Sept. 14, 2015
Since the creation of Hollywood, roles belonging to people of color have often been handed to white actors. But when a black actor dares to take on a role supposedly belonging to a white actor, it can cause uproar, particularly among TV audiences.
Over the summer, I got hooked to the BBC series, “Merlin,” which features Queen Guinevere Pendragon, played by a black actress (Angel Coulby). The show ended three years ago, but there is still discontent among fans that Guinevere was played by a black woman.
Historians have yet to prove the existence of either a King Arthur Pendragon or a Queen Guinevere. Although the name Guinevere means “white shadow,” this does not mean that she has to be white in every portrayal. There are many Guineveres in Hollywood already portrayed by white women.
It’s one thing to make known white women Elizabeth I or Queen Victoria a different race, these women actually lived. But why should it matter if a fictional character who is always white be played by a black woman in one portrayal of many?
Similar to Gwen, new characters created specifically for a show are often bashed by fandom if they happen to be black, especially if they are black females.
Martha Jones of “Doctor Who,” Bonnie Bennett of “The Vampire Diaries” and Tara Thornton of “True Blood” are three strong female characters that have the misfortune of being constantly bashed.
Tamara of “Once Upon a Time” was hated instantly, mostly for coming between white Neal Cassidy and white Emma Swan’s relationship, well before the audience discovered Tamara was evil.
The same is not often said for black male characters. Martha’s husband, Mickey Smith and Tara’s cousin, Lafayette Reynolds, are loved by fans.
The trend seems to be bashing black female characters if they either get involved in a white relationship (as Martha did by crushing on white Rose Tyler’s Doctor and in the case of Tamara) or fighting the main white protagonist (Tara having an off-again/ on-again friendship with white Sookie Stackhouse).
Interracial relationships in books are often ignored in TV. In the “Vampire Diaries” book, Bennett has a relationship with white Damon Salvatore.
In the “Vampire Diaries” show, Salvatore’s main love interest is Elena Gilbert, a white woman. People don’t seem to have the same kind of attitude when the situation is reversed.
In Disney’s original cartoon “Peter Pan,” Tiger Lily is Native American. But in the upcoming “Hook” movie, the role of Tiger Lily is played by a white woman.
Katniss Everdeen of “The Hunger Games” was said only to have olive skin in the books, leaving her race open to interpretation and the general idea that she wasn’t white. But the casting call that went out for Katniss called specifically for a Caucasian female, making Rue the only female person of color in the movie.
Even Maria of “West Side Story,” a character whose Puerto Rican race is a main focus in the movie, is played by a white woman.
There is often a call to have more strong female characters, but usually this translates to strong white female characters. There must also be a call for strong female black characters.