Friday, October 19, 2012

A Word on Argo & Whitwashing

In my original review of Argo, I failed to mention my chief criticism of the film.  I was torn about mentioning it because I was trying not to let a discussion about race predominate a more cinematic critique of the film.  But, upon further reflection, here goes.  I get why actors spearhead film projects for themselves to star.  It’s a way to wear many hats and create vehicles to feature their work both in-front-of and behind the camera.  But Ben Affleck really did himself and the story a disservice when he cast himself as Tony Mendez.  It would be one thing if the story was fictional.  But it’s not.  Tony Mendez is a real person and, not only does he have a Latino surname, he is also a person of color.  If you watch the ending credits of the film, you will see how much care Affleck took to cast the other actors who all looked like their real-life counterparts.  When you put a darker-haired and bearded Mr. Affleck next to a picture of Mendez in the late 1970s, there is no resemblance.  Given the dearth of leading parts for actors of color in mainstream feature films, this was a great opportunity to cast an actor of color who looked like Mr. Mendez.  Making such a casting decision would not have taken away from the film, but would have enhanced it. The real-life Mendez was a master of disguise at the CIA and when he went into Iran to rescue the six embassy workers, he passed himself off as “Kevin Costa Harkins,” an Irish film producer. (See here.) How does a phenotypical Latino man pass himself off as Irish?  That kind of drama writes itself.  Whitewashing characters of color has a long been a practice in Hollywood.  It’s overdue to stop.


Top: CIA agent Tony Mendez and President Carter
Bottom: Ben Affleck as Mendez in Argo


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