FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

When White Actors Play Black Characters

by MARGARET KIMBERLEY

When Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl was kidnapped in Pakistan in 2002 his wife, Marianne, became a fixture in international media. The first time I saw her I made a very simple observation. “His wife is black,” I said to myself. I know a black person when I see one, and I saw one in Marianne Pearl. In the new film A Mighty Heart, Pearl is portrayed by actress Angelina Jolie. Jolie is white.

Here we are in the 21st century and a white actor is portraying a black character. Not just any character, but a real life, well-known, still living human being. Anyone who sees Marianne Pearl knows she isn’t white, but the powers that be in Hollywood didn’t care and knew they could get away with this offensive charade.

Marianne Pearl was born in France to a Cuban mother and a Dutch father. Her mother was quite obviously black, photos are unambiguous on that point. Her father was European, so she can be described as multi-racial or biracial. It doesn’t really matter what term or words Pearl uses to describe herself. She is clearly a person of African ancestry, and putting dark make up and a curly wig on Angelina Jolie doesn’t change that fact or fool anyone.

The days of white actors using various makeup techniques to play non-white people should be over in the new millennium. Who can forget Marlon Brando portraying an Okinawan or John Wayne as Genghis Khan. Those days should be long gone and consigned to the dust bin of Hollywood’s shameful history.

In the old days, white actors always played light-skinned black characters who could “pass” for white. Films such as Pinky and Imitation of Life are historic examples of that phenomenon. We now have a white person portraying a not so light skinned, obviously black, living person. It seems that Hollywood is becoming less enlightened with time.

Of course, it didn’t hurt Jolie that her boyfriend Brad Pitt produced the movie. Because Pitt is a bankable star and producer, he can get whatever he wants. If he had insisted on having an actress of color portray a woman of color he could have gotten that too. It isn’t clear if he was motivated by the desire for familial bliss, “color doesn’t count, can’t we all get along, kumbayah” fantasy, bigger bucks at the box office, or all of the above.

Pearl and Jolie are just fine with the arrangement, and why not. Jolie gets a role she wanted and Pearl gets to see her story on the silver screen. Both are defensive about the casting criticisms and plead with the peasantry to remain silent.

“I know that people are frustrated at the lack of great roles [for people of color], but I think they’ve picked the wrong example here,” Jolie opined. Why is this example wrong? Is it because honesty and integrity would have denied her the part? If Jolie can possibly think of a reason why the rest of us should just shut up and accept modern day blackface she needs to come up with a better explanation.

Marianne Pearl also thinks that critics should bite their tongues. “This is not about skin color. I wanted her to play me because I trust her. Aren’t we past this?” Who is we? Hollywood endlessly promotes white people and their image. If they aren’t “past” the business of telling the world that only white people are acceptable, beautiful, and noble, then the rest of us shouldn’t be “past” demanding that our images be shown, especially if the image in question is that of a living individual who is obviously not the same race as the actor playing the part.

Pearl’s acquiescence is no reason for other black people to think that this throwback to Hollywood’s dark ages, pun intended, should be acceptable. She is not free to instruct the rest of the African ancestored world how we should react when our very presence is denied and our image is erased. The story of a pregnant journalist whose husband is kidnapped and beheaded tugs at the heart strings. Apparently the deal makers in Hollywood feared that those heart strings wouldn’t be moved if one black or multiracial person portrayed another.

Last but not least, Pitt and Jolie should not be given a pass for their white washing endeavor. They have adopted Asian and African children and given birth to one on the African continent. They may get brownie points for having a multiracial family, but that shouldn’t protect them from criticism when they tell us not to believe our lying eyes.

MARGARET KIMBERLEY is an editor and senior columnist for the Black Agenda Report. Her Freedom Rider column appears weekly in BAR. Ms. Kimberley lives in New York City, and can be reached via e-Mail at margaret.kimberley@blackagendareport.com.

 

 

Margaret Kimberley writes the Freedom Rider column for Black Agenda Report, where this essay originally appeared. 

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
January 20, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Divide and Rule: Class, Hate, and the 2016 Election
Andrew Levine
When Was America Great?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: This Ain’t a Dream No More, It’s the Real Thing
Yoav Litvin
Making Israel Greater Again: Justice for Palestinians in the Age of Trump
Linda Pentz Gunter
Nuclear Fiddling While the Planet Burns
Ruth Fowler
Standing With Standing Rock: Of Pipelines and Protests
David Green
Why Trump Won: the 50 Percenters Have Spoken
Dave Lindorff
Imagining a Sanders Presidency Beginning on Jan. 20
Pete Dolack
Eight People Own as Much as Half the World
Roger Harris
Too Many People in the World: Names Named
Steve Horn
Under Tillerson, Exxon Maintained Ties with Saudi Arabia, Despite Dismal Human Rights Record
John Berger
The Nature of Mass Demonstrations
Stephen Zielinski
It’s the End of the World as We Know It
David Swanson
Six Things We Should Do Better As Everything Gets Worse
Alci Rengifo
Trump Rex: Ancient Rome’s Shadow Over the Oval Office
Brian Cloughley
What Money Can Buy: the Quiet British-Israeli Scandal
Mel Gurtov
Donald Trump’s Lies And Team Trump’s Headaches
Kent Paterson
Mexico’s Great Winter of Discontent
Norman Solomon
Trump, the Democrats and the Logan Act
David Macaray
Attention, Feminists
Yves Engler
Demanding More From Our Media
James A Haught
Religious Madness in Ulster
Dean Baker
The Economics of the Affordable Care Act
Patrick Bond
Tripping Up Trumpism Through Global Boycott Divestment Sanctions
Robert Fisk
How a Trump Presidency Could Have Been Avoided
Robert Fantina
Trump: What Changes and What Remains the Same
David Rosen
Globalization vs. Empire: Can Trump Contain the Growing Split?
Elliot Sperber
Dystopia
Dan Bacher
New CA Carbon Trading Legislation Answers Big Oil’s Call to Continue Business As Usual
Wayne Clark
A Reset Button for Political America
Chris Welzenbach
“The Death Ship:” An Allegory for Today’s World
Uri Avnery
Being There
Peter Lee
The Deep State and the Sex Tape: Martin Luther King, J. Edgar Hoover, and Thurgood Marshall
Patrick Hiller
Guns Against Grizzlies at Schools or Peace Education as Resistance?
Randy Shields
The Devil’s Real Estate Dictionary
Ron Jacobs
Singing the Body Electric Across Time
Ann Garrison
Fifty-five Years After Lumumba’s Assassination, Congolese See No Relief
Christopher Brauchli
Swing Low Alabama
Dr. Juan Gómez-Quiñones
La Realidad: the Realities of Anti-Mexicanism
Jon Hochschartner
The Five Least Animal-Friendly Senate Democrats
Pauline Murphy
Fighting Fascism: the Irish at the Battle of Cordoba
Susan Block
#GoBonobos in 2017: Happy Year of the Cock!
Louis Proyect
Is Our Future That of “Sense8” or “Mr. Robot”?
Charles R. Larson
Review: Robert Coover’s “Huck out West”
David Yearsley
Manchester-by-the-Sea and the Present Catastrophe
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail