It is time to call attention to just how unfairly we treat the “differently countenanced.” It always happens, here in America, that it’s all really about charismatic supremacy. Movies are being cast on the basis of “beauty-ism.”
Take “The Crown.” Let’s be honest: Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, the reigning British Monarch, demonstrates many fine qualities, but she may be just a wee bit ten-a-penny in the looks department. Unpretentious. Inoffensive. “No barn-burner,” as we’d say back in Indiana. “The Crown” is a Netflix drama chronicling the life of the aforementioned Plain-Jane sovereign; but yet, whom did Netflix choose to portray the Queen? The luminous actress Claire Foy. Beauty-ism!
Did you see that great movie about professional con man Frank Abagnale, “Catch Me If You Can?” Fabulous flick. But, uh, the real Frank Abagnale was no Leonardo DiCaprio. Similarly, the striking actress Salma Hayek sure prettied up homely Frida Kahlo. And did you ever see a photo of the real Maria von Trapp? Whew! Julie Andrews, she ain’t! Beauty-ism. Casting the attractive and charismatic to portray the average-or-worse-looking. Lousy Hollywood!
However, this week’s call to attention from our moral superiors turns out not to be about what “always happens here in America, that it’s all really about charismatic supremacy.” No, of course not.
You probably guessed it already. As “politics and pop culture journalist” Jarrett Hill explained it on CNN, the concern in lousy Hollywood (well, really in lousy America) isn’t “beauty-ism.” It’s “colorism.” (Didn’t know that “colorism” was a “thing”? Not sufficiently “woke.”) As Hill explained it, during a discussion of (surprise! popular and successful actor!) Will Smith, “this kind of goes back to the colorism conversation that always happens here in America, where we’re talking about, really about, white supremacy.”
Colorism, it seems, is the process of dredging through one’s own ethnic or racial group, and discriminating based on differences in individuals’ skin tone. Comparing everyone as if they are paint cards in the Benjamin Moore sample rack, and doling out preferences according to where each person falls on the color spectrum. Blondes have more fun, and so do light-skinned blacks, apparently.
The talented box-office-draw Will Smith has reportedly been cast to portray the father of the tennis-playing Williams sisters in an upcoming biopic. However, this black actor is not black enough to pass muster for some. (You really can’t make this stuff up.)
Sports writer Clarence Hill Jr. posted on social media re Smith’s casting. His tweet went viral: “Colorism matters. Love Will Smith but there are other black actors for this role.” Enter film writers Valerie Complex (she described the casting as “colorism at work”) and George M. Johnson (“Just like Chadwick [Boseman] shouldn’t have played Thurgood Marshall, Will should not play Richard.” Kathia Woods opined: “I like Will Smith but him as Richard Williams is not ok… [T]here are other actors that are dark skinned and have name recognition… Anyone that doesn’t get that its [sic] colorism is delusional[.]”
I don’t remember a fuss about Claire Foy being too pretty or too winsome to play the prosaic Queen Elizabeth. Did the British entertainment media get its collective knickers all in a twist about that casting choice? Or did they suffer from the group delusion that the actress chosen to play HRH was selected for her acting ability and screen appeal? Her charisma?
Of course, according to Jarrett Hill, this colorism is acutely problematic in 2019. He doesn’t say exactly why 2019, but maybe we can guess. Here is Hill’s analysis: “This is about being fairer-skinned, being seemingly something that’s more appealing, more attractive, more, uh, sale-able, if you will, uh, that will, seemingly, uh, bring people to the theater, more than a darker-skinned actor might. So this is something that I think, uh, we are gonna feel a lot more in 2019 than we would have felt in 2015 or 2006 or, or, y’know, in past years, when representation is something that is such a huge part of the conversation in culture and society.”
The CNN interviewer noted: “But, y’know, at the end of the day, it’s, y’know, it’s, it’s an acting role… I mean, y’know… They’re not meant to be identical copies of the person that they’re playing.”
Jarrett Hill, however, invoked not Hollywood and mere casting or business considerations, but (rather), the “long arc of history.” (These are the terms in which our moral betters think.) Sure, he agreed, Will Smith “is a big name.” But (how terrible! how colorist!) “he’s been able to have as much success as he has because of the way that he looks.” (Hill credited no other qualities of Will Smith’s. A bit insulting to this exceptionally talented and hard-working actor, but, hey, it advances the chosen narrative.)
Better alert Hollywood: Good-looking people tend to have the greatest success as actors. And just in case these good-looking people aren’t black enough for Jarrett Hill, Kathia Woods, and the rest of the ever-alert Benjamin Moore vigilantes: alert the Southern Poverty Law Center. Maybe the SPLC can demand some kind of affirmative action program based on subtle differences in intra-racial pigmentation. You know – just in case we aren’t yet sufficiently divided by our melanin. In 2019.