Jamie Foxx, Idris Elba, and Why Everyone Needs to Shut Up About Black Actors Playing "White" Characters

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Everyone needs to shut up about black actors playing "white" characters.

Over the last few weeks, there have been a couple reports of black actors in consideration for roles that have been traditionally cast as white. We discussed how Idris Elba was considered for James Bond, and that Jamie Foxx is in talks to play Electro in The Amazing Spider-Man 2. This opened up the usual string of comments about how "James Bond is white!" and "Why are they changing what I love?"

Here's why it doesn't matter a lick: James Bond is zero percent (ZERO! PERCENT!) defined by his whiteness. He is defined by his bad-assery. He is defined by his Britishness. In the same way that there can be blond and brunet versions of Bond, or brown-eyed and blue-eyed versions, or Scottish and English versions, there can also be black, or Asian, or Pakistani, or one-armed, or bald, or vegan versions. As long as those versions are British bad-asses.

Idris Elba in Thor

The entertainment industry is finally beginning to embrace the idea that minorities (whether racial, or religious, or sexual, or any other type of minorities) need not be constantly defined by their "otherness." A black character on a TV show can just be a guy. He doesn't have to be a "black guy." A gay woman can just be a woman. Racial and sexual characteristics surely help to build the identity of the people who possess them, but in most cases people are just people. It frustrates me immeasurably to even have to write that phrase.

One of my favorite examples of this is Aziz Ansari playing a character named Tom Haverford ("white" name much?), on Parks and Recreation. Does anybody watch that show and think, "why isn't that Indian guy speaking with an Indian accent?" or "Why isn't his name "Patel?" No (if you do, you shouldn't be allowed to watch TV). Because "brown" is about 12,000th on the list of adjectives that describe the extremely well-defined and hilarious character of Tom Haverford. Aziz Ansari FTW.

When people hide behind the "comfort" of "Bond has always been white," or "Electro has always been white," they're just being flat out wrong, disrespectful, and shortsighted. These characters have never been white. They've never been any race. Sure, perhaps when an artist had to draw them for the first time they defaulted to "white." But "defaulting to white" is an old mentality in the entertainment industry that is finally beginning to erode. So shut up about black actors playing "white" characters.

Samuel L. Jackson is Nick Fury in The Avengers

Samuel L. Jackson makes a great Nick Fury. Elba made a great Heimdall in Thor. Donald Glover probably would have made a pretty awesome Spider-Man. There is such a thing as a character with race. And those characters are important. But chances are, the character you're defending as having "always been white" would be better if Idris Elba or Aziz Ansari played them. Because those guys are awesome.

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