sum of All Fears because they got rid of the Radical Islamists as villains. That is not a PC position at all.

Mortimer Brezny said...

Oh, and calling people "orientals" really reveals far more about you than you realize, ricpic.

ricpic said...

No, the problem I have with the idea is that you cannot vault bedrock racial/historical/cultural FACTS with acting chops.

And the PC term is asiatic not oriental? My God what a gaff.

Trooper York said...

Archie: I ain't gonna eat this food with these Chink pick-up sticks.
Mike Stivic: How can you say that, Arch? With one word you attack an entire race of people and not just the Chinese, the Laotians, the Cambodians, the Vietnamese.
Archie: Wait a minute, Meathead, I never call them countries Chinks.
Edith: He calls them Gooks.
Archie: I'm saying they're all a yellow race. They ain't exactly Chinks, but they are definitely offshoots of your Chinks, they're what you call Chinkish.
(All in the Family, 1971)

Roger Sweeny said...

Actually, the pc term is Asian, and has been for a long time (my sister told me several decades ago when she was living in Berkeley).

I'd like to see Halle Berry do a sketch playing Britney Spears. Really.

Paddy O. said...

"And the PC term is asiatic not oriental? My God what a gaff."

It's not PC like the difference between Black and African-American. It's colonial versus non-colonial and there are plenty of places where you'd get your ass kicked here in SoCal for using the term oriental.

Above I argued that Diana is quintessentially a white role. But GW? No doubt if a Japanese samurai, brilliant military general had been visiting the colonies in the late 1700s they would have given him an army.

In fact I think having a bit of race changes in those roles would do even better to exemplify the early American leaders and the disgust the British had for their arrogance.

Revenant said...

there are plenty of places where you'd get your ass kicked here in SoCal for using the term oriental.

None of my Asian friends care if people say "Oriental". That stuff about it being a legacy of colonialism is just a bunch of leftie PC nonsense, and as such is generally only cared about by left-wing Asians. Oriental just means "eastern", as opposed to "Occidental" (western). It is no more offensive than referring to "the Western world".

What does tend to annoy people, in my experience is being called "Chinese" when they are actually from Vietnam. :)

Synova said...

What I don't really see, accepting that Hollywood is busting at the seams with politically active uber-liberals who cast movies so badly... is what this has to do with the rest of us.

Really.

The rest of us really don't care what ethnicity an actor is.

And SNL isn't Hollywood, so there you go.

I can think of one black mega-star who is cast in non-black roles consistantly. Will Smith. He's fabulous. His last however many blockbusters could have been cast with a white lead and weren't.

I can think of a couple of less prominent male stars of indeterminate race who are cast in non-racial roles consistently. Really, you tell me what race Vin Diesel and the Rock are, K? Because I couldn't even guess. I certainly can't guess because of the roles they play.

I can think of an hispanic actress who is criticized for not putting herself in the ethnic actors ghetto. Maybe she should change her last name to "White" huh?

Oh, and on TV there is Monk. I think he played a middle eastern terrorist a time or two but the movies I remember him from and the parts weren't ethnic/racial at all.

The audience really doesn't care.

And Hallie Barry could play Princess Diana and anyone who didn't know would assume she was white. There would be no "Wow! A black lady playing Princess Di."

But what sort of personal harassment would she get for putting on light make up and blue contacts and a blond Di wig from those who think that black actors are supposed to be all about being black?

Paddy O. said...

None of my Asian friends care if people say "Oriental".

I guess your friends aren't from those places then. I know this from my right wing sister-in-law, by the way. Her parents came from the Philippines. And, also basically from growing up around a lot of folks from Korea, China, Vietnam, Taiwan, etc. The Koreans I've known are very conservative politically but wouldn't hesitate to give someone a lashing for using 'oriental'.

Maybe it's a generational thing, say for folks under 40.

Mortimer Brezny said...

But what sort of personal harassment would she get for putting on light make up and blue contacts and a blond Di wig

Oh! I meant without the make-up and the blonde wig. I haven't been talking about minority actors in whiteface.

Mortimer Brezny said...

But GW? No doubt if a Japanese samurai, brilliant military general had been visiting the colonies in the late 1700s they would have given him an army.

Interesting!

Revenant said...

I can think of one black mega-star who is cast in non-black roles consistantly. Will Smith. He's fabulous.

An even better example is Morgan Freeman. When he was cast as the President in "Deep Impact" people didn't react to the trailers by saying "huh, the President's a black guy". They said "cool, Morgan Freeman's the President". His roles in "Unforgiven" and "Shawshank Redemption" were similarly "raceless".

