The idea for this Recastathon came when I was compiling a list of the ten actresses working today that I felt were the most interesting and I noticed that there were no women of color in contention. You guys came out in rapturous support of overlooked talent and it got me thinking…how many of these incredible roles could have gone to minority actresses, and why weren’t they? It’s a shame that actresses of color are so often relegated to roles that are race specific. There are bounties of roles that are not race specific that could be played beautifully by an actress of color, and yet they are usually passed over for a white actress who is rising to fame (or who has already established that said fame).
So I put out the call to my fellow bloggers to recast some of those Oscar nominated roles that could have been tackled by an actress of color.
The rules were simple:
1) Pick an OSCAR NOMINATED performance given by a white actress that didn't require a white actress (no biopics here, even though Todd Haynes taught us that you don't need to be the same race or gender to play a real life person). This performance can come from ANY film year.
2) Pick an actress of color who could have been a great fit for the role instead of the one cast. Keep in mind the time of release and chose actresses who were working at that time. So, in other words, don't select the role of Calla Mackie in 1968's Rachel, Rachel (played by Estelle Parsons) and suggest it be a great fit for Naomie Harris, because, well, she wasn't born for another eight years.
3) Explain WHY that actress would have made a great fit. Plead her case. Let's tell those Hollywood casting directors what they're missing.
That’s it, and you did! I want to thank everyone that participated in this with me. It makes my heart swell with happiness to see my fellow bloggers coming to support my blog, and all of your entries were truly incredible, thought provoking and really showed the bounty of wealth to be found in these untapped resources.
But, before we get to into all of the additional awesome entries, I’ll elaborate on my selections. I decided to go with Oscar winning roles that could have been played by minorities, and my initial intention was to select one from every decade, but that became difficult so I narrowed it down to six; one from the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, 90’s, 00’s and 10’s. Let’s look at their chronologically.
For my first recast, I went with 1959’s Alice Aisgill, from the film ‘Room at the Top’, played by the luminous Simone Signoret. In the film, Signoret plays a married older woman who is caught up in a steamy affair with a younger man, engaged to his boss’s daughter. It’s a sultry, yet tortured role, and it won a very deserved Oscar for Signoret. She’s a revelation in the role, so this is obviously no knock to her performance, but it is a role that did not need to be played by a white actress. True, Signoret was French and so she was foreign, but foreign actresses, especially French ones, have never had an issue integrating into Hollywood. The role could have been played by any slightly older actress (Signoret was only 38 when the film was released) who could tackle the sultry aspects of the role (she needed to be desirable) while balancing out the rustic, earthy, conflicted notions.
So who did I choose? Eartha Kitt!
By 1959, Signoret had already been acting for almost two decades, while Kitt had only really had a steady career for just under a decade. While Kitt was younger (she was 32 at the time of the film’s release), she had already established herself as a true screen presence, and her mixture of sex appeal and distinct voice (you hear that voice and you KNOW who she is) helped her skew older than she really was, and would have made her a perfect fit for the role. She would have easily been able to tap into not only the obvious appeal this woman carried, but the soulful frustrations that made her such a full bodied character. It would have also been a serious career boost and major highlight in her career, proving her to be a real force in the industry. Her heartbreaking backstory (real life backstory) could have made for a truly unstoppable narrative come Oscar time (truly rags to riches) and the film’s serious themes and tones would have made her a real talking point. Signoret won in a surprise victory, as it was (she lost the Globe to the odds on favorite, Elizabeth Taylor, who had yet to be crowned with an Oscar despite her rise to fame in the 50’s), and while I don’t think that Oscar politics of the time would have allowed Kitt the Oscar win, it would have been nice to see a woman of color recognized for a role that was not race specific and one that held such power, presence and attention.
Next, we’re going to move on to one of the most beloved performances of all time, and one of my personal favorites, that of 1964’s Mary Poppins, played by Julie Andrews. I love this performance, this actress, this movie…this everything, so again, this is nothing on the actual performance given, but when looking over the batch of 60’s Oscar winners, it struck me that Poppins was a character that could have very easily been altered to accommodate an actress of color. Think about it…she’s a nanny, which already feels race specific (even though it isn’t) and so it could have very easily fallen within Hollywood’s idea of roles that African American women could play.
Who did I choose? Diahann Carroll!
Both Carroll and Andrews are the very same age, being born just a few months apart (Carroll is three months older) and so the age of the character is not an issue. At that point in her career, Carroll had been acting for a decade, which is just as long as Andrews, and both actresses made their start on Broadway, Carroll breaking barriers and snagging singing roles that were rare for black actresses at the time. So, we all know that Carroll could have carried the musical aspects of the film as well. If you’ve seen her acting, and especially her Oscar nominated performance in ‘Claudine’, then you know that she can act. She had the presence to command attention, but also a softness that would have served the two sided persona of the character (charming and delightful yet stern when necessary and commanding respect). It would have been a beautiful thing to see a beloved iconic character like Mary Poppins carried by an actress of color!
