Ben Affleck puts “white” before “right” in next flick
Ben Affleck’s upcoming directorial project, Argo, began shooting last week, and with the arrival of the film’s production has come virtually no dissent regarding his choice to whitewash the lead role. Seeing as Argo is based on the true story of Antonio Mendez, a Latino former CIA agent who made a daring bid to rescue American embassy workers from Iran in the ’70s, Affleck’s casting of himself in the Mendez role is yet another example of a “race-lift” that marginalizes actors of color. And infinitely more offensive than whitewashing characters of fiction, which is already frustratingly commonplace in American moviemaking, Argo boldly rewrites historical fact to put a white hero in place of an existing minority.
Racebending, an online activism group seeking equality in entertainment, has been the most vocal about the Affleck’s bizarre choice so far, while most of the remaining buzz surrounding his film has been positive. This is no doubt due to Affleck’s skyrocketing reputation as an up-and-coming director; his first major motion picture, Gone Baby Gone, was a critical hit if not a box office smash, and his follow-up, The Town, made an impressive splash with ticket sales and cleaned up exceptionally well with critics. Argo‘s Oscar-conducive content and high-caliber cast are almost surefire ingredients for a popular and profitable success, which could set a new precedent for legitimizing whitewashing practices in Hollywood.
As Racebending points out, Argo will not be the first film to turn real people of color white for artistic purposes. Examples include 21, based on the true story of an Asian MIT blackjack team but using white leads, and Extraordinary Measures, based on an Asian doctor who cured Pompe’s disease but starring Harrison Ford in the role. Yet although these films already reek of audacious white centrism, some small comfort could be found in the fact that neither had both the critical and profitable punch to make them long-term mainstays in pop culture. 21 made $81 million, but was panned. Extraordinary Measures won even fewer critics over and made next to nothing. Affleck’s The Town, however, both generated $92 million and enough merit to make it an early Oscar contender. If his Argo project follows suit, it will firmly reestablish a lack of accountability for Hollywood producers that choose to race-bend real historical figures, and doubly brand whitewashing as “acceptable” a practice as always.
Photo courtesy of People.com
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