curated: “in defence of historical inaccuracy,” particularly re colorblind casting

I am onboard with pretty much all of this essay at The Conversation — “Anne Boleyn: in defence of historical inaccuracy” — even though it barely touches on many of the issues around colorblind casting. A taste:

The Channel 5 historical drama series Anne Boleyn, directed by Lynsey Miller, stars black British actor Jodie Turner-Smith as the Tudor queen consort at the height of her power and influence, shortly before her dramatic fall and execution in May 1536.



Even before the first episode was shown, some complained that Turner-Smith’s casting was historically inaccurate because Anne was white. But these complaints ignore several existing versions of the doomed queen’s story that have portrayed her deliberately and creatively beyond the agreed-upon facts.

I haven’t seen any of this series yet, so I am reacting not to it specifically, but just to the general pushback that colorblind casting has generally gotten in British culture. (Which is easily extrapolated to American culture as well, though it hasn’t been as big a thing in the US yet.)

And my first, admittedly knee-jerk response is this: If you’re okay with certain ambiguities and artistic licenses in historical depictions — as this essay points out have been rife when it comes to Anne Boleyn in particular — but not others, maybe take a look at which ones bother you. Why are some facts more acceptably malleable than others, and what value do you find in which bendings of the “truth”?

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RogerBW
RogerBW
Wed, Jun 23, 2021 9:55pm

No actor is willing to have authentic 16th-century teeth (or lack of), but we don’t complain that they look wrong for it.

Bluejay
Bluejay
reply to  RogerBW
Thu, Jun 24, 2021 4:44pm

Also, everyone should be significantly shorter, and have no gym-sculpted abs at all. :-)

I can think of at least one actor willing to have period-appropriate teeth: Paul Giamatti portrayed John Adams with stained and darkened teeth as his character aged.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Bluejay
Fri, Jun 25, 2021 3:39pm

Also, everyone should be significantly shorter, and have no gym-sculpted abs at all. :-)

That last can be an issue with films set even in the very recent past. Men simply did not sport the very sculpted, cut torsos that we see on male actors today even as recently as the 1990s.

Bluejay
Bluejay
Thu, Jun 24, 2021 4:35pm

Of course, opponents of the Anne Boleyn casting will inevitably say we’re hypocritical because we critique other casting inaccuracies—like, say, the colorism that led to casting the light-skinned leads of In The Heights to represent a neighborhood that’s heavily Afro-Latino. But what they always miss is that there’s a real contextual difference between whitewashing and racebending: one exacerbates erasure and scarcity of representation, and the other does not.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Bluejay
Fri, Jun 25, 2021 3:40pm

Bingo.