by Julian Spivey
On Friday, July 3 Halle Berry announced during an Instagram Live video that she was considering playing a trans character. On Monday, July 6 she apologized and announced that she wouldn’t be playing the role.
The Oscar-winning actress released a statement that said: “Over the weekend I had the opportunity to discuss my consideration of an upcoming role as a transgender man, and I’d like to apologize for those remarks. As a cisgender woman, I now understand that I should not have considered this role, and that the transgender community should undeniably have the opportunity to tell their own stories.”
It’s a story we see probably a few times a year in different variations. Should this white American actress be playing a role originated in a comic as an Asian woman? Should this straight actor be portraying a gay character? And so on and so forth.
I don’t have any answers. So, don’t be expecting to find any here. It’s not my job as a straight, white male to dictate what’s right and wrong for other people of different races, sexual identities or what have you.
The only thing I’m qualified to tell you is that I don’t have a problem when women play men like we’ve seen successfully from Cate Blanchett in her Oscar-nominated performance as one of the Bob Dylans in 2007’s “I’m Not There” or Glenn Close in her Oscar-nominated performance as the title character in 2011’s “Albert Nobbs.” And Melissa McCarthy as the recurring role of former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer on “Saturday Night Live” a few years ago … well, that was just freakin’ hilarious.
I do have some questions.
Everybody should know by now that white actors playing black characters, which would likely have to include blackface is wrong. It’s always been wrong, maybe it was once more accepted, but it’s always been wrong. Everybody should know by now that non-Asian actors and actresses as Asian characters is wrong. It only takes watching Mickey Rooney’s cringeworthy performance as Mr. Yunioshi in the otherwise terrific classic “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” to see that. Again, it was once commonplace for white actors to portray Asian characters, but it shouldn’t have been.
That is what I know for sure.
The questions arise in other portrayals of different people that we’ve seen more recently. Should Kelsey Asbille, an actress born to a Chinese father and an American mother, be playing a Native American on the hit Paramount Network drama “Yellowstone.” In 2017 she claimed to be descended from the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, but the tribe issued a statement saying it had no record of her and couldn’t find any evidence she was a descendant.
Jeffrey Tambor won back-to-back Emmy Awards for his portrayal of Maura Pfefferman, a trans woman, in Amazon Prime Video’s “Transparent,” but should the role have gone to a trans woman instead of Tambor?
Should straight actors like Eric McCormack and Eric Stonestreet be playing gay characters on television as both recently have respectively as Will Truman on NBC’s “Will & Grace” and Cameron Tucker on ABC’s “Modern Family,” both which wrapped their successful runs this spring?
What about Latino and African-American actors portraying white founding fathers of the United States on the stage as in “Hamilton”?
Where is the line drawn? Have we reached a point where actors and actresses should only portray characters that resemble themselves in the real world?
Or is it a case by case thing where some instances are fine and others are not? That could potentially be confusing.
Like I said, I don’t have the answers, only questions. If you have the answers or simply an opinion on the topic, I’d love to hear it.