Chinese or Japanese?
One of the controveries about “Memoirs of a Geisha” was the casting of Chinese, rather than Japanese, actresses in principal roles, although director Rob Marshall has said the casting was based on talent.
But portrayals – even of us WASPs – impact our identity.
Native Americans are sometimes mistaken for Latinos
Actor DeLanna Studi points out, “Native youths don’t see themselves on TV, so they don’t have any role models to look up to. That makes for a lot of kids who ‘pass’ for Latino. That’s fine, but at the same time they shouldn’t deny who they are.”
With her Cherokee lineage, she created her one-woman show “Kick” to “deal with Native American issues, and how images of stereotypes affect the way in which we identify ourselves. … I’m hoping to go out into mainstream America and just portray a normal person.” [Venice mag., Nov 2005]
Jana, a musician (and member of the Lumbee tribe) has said that “being an Urban Indian is accepting this Native culture and teaching others the positivity and pride that exists within the culture… it also means that it is o.k. to live ‘outside’ of your Native world but still have the Native world inside of you.”
In the mainstream
Another actor Irene Bedard says she wants to be known as a Native American, “but also to let people know how Native people live now.
“Why not have [a movie with] this lawyer who grew up on the rez but is now living in New York City? I’m saying: let’s bring us into the mainstream.”
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One of the pleasures of Skinwalkers (the 2002 tv movie) was dynamic characters who, yes, were Native but also richly complex and contemporary real people, not stereotypes.
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Learning to be black
But stereotypes apparently still drive many casting decisions.
Merrin Dungey developed her one-woman show “Black Like Who?” about growing up black in a white suburb.
She commented in a magazine interview that she had to “hide her Valley Girl accent and love of Duran Duran, and learn to be ‘black’ to make it in Hollywood.”
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Do you find your ethnic identity helps or hinders getting cast?