The deeply ingrained issue of whitewashing has been a part of public conversation a lot in the past year–there’ve been the complicated race issues of how people read the characters in The Hunger Games, the polarized audience of HBO’s Girls. It’s always been an issue worth discussing, but it appears to be particularly in the zeitgeist at the moment. Now Cassandra Clare, author of The Mortal Instruments, has jumped into the conversation, and in reference to the big-screen adaptation of her own work.
Clare was inspired to write the post in response to a question a fan had over why the casting directors of the upcoming adaptation indicated that they were looking for Asian actors to play one of the main characters, Magnus Bane. Here’s an excerpt from Clare’s response (bolding ours):
They want an Asian actor to play Magnus because Magnus is Asian. (Technically, Magnus is biracial. I would be perfectly happy with a biracial actor playing him — but otherwise the option is an Asian actor, not a white actor. It doesn’t matter if any of Magnus’ background is white. Casting him white would erase that part of his background that is Asian. And important. There are plenty of roles out there for white actors. Most roles are for white actors. This is not one of them. There is very little I have control over as regards casting. I cannot pick an actor for Magnus. I don’t have that ability. But I can say, and say strongly, that I want them to cast an Asian or half-Asian actor, and I did. It is pretty much the one ironclad demand as regards casting that I have made, i.e. : if you don’t cast an Asian actor, I’ll never talk about this movie again, nor will I see it.)…
Clare goes on to elaborate some different instances in her writing that state pretty clearly the races of different characters. Considering the examples she gives, it’s pretty telling that the author even had to answer such a question in the first place. Given the incredible amount of hoopla that is generated simply by the race of every character in The Hunger Games, we don’t live in a period of time where it’s easy to deny that people have very strong opinions about these things.
In some way both sides make sense; part of what makes reading so great is the opportunity to invest in and identify with the characters you let into your head. When it becomes hairy is when those investments start adding to the already monumental problems that people of color face when getting cast in Hollywood.
Here’s another excerpt from Clare’s post:
I have gotten many letters over the years from readers who are happy that Magnus is not white, that Jem is not white, that Maia is not white, that Aline is not white. The fact is that most parts in books are for straight white folks and even more so in films. There are not that many parts for actors who are not white — even less substantive ones. Taking those things away by casting Magnus as white and talking about him as white does cause actual pain to actual people — and to what end? Why? Why send the message you only want to read about white people and only want to see white people on your screens?
We issue a heartfelt congratulations to Cassandra Clare for so publicly joining the conversation.
In the end, more often than not I’m willing to give the benefit of the doubt to castings that have the backing of the author, if only because it was the vision in their head that they translated to the page originally. It’s especially rewarding when, as with Clare, the author happens to agree that the whitewashing needs to stop.