As Asian Americans, we have unfortunately witnessed countless cases of racebending within the entertainment industry from the olden days of Fu Manchu and the Kung Fu series to The Last Airbender and Akira adaptation. All of these films have used white actors in preference over Asian actors, even when the story is of Asian origin. The term “whitewashing” was created and it is a loaded word that in itself creates countless hours of extremely heated arguments.
But does it still matter between non-white ethnic groups; is it still considered racebending? The most recent notable example of this happening was with Memoirs of a Geisha where all the leading ladies were played by Chinese actresses, rather than Japanese ones. And, as is the case of Miral, should an Indian play a Palestinian?
With Miral, a film directed by Julian Schnabel, Freida Pinto plays Miral, a Palestinian woman who is assigned to teach at a refugee camp in the midst of the Intifada resistance. But Ms. Pinto herself isn’t Palestinian, she’s Indian. In an interview with the LA Times, Pinto addresses the casting of an Indian for the Palestinian character:
Not surprisingly, Pinto is impatient that her nationality should define the roles she plays or where she works. “I don’t want to play Queen Elizabeth,” she says. “That would be ridiculous. But I find it funny when people say, ‘She’s Indian — why did she play a Palestinian?’ When people ask me, ‘Why don’t you do films back in India?’ I say that cinema is so global and the world is so small, and everybody is somehow connected to everyone. Why can’t I just be part of the global cinema?”
If Freida did her part by going above and beyond to heavily research the context in which the film was set and thereby immersing herself in the historical, political, and societal dimensions of her role and the setting of the film, would this be a fair call? Would it be a clear example of an actress doing her job to the fullest and play the character convincingly, despite whatever ethnicity she may be? It is even noted that Freida looks very similar (with several shades of difference) to the journalist Rula Jebreal, who inspired the character of Miral.
What do you guys think? We give a lot of attention and protests over white people playing non-white people but should the same thing apply between non-white folks?
[Photo Courtesy of LA Times]