Media Consumers for Entertainment Equality
Issac Marion’s zombie love story novel Warm Bodies is being adapted into a Hollywood film, but some of the diversity in the novel won’t be following it to the big screen.
Warm Bodies was acquired by Summit Entertainment (the same studio that produced The Twilight Saga before Summit Entertainment merged with Lionsgate (the studio that produced The Hunger Games)
In the novel, the best friend of the female lead is a woman named Nora. In the book, Nora is described as half black and half white, with brown skin. In the film, she will be played by white American figure skater, actress, and fashion model Analeigh Tipton.
In the book, Nora is clearly described as having brown skin and being of Ethiopian descent:
“Nora is sitting in the sand in front of the log, playing with some pebelles and pinching a smouldering joint between her middle finger and the stub of her ring finger, missing past the first knuckle. Her eyes are earth brown; her skin is creamy coffee.”
“At least you have some cultural heritage you can hold on to. Your dad was Ethiopian, right?”
“Yeah, but what does that mean to me. He didn’t remember his country, I never went there, and now it doesn’t exist. All that leaves me with is brown skin, and who pays attention to colour any more?” [Nora] waves a hand towards my face. “In a year or two we’re all going to be grey anyway.”
Earlier this month, ComingSoon.net interviewed Tipton about her role in the 2013 film.
“I was really excited to play a character who is in a book. That’s thrilling. And I met the writer, Isaac [Marion] who was like yeah, the character in the book is half black and she is in her 30s and missing a finger. So, my character is a little different. I’m not missing a finger– but all the character traits are there. She is kind of this laid back, really protective, loud–not loud–but outspoken, character that is not afraid to tell people how it is. So, that is a different character than I have ever really played…” – Analeigh Tipton
Last week, author Isaac Marion was also interviewed about his role in the film’s casting process:
“I was consulted in the early stages of the process, and may have helped narrow down the list a little. I’m not sure what would have happened if I seriously objected to any of their casting, but luckily, I didn’t. I love the cast. They paid more attention to the actor’s personalities than their physical appearances, and I think that was the right choice. Personality is what matters in a character, not superficial indicators like height or hairstyle or even skin color, and the personalities of the cast all fit beautifully.” —Warm Bodies author Isaac Marion
Would that “having the right personality for the character” was the only barrier for actors of color in the movie industry.
This statement is a cop out. Given that black actresses still face systemic disadvantages and discrimination in Hollywood, it’s hard to believe that no actresses of color were able to fit the needed “personality” for this established character of color.
Both of these statements gloss over the fact that Nora was a woman of color in a story landscape that primarily featured white characters. While the film is listed as having some actors of color–Cory Hardict will play “Kevin” (a character not in the book) and Ruth Chiang will play “Corpse Attacking Julie”–the main leads are played by white British actor Nicholas Hoult (Skins) and white Australian actress Teresa Palmer (The Sorcerer’s Apprentice). Conversely, did the production think to check if any actors of color could fit the “character traits” or “personalities” of these lead roles?
Unlike most big Hollywood films, Warm Bodies does not headline A-listers. Instead, the film stars a young cast of up-and-comers and relative unknowns. Yet, the main leads, “R” and “Julie” were able to stay white, but a supporting character like Nora could not stay black. While “personality” is undoubtedly important to any role, this isn’t the first time “the best actor for the role” excuse has been used to justify taking away yet another limited opportunity for a performer of color. The “personality” argument also suggests that actors of color are not cast in films because they are out-competed by the glowing “personalities” of their white counterparts, rather than locked out by limited roles and opportunities. Regardless of the production’s intentions, their casting decision has reinforced a discriminatory glass ceiling.
This time, they’ve denied an opportunity for an actress of color to play the role of…the best friend of the white lead.