With think pieces pouring in on the casting of Scarlett Johansson in the film version of Ghost in the Shell, we need to remember that so much about the whole phenomenon of casting white people in nonwhite roles is because studios feel they need “name” actors to launch these franchises. Unfortunately, those are mostly white people. And even if they’re not white people, they may have lighter skin and more WASPy features (oh, Nina).
But there’s one genre that has never needed the names, one that has consistently made money, has found ways to do promotion that didn’t rely on the marquee and has consequently launched the careers of many an actor: horror.
Horror is known in the studio world to have a built-in niche audience, so the executives are more than willing to throw down a few million for a film that’ll pull in 10 times that with very little effort on their part. What they forget is that horror writers and directors have a particularly difficult job, something they’ve worked at for a very long time, which is building atmosphere and having a solid story. Novel idea, right?
These movies rarely get the budgets they need, so it’s a matter of the director and cinematographer sitting down and figuring out how and where to place and move a camera to give the audience the best POV. And how to do it in 20 shooting days. In a word, it’s “creativity,” something a lot of studio movies replace with “CGI” or “Scarlett Johansson.”
So what would happen if the studios approached nonhorror films as they do horror films? They’d certainly open up roles for far more actors, especially women. While we’ve been making gains in female-led movies, we need to remember that Jennifer Lawrence has about 135 percent of those roles (that’s an exaggeration, but you get my point). If we stop casting names, we’d get at the very least some different faces. Hey, did you ever wonder why British actors do so well here?! Because they look different! Because they’re great actors instead of traditionally beautiful faces!
And they may also be racially different. They might even be — gasp — differently abled. Television’s already doing it. Look at the casting in Breaking Bad. Series creator Vince Gilligan honed his talents on The X-Files, which while not technically horror is definitely genre and riding that line, still requiring interesting faces more than names. He brought that casting mentality to Breaking Bad, which is why you have the talents of someone like RJ Mitte, who has mild cerebral palsy, playing an integral role in the trajectory of the show. And it worked!
So here’s my plea to Hollywood: Give us a chance to like someone new. We know that means you’ll have to spend more time on the story and put more creativity into how you shoot the movie, but it also means you’ll save money! You could put that money into making more movies, telling more stories, and giving everyone what they desperately want — to see themselves reflected in the characters they’re watching.