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Whitewashed

by Odie Henderson March 27, 2008 12:17 pm

Oscar-winning makeup man Rick Baker made Eddie Murphy look like a reasonably credible old Jewish man in Coming to America. Ben Stiller and company could have used his help on Tropic Thunder, the movie that reveals to the world that Robert Downey Jr. is not only a Black man, but one that couldn't have been created by the same God that gave me my permanent tan. In stills, Downey looks so unconvincing that he makes Al Jolson look like Wesley Snipes. I suppose Downey won't get the part if they remake Black Like Me. At least Downey's blackface is in service to Tropic Thunder's plot. During the studio system's heyday, White actors and actresses were constantly attempting to pass for something they were not. Remember Swede Warner Oland as Charlie Chan, Gale Sondergaard as evil Dragon Lady in Bette Davis's The Letter, and any number of white actresses playing tragic mulattoes? How about Elvis as an Indian or Mickey Rooney as an Asian? It seems like this trend is coming back in a way, though not with Tropic Thunder. 21 opens this week and the ads tell you it's "based on a true story and the novel Bringing Down the House. 21's casting, however, is as corrupt as the game show that bore its name back in the '50s. The protagonist of the novel is Asian, yet in the film, he has been recast as a white character played by Jim Sturgess. You may remember Sturgess from Across the Universe, the movie that made John Lennon spin in his grave like a propeller on crack. He played Jude, as in Hey, Jude, your movie's bad.

It's the filmmakers' right to change the race of their main character, but that should automatically cost them the "based on a true story yada yada yada." Denzel Washington and his filmmakers came under intense fire for The Hurricane and The Great Debaters for marketing those films as factually based though they had poetic license changes. Why aren't protesters bringing down the house over 21? Shouldn't we be holding Legally Blonde director Robert Luketic's feet to the fire for this, the way Washington's and Norman Jewison's were? If anything, Asians should be happy that Sturgess isn't playing the character as an Asian. After Breakfast at Tiffany's, anyone who attempts to do so should be shot anyway.

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