If you were vacationing in some locale other than the U.S. of A., could you spot the other American tourists? I’m not talking about the stereotypical yokels with big American flag t-shirts and blubber bellies, but the other normal tourists like yourself. What, or rather who, would they look like?
Maybe like Batman?
How about Superman?
What about the guy who single-handedly saves the White House, and by extension, America, in Olympus Has Fallen?
Though I wouldn’t mind meeting any of these attractive men on vacation, none of them are actually American. Christian Bale (Batman himself) is British. Henry Cavill (Superman) is also British (and was not raised anywhere near Kansas). Russell Crowe is New Zealand-born and Chris Helmsworth is Australian. Yet they often play Americans in movies. So what? you ask. They’re actors and they’re acting like Americans! I get that but I didn’t ask who looked like an actor. I asked who looked like an American.
You see it doesn’t matter where these four actors were born or what they’re heritage or culture actually is. It doesn’t matter if they know anything about pop vs soda, American football, Thanksgiving, the Justice League, or middle America. Not even their American accent matters. The question that seems to be asked of them is this: how easily can you step into the default American look?
The default American is white. Don’t believe me? Let’s try an experiment: Look at the top 10 movies in your Redbox queue, how about the five magazines that you see while standing in the checkout line, or the top 6 shows on your DVR, or better still, the girls on the covers of the YA books in the center of Barnes & Noble? Again, what does the default American look like?
Let’s try a couple of more pictures:
What if Rick Yune was hanging out with the group of guys above. Would you think that he was American?
How about Will Yun Lee? American or no?
As it turns out, they are both American, extremely handsome and, interestingly enough, they both play the Foreign Asian Antagonists hell bent on terrorizing and destroying ‘Merica in Olympus Has Fallen and Red Dawn.
Hollywood type-casting is a strange beast. You can be American-born and raised, and be chosen primarily for roles where you are an enemy of your own country. Or you can be foreign born, with the default American look and be routinely cast as an American hero.
Hollywood casting choices leave much to be desired particularly for those who don’t look like the default American. Whether you are, in fact, American or not, the color of your skin will limit the roles that you play. I imagine that Rick Yune and Will Yun Lee suffer from but-where-are-you-really-from syndrome. I get this often when I travel. Upon my reply of “America” as my homeland, I am then asked “yes, but where is your mother from?” To be American and not white is mind boggling to many.
But it’s just acting! It doesn’t really matter that all of the heroes are white and the bad guys are brown or black! It’s not like people actually think that brown and black people are villains in real life! No one gets shot for not looking like the default American, right? Right? I mean this is America for goodness sakes- it’s a melting pot!
Yet can we call it that, if only one color–not heritage or culture, but skin color– is routinely displayed?
People will often use the argument of “staying true to the character” or “this is how it’s written in the comic books!” to justify default American casting decisions. But if iconic, vintage, red-blooded American heroes like Batman and Superman don’t even have to be American anymore then perhaps they no longer have to be white either. Just a thought.
Seriously. Why not?