Next, let’s go to the 70’s and tackle one of Oscar’s many flings with ‘hookers with a heart of gold’ in 1971’s ‘Klute’. The character is Bree Daniels and the actress who won the gold was Jane Fonda (in one of the only performances by the actress that I actually like). Yeah, I’m not a giant fan of Fonda as a whole, but this performance is remarkably good and the real definition of a star making turn. This put her on the map, made her a real name and not just a celebrity by family ties. Still, I can’t help but wonder what a role like this would have done to another budding star at the time…
First, I’ll get the age gap out of the way. Fonda, when the film was released, was 34. She had been in the industry for over a decade and had already received an Oscar nomination for her work in ‘They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?’. She had worked with the likes of Robert Redford and had the family name behind her and she had given the public what they wanted in ‘Barbarella’. She was a hot commodity, and her win reminds me a little of what we just saw happen for Jennifer Lawrence. Pam Grier, on the other hand, was only 22 (a 12 year gap) and had only a ‘fourth woman’ credit to her name in ‘Beyond the Valley of the Dolls’, but she was about to become the face of Blaxploitation cinema, and despite her young age, she had serious screen presence. Even in those tacky films she churned out in the 70’s, her talent was obvious. Given the right script, the right role, the right chance, she could have been something remarkable, and despite being so young, the role itself didn’t need age. She could have easily adapted to the character, showing the sultry fragility masked by a confidence that made her almost cold to the touch. Fonda has a very clinical demeanor, which suited the mechanics of the character (you’re a prostitute, you must be unattached) and yet she brought this vulnerability that aided in her character’s development. I feel like Grier could have done that remarkably well. Grier is a legend because of the genre she shaped, but had she been given this role and that stage in her career, she would have had a very different career indeed.
And now we’re into the 90’s (I couldn’t find anything in the 80’s I connected to) and we come to a performance that I love despite the fact that everyone else seems to actually hate it. I’m talking about Helen Hunt’s beautiful portrayal of Carol Connelly in 1997’s ‘As Good as it Gets’. The role is far from gender specific, and in fact an African American actress in the role may have even added to the intensity, considering all of the bigotry going on with Melvin’s character (actually, I’d rather they not have conformed this to BE race specific, but whatever). Despite the fact that I love what Hunt did here, I thought of an actress who was making a name for herself in the late 90’s who could have tackled this role and possibly brought it right to Oscar as well.
She’s only three years younger than Hunt, so it would have fit age wise, but looking at Berry’s career up to that point, it becomes clear she could have handled this. While she made a name for herself in the same way that Cameron Diaz did, by playing the sultry sex symbol in a blockbuster (in this case, it was in ‘The Flintstones’), Berry showed that she was willing to work against that image by doing ‘Losing Isaiah’ just two years prior to this film’s release. She had the roughness needed to carry off the weathered single mother (she also did this same thing in ‘Monster’s Ball’ a few years later) and she also has the beauty needed to snag the leading man’s heart. Now, I’m not really saying that she’d deliver a better performance, as I’m not really the biggest fan of Berry’s acting, but an actress at that stage in her career, budding so-to-speak, could have been a slam dunk fit for the role, and one that Oscar would have dove at rewarding.
Now we move to another controversial win, Swanks second win, playing Maggie Fitzgerald in 2004’s ‘Million Dollar Baby’. I like this performance. It’s a good one. It isn’t the best of the bunch, and all five of the other performances in that category were much better, but it is an admirable performance and a very baity character. It would have also been a perfect opportunity for an African American actress. I mean, Clint Eastwood is not shy about casting and working with minorities, and he even gives them great roles most of the time, and the film itself is littered with strong black roles. There is one actress who was working steadily in the early aughts who I think would have made a perfect fit for this and if she had won an Oscar I would have leapt for joy.
Who? Sanaa Lathan!
Sanaa is three years Swank’s senior, so the age is just right. She’d also had her big breakthrough four years prior, in ‘Love and Basketball’, for which she won raves and even won the trifecta of Black Acting awards (BET, Black Reel, Image). She had the presence and talent to pull off this delicate role. Just watching all that she does in ‘Love and Basketball’ is enough to see that. The way that she captures the roughness, that will to survive, as well as the fragility of letdown and the need for approval; all of those aspects were integral to making Maggie Fitzgerald a fully fleshed out character. Lathan had built a nice career for herself in the Black Entertainment Industry, becoming staples in what are considered ‘Black Movies’, like ‘The Wood’ and ‘The Best Man’, but she’s better than that. Her career took off, slightly, when she landed work alongside Denzel and looked to spearhead the new ‘Alien’ franchise, but it’s since fizzled, and sadly she isn’t getting the work she deserves. Having the opportunity to tackle a role like Maggie alongside a director like Clint Eastwood could have changed all that.
Lastly, I’m going to look at one of those polarizing roles, that of Nina Sayers, the Black Swan in 2010’s ‘Black Swan’. Yup, I’m tossing Natalie Portman aside and looking at someone else. The character is far from race specific and is one that really only needed an actress able to tap into a childlike naivety while portraying fragmented glimpses of mental imbalance.
I went with Meagan Good.
I’ve been in Good’s corner since I saw her in 2005’s ‘Brick’. Yes, she had but a mere scene, but she blew me away with her screen presence. She built a nice child career for herself, even stealing the whole show (for me at least) in 1997’s ‘Eve’s Bayou’, and moved onto steady television work and then picking up a lot of supporting work in forgettable teen flicks. The thing is though, Good is always just that…good. She elevates all of her roles and she has this ability to portray an innocence despite her astonishing good looks. She has the commanding presence of a hard body, and yet knows how to make that feel smaller when necessary. Can you imagine the role of Nina in her hands! She’s the same age as Portman (two months younger), and while this is purely a selfish reason, I would have loved to see her make out with Mila Kunis.
So there you have it. Those are my six selections for this Recastathon! Now for the others:
|Bullock, Lawrence and Kidman who?|
|Bates, Bullock and Hudson are out, Winfrey, Elise and Washington are in!|
|Bullock (man, she's popular), Streep and Swinton get the boot!|
|Weaver gets a bus ticket home...|
|Michelle Williams takes a hike in favor of a name you should be more familiar with!|
Thanks again to all who participated! You did wonderful jobs and made this recast-athon a success!