Sunday, May 23, 2010

Breakfast at Tamina's

You'd think that in the second decade of the twenty-first century you would no longer have swarthy ethnic groups or non-Whites complaining of having pasty actors of Northern European descent playing people from their culture because Hollywood would have long ago abandoned such a practice.

But nope, looks like the upcoming Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is getting some bad press on this score:
So when Disney studios announced plans for a live-action adaptation of Prince, Dar held out hope it would be a "serious story that would dispel a lot of stereotypes and misconceptions." Then came the bad news regarding "Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time" (the movie which arrives in theaters on Friday). None of its principle cast members are of Iranian, Middle Eastern or Muslim descent. And playing Dastan, the hero and titular heir to the Persian throne in the $200-million tent-pole film, is none other than Hancock Park's own Swedish-Jewish-American prince, Jake Gyllenhaal.

"My first reaction was, 'Really?!'" said Dar. "It's insulting that people of color — especially Middle Easterners or South Asians — are not allowed to portray ourselves in these roles. That's a big problem a lot of people in the community are having with this film."
As a US citizen who gets annoyed when Americans in Korean films and television are portrayed as caricatures by people with thick Russian accents or Canadians, I can see where these folks are coming from. But this is actually done quite a lot — Koreans, Chinese, and Japanese portraying Native Alaskans, for example, or an Englishman of Asian Indian descent playing an Iraqi on "Lost" — without insult or injury except to ethnic pride.

To me the ultimate standard is whether or not the non-authentic casting is employed to mock said ethnic groups, à la Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany's (see here). If that line is crossed, then it's a different story.

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