In my first book, The Imaginary Bomb, I wrote that what the characters looked like was up to you, the reader:
As long as this is a story about the power of imagination, I’m letting you decide what color Bob and Pete’s hair and eyes are, or how tall they are, or the shape of their chins. Otherwise, you’ll have to wait for the movie — and even then it’ll be the casting director’s opinion of what these guys should look like.
I thought about that passage as I read some of the reactions to the announcement that Halle Bailey has been cast to play the part of Ariel in Disney’s live-action remake of the animated film The Little Mermaid.
The gist of the criticism is that Ariel is “supposed” to be a red-haired, white-skinned mermaid, and Bailey is not. Remember, we’re talking about a mermaid, and no one has ever seen a mermaid.
I am offended by people who are offended by other people’s artistic choices. Often “casting against type” makes for wonderful surprises.
Leonard Nimoy was a surprising choice to be cast as Tevye in “Fiddler On The Roof,” because every brilliant Tevye who had come before was fat. By all accounts Nimoy was just as brilliant anyway.
In the comics, Nick Fury was a tough-as-nails white guy. In the movies he’s played by Samuel E. Jackson, whose skin is darker than the guy in the comics. No one complains anymore, because Jackson captures the essence of the character.
In the Doctor Strange comics, the Ancient One is an old bald Asian guy. In the films, she’s a mature bald white woman, Tilda Swanson. A clamor went up when the casting was announced, but again, she’s brilliant, so the naysayers had to shut up.
There’s always an outcry – Starbuck in Battlestar Gallactica, the 13th Doctor Who – but it seems more often than not, unusual or unexpected casting pays off because the choice was made based on the outstanding actor’s abilities, not the person’s skin color or gender.
As someone once said, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”
Some people aren’t there yet, as evinced by the reaction to this Ariel. But most of us react to the casting with mild interest or, if we know the actress, with a nod of approval.
And then we move on. As we should. I bet it will be a delightful movie.
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Photo: ID 114650067 © Sergei Grigorenko | Dreamstime.com (cropped)