Jordan Peele, Tim Burton, Woody Allen, Ridley Scott, and Racism in Casting
A viral Facebook post makes claims about casting and ethnicity about Jordan Peele, Tim Burton, Ridley Scott, and Woody Allen.
On March 31 2019, a Facebook user shared a screenshot (archived here) of a different Facebook post which dissected the purported race-related casting decisions made by Jordan Peele, Tim Burton, Woody Allen, and Ridley Scott:
The original post seen in the screenshot accrued 19,000 shares as of April 10 2019; the screenshot 36,000:
Remember when Tim Burton came out and said that black people don’t fit in with the “aesthetic” of his films? Remember when Woody Allen said he would never cast a black actor unless it was “required”? Ridley Scott once said he wouldn’t ever be able to get approval to mount a major motion picture or ever receive financing to make a film starring someone named “Mohammed so-and-so from such-and-such.” Y’all want to be mad at Jordan Peele for saying he’s not interested in telling white stories when your faves have been deliberately, openly excluding black people from participating in their work since the beginning of film history and y’all haven’t had shit to say. One director saying he’s focusing on telling black stories and using black actors isn’t oppressive to white people. “When you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.”
The final line of the post was a long-circulating quote of unknown origin, researched by Quote Investigator in October 2016. The poster’s comments were against the backdrop of then-recent comments made by director Jordan Peele upon the release of his second horror film, Us. Peele explained his casting decisions in an interview with Hollywood Reporter:
Fame is still something he’s figuring out. “I don’t envy someone who gets famous overnight,” Peele cautioned. “The hardest part is being recognized. I used to think that being in the public eye gave you power. But all of a sudden, they have the power and can come up to you an hour into dinner.”
But there are other kinds of power, and Peele plans on wielding his judiciously. One way is to keep putting black faces on the screen in leading roles. “The way I look at it,” he explained, “I get to cast black people in my movies. I feel fortunate to be in this position where I can say to Universal, ‘I want to make a $20 million horror movie with a black family.’ And they say yes.”
It’s a formula he’s not interested in messing with.
“I don’t see myself casting a white dude as the lead in my movie. Not that I don’t like white dudes,” he said, nodding over to his moderator pal Roberts. “But I’ve seen that movie.” The line drew loud applause and shouts of agreement. “It really is one of the best, greatest pieces of this story, is feeling like we are in this time — a renaissance has happened and proved the myths about representation in the industry are false.”
Peele’s comments predictably generated complaints, which the original poster addressed by referencing purported comments made by Tim Burton, Woody Allen, and Ridley Scott, such as a claim that Tim Burton once said that black people do not match the “aesthetic” of his films.
A 2016 Washington Post item reported that Burton’s films demonstrate a “very particular aesthetic and vision; his films are quirky and dark, offbeat and sympathize with the outcast … [t]hey are also very white.” The piece referenced a September 2016 Bustle.com article:
For fans of Ransom Riggs’ 2011 bestseller Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, one of the things that made the news of its big-screen adaptation so intriguing was imagining which actors would make up the ensemble. The book features a large cast of characters, from the eponymous children to the many adults who throw them into peril. The idea of seeing them portrayed on-screen thrilled readers of Riggs’ book hoping to see a diverse group of actors take on the challenge. Yet in reality, the few dozen characters that make up the movie version of Miss Peregrine’s are predominantly white, with Samuel L. Jackson’s Barron being the only notable exception. Sitting down at New York’s McKittrick Hotel to discuss the film, director Tim Burton tells me why that’s the case.
“Nowadays, people are talking about it more,” [Burton] says regarding film diversity. But “things either call for things, or they don’t. I remember back when I was a child watching The Brady Bunch and they started to get all politically correct. Like, OK, let’s have an Asian child and a black. I used to get more offended by that than just… I grew up watching blaxploitation movies, right? And I said, that’s great. I didn’t go like, OK, there should be more white people in these movies.”
The “aesthetic” comment was a characterization made by the Washington Post, but in the original interview Burton said “things either call for things, or they don’t” about the lack of diversity in his films. The director did acknowledge and address the casting decisions made in his films, particularly how they related to race.
In the second example, the post said Woody Allen said he would not cast a black actor unless it was “required.” In a July 2014 Observer profile, Allen was quoted on then-recent questions about his casting choices:
Earlier this year, in an effort to derail [Cate] Blanchett’s Oscar campaign, a couple of anonymous complaints turned up in the tabloids about Mr. Allen not using black actors. He’s horrified when I bring up the subject. We talk about the new generation of wonderful black actors like Viola Davis and wonder if they’ll ever be cast in a Woody Allen film. He doesn’t hesitate to respond: “Not unless I write a story that requires it. You don’t hire people based on race. You hire people based on who is correct for the part. The implication is that I’m deliberately not hiring black actors, which is stupid. I cast only what’s right for the part. Race, friendship means nothing to me except who is right for the part.”
A third example involved Ridley Scott, who purportedly said “he wouldn’t ever be able to get approval to mount a major motion picture or ever receive financing to make a film starring someone named ‘Mohammed so-and-so from such-and-such.'” That quote originated in a November 2014 Variety profile that addressed Scott’s use of white actors in the roles of non-white characters:
Much of the outcry online stemmed from his decision to cast white American, European and Australian actors in most of the key roles, no matter that the same could be said of “The Passion of the Christ,” “Noah,” “The Ten Commandments” and virtually any other big-budget Bible movies. “I can’t mount a film of this budget, where I have to rely on tax rebates in Spain, and say that my lead actor is Mohammad so-and-so from such-and-such,” Scott says. “I’m just not going to get it financed. So the question doesn’t even come up.”
A post on Facebook defended Peele’s affirmative decision to cast black actors in his films by quoting Tim Burton, Woody Allen, and Ridley Scott in their responses to claims that they chose predominantly white actors for roles in their films. Burton decried “forced diversity” in his 2016 comments, Allen said he’d cast black actors if he writes a story that “requires” black actors, and Scott said he chose white actors for non-white roles because he feared inability to finance projects otherwise. Those comments were largely presented in an accurate fashion, although the conclusion fell partly in the realm of opinion.