I just got my latest issue of GQ Magazine, and I was reading an article by Larry Wilmore who bills himself as the senior "black" writer for the Daily Show. (Take that for what it's worth.) Anyway, Larry had a review of an upcoming spin-off of FOX Television's Family Guy called Cleveland Show. (Be forewarned , it's a Rupert Murdoch production, so you might want to skip it )
Apparently, the lead black character, Cleveland, is voiced by a white guy. (It's a cartoon) So the premise of his article is this: "Should white people be allowed to play black people?" I don't know. Should they? He goes on to say that it's a "silly question", because, he says, "if they really needed our permission they would have asked, and I don't recall getting that requisition form." Okay, I get it, he is a funny guy. He is, after all, a comedy writer. But he makes some serious points as well:
"The show raises a more important issue than whether its politically incorrect casting is insensitive. The relevant question is, do you know how hard it is to play a black guy? I don't think you do. This is not your father's blackface. years ago, whites mimicked blacks to demean and ridicule them. It satiated racism-feeding racial stereotypes-while at the same time fortified white privilege. But they've have moved on. White people have found a way to keep privilege without all of that messy hate. And the fact is, they not only love to play us-they're good at it! need I remind you that Robert Downey Jr. almost won an Oscar for playing a black guy?"
Okay, I confess, I kinda liked the Robert Downey Jr. role in Tropic Thunder, (or maybe it was Tom Cruise shaking his money maker in the end to that "Luda" cut that sold me on the flick) unlike some folks ,I was not as upset with Downey's character. But one good turn does not a trend make. That was a uniquely written script for that role, and it was written specifically for a white man to play a black man. I certainly don't want to see white guys playing black guys in roles that were meant for a black guy all of a sudden. And I sure as hell don't want to see a black guy playing a white guy in a role that was meant for a white guy. Wilmore gives us Cliff Huxtable as an example of the latter: "The Cosby Show was roundly criticized by some self-appointed black leaders who viewed Cliff Huxtable as not realistic enough. They basically said he was portraying a white guy! Duh. That's why America loved him, self- appointed black leaders. Do you think a brother would actually have worn those ugly sweaters?" I have to agree there.
Wilmore ends on a gloomy note: "Unfortunately, the black sitcom has hit on hard times since that heyday, and the pressure for such a show to succeed gets tougher and tougher. If a minority -themed show doesn't work out, it'll be a long time before the networks bet on black again. So I like to think of white actors moving into the neighborhood of black roles as a kind of gentrification."
I don't know about that; I have seen both Soul Man and Silver Streak. Sorry Larry, if this is "gentrification", I think I am moving out.
[Folks, I was looking on GQ online to give you a link to Mr. Wilmore's article, but I can't find it. -You might want to try, you might have better luck than I did.-So sadly, if you want to do an editorial check on the field, you might just have to just buy the damn magazine. ]