Revenant said...

Maybe it's a generational thing, say for folks under 40.

Maybe it is a "born in America" thing. My Asian friends are all immigrants. They don't identify themselves as part of a race, they identify themselves as having come from a specific country. Terms like "Asian" or "Oriental" are offensive only inasmuch as they lump Vietnamese, Filipinos, and Taiwanese together as if they had anything in common beyond having been invaded by Japan.

Auto Report World Editors said...

Was it unacceptable for Laurence Olivier or Placido Domingo to impersonate Othello the Moor?

bwebster said...

Sheesh. One of the best Humphrey Bogart imitations I ever saw was Eddie Murphy on SNL. Some people need to get a life.... ..bruce..

howzerdo said...

Aside from a handful of actors and skits over the years, I've never found SNL funny, daring or provacative. I watched some of it on Saturday, including the opening Obama/Clinton parody and Tina Fey's fake news monologue. It struck me as simply water carrying for Clinton. (I also wondered if Fey was having a stroke or a manic episode.) My guess is that people who are outraged are being fueled less by the race of the actor (that's just an obvious thing to focus on) than because the Obama role was so minimal that the actor could have been replaced by a cardboard cut-out or doll.

Michael said...

So which half is it that's offensive, the white half of the actor playing the black half of Obama, or the Asian half of the actor playing the white half of Obama? How is it better if an all-black actor plays Obama's white half?

Synova said...

"They said "cool, Morgan Freeman's the President"."

Exactly.

James Kabala said...

I think most of the previous commenters have ignoted a key distinction here between serious drama (whether in film or the legitimate stage) on the one hand and sketch comedy on the other. Never in a million years can I imagine a white actor being cast as Obama in a serious movie about Obama's life. In fact, even if it was a movie about Hillary Clinton or John McCain and Obama appeared briefly as a supporting player, I have no doubt he would be played by a black actor. The same goes for Jesse Jackson, Colin Powell, or any other well-known black person out there.

Sketch comedy plays by a different set of rules. For example, gender-bending in sketch comedy is common (sometimes even pervasive, as in Monty Python or The Kids in the Hall); with all due respect to Cate Blanchett, it is very rare in the movies. Another relevant point is that a movie can theoretically cast any actor in the world, whereas SNL has a limited repetory company from which to choose. If Thompson looks completely unlike Obama (which he does), Lorne Michaels shouldn't be expected to scour the country for a thin black comic brought in specifically to play one role if he thinks he has a "white" (actually part Japanese) actor already on staff who can pull it off.

P.S. Actually, Morgan Freeman almost invariably plays saintly roles of a type in which a white actor is almost never case anymore (even God Himself).

P.P.S. I have found one exception to the "no color changes in serious films" role, and it involves none other than Halle Berry. I agree that Berry will never play Princess Diana, but she is slated to play a real-life white schoolteacher: http://film.guardian.co.uk/news/story/0,,1891958,00.html

This is an old article, but according to IMDB, the movie is still on course to be made.

Trooper York said...

Of course it would be Halle Berry. That's why I brought her up in the first place. She is the modern Dorothy Dandridge.

She is also the prime example of the old saying;

"No matter how beautiful a woman may be, you can always find a guy who is tired of fucking her."

Fat Man said...

Denzell Washington as Don Pedro of Arragon in Kenneth Bragnah's production of Much Ado About Nothing (1993).

Washington also played Brutus in Julius Caesar on Broadway 3 years ago. And did a fine job of it.

Also Yaphet Kotto as Lt. Al Giardello in "Homicide: Life on the Street" a TV series produced by Barry Levinson (120 episodes, 1993-1999). Kotto is way too black for his backstory about an Italian American cop, but he was terrific anyway. A strong actor in a very strong cast that included Ned Beatty and Richard Belzer.

Daryl said...

One issue I haven't seen discussed is that the first SNL skit was extremely gentle to the Obama impersonator. The big joke was how everyone except Hillary loved him too much.

Classic blackface involves grotesque makeup and grotesque exaggeration negative stereotypes about blacks. A positive portrayal with realistic-looking makeup doesn't invoke blackface.

However, if the next SNL skit is one with a less gentle theme--perhaps they could make a joke out of Obama's tendency to change the subject immediately whenever he gets caught, or how he's been flip-flopping like mad for the past few days--and it's going to look a bit more like blackface.

If having a white actor to play Obama means SNL treats him with kid gloves, Obama should be thankful.