a gay black woman's discovery of her jewish self

Question: Why is it so Hard to Find Brown Actors?

Posted on: November 14, 2013

Irrfan Khan_

Answer- It’s not.

Noah, a new epic starring Russell Crowe as the man in the ark, is slated for release in late March 2014. And while the trailer looks awesome and I’m definitely going to see it, I can’t help but notice how fricking white everyone is.

I’m not a militant black person.

I’m not an angry black woman.

I don’t think the white man is the devil.

I have a fairly good understanding of migration and how that factors into the varied races that have spread across the globe.

It’s no secret that I do like to get up in arms about latkes, the prevalence of Askhenazic culture as the North Star of Judaism, flawed population studies in relation to Jews of Color and an inadequate representation of what Jews look like and who JOCs are. But, you can’t take a story ripped from Genesis, which takes place roughly between modern-day Turkey and Iraq, and throw in some white folks. With British accents, at that and call it historically accurate.

Why do all period pieces, no matter which period, have actors speak with a British accent?

I thought, maybe, there weren’t enough brown actors in Hollywood to play the roles of Noah, his wife and crew, but you know what? There are!

Russell Crowe: Noah. I would replace Russell with Naveen Andrews or Irrfan Kahn. While neither actor has the extensive portfolio of big screen hits as Crowe, well I suppose if you forget that small movie, Slumdog Millionaire or that meaningless and unpopular show Lost…They’re amazing stars! Just take a look at their combined 46 film credits and multiple awards. Now before people remind me, I’m well aware that these two actors are not the same race or ethnicity, I’m just looking for brown actors.

Jennifer Connelly: Naaemah (Noah’s wife). Really, have you met a white girl named like Naaemah? I think that Sarita Choudhury would be a better pick and it’s not just (okay it’s just) my obsession with Homeland.

Anthony Hopkins: Methuselah, Noah’s grandfather. This one was easy for me. I’d easily cast Omar Sharif. 1954 was Omar’s first appearance on the silver screen and he’s graced us with his good looks since then. And if, by chance, Omar couldn’t do it second in line would be fellow Homeland star, F. Murray Abraham.

Mindy Kaling_As for Noah’s sons, Ham and Shem I’m at a loss for young brown actors-any thoughts, readers? But I’d swap out Emma Watson (from Hogwarts to the Ark, eh?) for Mindy Kaling in the role of Noah’s step daughter.

Thing is, it’s not simply about swapping out the fairer actors for browner ones for the sake of it, it’s a matter of historical accuracy. Though, it seems that even the History Channel, with its hit The Bible also has a fairer account of what is and is not historically accurate for the time.

The story of Noah is actually quite early in the Bible. The people who have descended from Adam and Eve when they left the Garden of Eden (which some historians believe to be close to modern-day Nigeria others think Lebanon) have traveled tens of thousands of miles, depending on where you think Eden is, to arrive to Babylon, which is around what is now modern day Baghdad. To do that amount of traveling over hundreds of years, we’ve no doubt encountered, and had relations with many people without stepping foot off of the landmass that is the Middle East and Northern Africa. Yet somehow, despite using our brains, we go to white actors and actresses to portray and continue the systematic whitewashing of historically non-white people.

It’s not just Hollywood, that’s for sure. If you walk into any Catholic church the icons that are the holy family; Mary, Joseph and Jesus are all fair-skinned, blue-eyed and blond haired. Inspiration from early Roman Christians have continued to seep into the very identity of people that the idea of a film cast entirely of brown people probably wouldn’t bring in the big dollars that director, Darren Aronofsky, is no doubt banking on with his hit.

So we’ll all go see Noah and we’ll comment on how historically accurate it is or is not based on text, all the while ignoring the fact that the face of Noah, a Torah hero and most likely a brown Torah hero, has been washed white for the big screen like Moses and Abraham and Jesus before him.






8 Responses to "Question: Why is it so Hard to Find Brown Actors?"

I can’t figure out which of my friends posted a link to this article or why I’m reading it, and commenting on blogs is like a once every year thing for me, but anyway I’m reading along yeah yeah blah blah yeah and then this gem:

“But, you can’t take a story ripped from Genesis, which takes place roughly between modern-day Turkey and Iraq, and throw in some white folks. With British accents, at that and call it historically accurate.”

I’m sorry, you seem to have a decently critical eye of things, so how is it possible for you to gloss over the fact that you are questioning the historical accuracy of a portrayal of A STORY RIPPED FROM GENESIS ?!?! – a story that was never even close to historically (or physically or biologically) accurate in the first place.

I assume you agree the power of religious stories is not their accurate depiction of facts as that would lead to the logic that fundamentalists of all creeds are all correct and fighting the righteous fight (which can’t possibly be correct or we’d all have killed each other long ago). Instead they are powerful in that they actually gain meaning as a reader fills in missing details and imagines the fanciful details to make the story personally appealing / applicable.

Hollywood is not fundamentalist and since Hollywood politics represent that of the familiar and dominant culture, of course religious leaders of mostly white religions (in present day) are going to be white.

So can’t you come up with a criticism of Hollywood a little less overdone and superficial than “how about you just replace X with Y?” At least try to make an argument that the movie will make more money with brown actors due to controversy or whatever – something that might actually make sense in Hollywood according to its own logic.

Or if you really want to have religious leaders portrayed accurately, argue they get portrayed as something along the lines of shape-shifters able to replicate themselves in thousands of versions simultaneously across time and space. Just saying (though I won’t deny anything other than white male will get a “hell yeah” out of me too).

Jennifer Connelly’s mother is Jewish and Logan Lerman is 100% Jewish, surely they can play Old Testament characters (although a Jew playing any kind of ham seems questionable to me… definitely treif).

P.S., According to a DNA study, “a pre-Islamic expansion Levant was more genetically similar to Europeans than to Middle Easterners”.

THANK YOU! This is a discrepancy I see over and over and over again! The more historical-style movies tend to have white british actors, and although I can’t speak to the people producing them, most of these movies/tv series actually tend to cast most of the same actors in multiple movies (See: Rome, Game of Thrones, Sparticus, The Tudors, etc. etc.). And you know those are fine, but when it comes down to BIBLICAL based movies, I think sticking to what was realistic as much as possible is so, so key!

For so many Biblical movies go beyond something historically interesting, but so much more intimate and personal. So I definitely agree! Side note: I have many christian/catholic friends as well and they have said looking into this movie they don’t think it is biblically accurate either!

And can I just say, LOVE LOVE LOVE that you included Mindy Kaling in this list – she is a gem.

Well, Mindy Kaling is kinda awesome 🙂

The color of the actors skin is much less important in hollywood than how many audience members can be sucked into paying for a movie, hence why they used big name actors like Russell Crowe and Emma Watson. Even with LOST, Naveen’s name doesn’t carry the same weight. Many people won’t know the name but they do know Russell Crowe. Let’s also be honest, Hollywood is ageist. While I think Sarita Choudhury is lovely, she is older and looks older than Jennifer Connelly. Same with Mindy Kailing.

As for being historically accurate, I’ll have to agree with the other commenter. It’s impossible for the movie to be historically accurate as the story of Noah is a mythical. From what I’ve read, it’s going to vary quite a bit from the Biblical narrative too.

I’ve always thought Samuel L. Jackson should be in a Biblical story but I see him more as Moses than Noah.

I’d pay anything to see Samuel L. Jackson be Moses…Though, I feel like he’s already played G-d in that Jim Carrey movie.

Um, that was Morgan Freeman…

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