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May 1995, Week 5


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David Desser <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Tue, 30 May 1995 09:33:39 -0600
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As one who always looks forward to a post from Birgit Kellner, I'm happy to
"complicate" her latest question about a character's vs. an
actor's race by way of something interesting brought up by Gloria Monti vis
a vis Susan Kohner. (And wasn't Susan Kohner's brother an agent, like her
father, Paul, whose name was, or who was called, "Pancho"?)  When Alec
Guinness plays a Japanese man in A MAJORITY OF ONE, or an Indian in A
PASSAGE TO INDIA, or Richard Barthelmess a Chinese man in BROKEN BLOSSM, or
Nils Aster a Chinese man in GENERAL YEN, or Woody Strode and Mike Mazurki
also Chinese in Ford's SEVEN WOMEN, etc., etc., it seems clear that
something is a bit amiss, as if interracial romance or sex is somehow too
much for an audience and so must be mitigated by the "real" race of the
actor.  But this "real" race is surely more complicated, viz. the example
of Susan Kohner, or, say, Ben Kingsley when he played GANDHI.  Similarly,
do we not become very "racialist" when we hold race itself as an inherent
quality existing "out there" and inhering within the body, the image, of an
actor?  When Native Americans complain about "white" stars playing the
"Indians," we sympathize, and when Native American actors are used in such
roles, we applaud, but I think we need to be a bit careful about this in
general, lest race become a defining characteristic in and of itself.
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