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Race-Lift: When Hollywood Changes A Character's Race (PHOTOS, VIDEOS)

The Huffington Post   Mallika Rao   First Posted: 08/27/11 10:57 AM ET   Updated: 10/27/11 06:12 AM ET

In order to accommodate the least-deserving movie star of all time, makers of the upcoming "R.I.P.D." have changed the name (and implied ethnicity) of Ryan Reynolds's character, from Nick Cruz -- as it is in the corresponding comic book and graphic novel -- to Nick Walker. The technical term for this little operation is "race-lifting," and it happens all the time. Sometimes it's repellent, like when "Spawn" director Todd McFarlane caved into studio concerns and turned a key black character white, and sometimes it's simply silly to hang on to a character's original ethnicity at the expense of an actor or actress who truly fits the part. At all times though, something is lost, the idea of a person who's enthralled us somehow.

In recognition of these lost souls -- the Nick Cruzes who will never be -- we've compiled some of the strangest race-lifts of the past few decades. Indian, Chinese, Nubian, Irish -- plenty of fictional identities have been lost at the altar of a movie's need to get made. Click on, won't you, and pay your respects.

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  • "Twenty One"

    The 2008 sleeper hit recast the ethnicities of nearly all the Asian-American MIT students who inspired it, starring Jim Sturgess as a character based on Chinese-American pro gambler Jeff Ma. Ma hit back at claims that he was a "race traitor" for not strong-arming the studio, telling <em>USA Today</em>: "<a href="http://www.usatoday.com/life/movies/news/2008-03-25-jeff-ma-21_N.htm" target="_hplink">I would have been a lot more insulted if they had chosen someone who was Japanese or Korean, just to have an Asian playing me</a>."

  • "2010"

    In Arthur C. Clarke's "Space Odyssey" series, the scientist who takes care of the Hal 9000 is an Indian man named Dr. Sivasubramanian Chandrasegarampillai. In the eighties movie "2010," the character inexplicably retains a version of the Indian name (Dr. R. Chandra), and is played by Bob Balaban.

  • "The Mummy"

    In "The Mummy" and "The Mummy Returns," Israeli actor Oded Fehr plays a member of the medjai, an ancient Egyptian term for the people of Northern Sudan, who were Nubian, and therefore black. In the "Mummy" movies however, they are vaguely Middle Eastern, and according to this video use the same line of ancient Egyptian over and over again no matter what they're trying to say.

  • Morgan Freeman

    Morgan Freeman is one of the few black actors to have been cast in explicitly non-black roles. The characters he played in "The Shawshank Redemption," "Gone Baby Gone," and "Dreamcatcher" were all originally meant to be Irish.

  • "Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince"

    Up until the sixth Harry Potter movie, the character of Lavender Brown - whose ethnicity is unspecified in the books - was played by Jennifer Smith, an actress who happens to be black. The <a href="http://www.mtv.com/news/articles/1574221/harry-potter-cast-finds-its-lavender-brown.jhtml" target="_hplink">part was recast with Jessie Cave for "Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince,"</a> the first movie in the series where Lavender actually talks.

  • "Pay It Forward"

    In Catherine Ryan Hyde's novel "Pay It Forward," Reuben St. Clair is a black teacher who bears scars of great metaphoric weight. When Denzel Washington turned the role down and Kevin Spacey took it instead, the character became Eugene Simonet, a white teacher who also bears scars of great metaphoric weight.

  • "A Beautiful Mind"

    In reality, mathematician John Nash married Alicia Lopez-Harrison de Lardé, a physics student from El Salvador. In the movie based on his life, he married Alicia Larde, a patrician beauty played by Jennifer Connelly.

  • "The Hunger Games"

    Katniss Everdeen, the main character in "The Hunger Games" YA series, is never identified by her ethnicity, though she's described as olive-skinned and dark-haired. The casting call for the part however (which eventually went to Jennifer Lawrence) <a href="http://http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703529004576160782323146532.html" target="_hplink">demanded the actress be Caucasian</a>.

  • "The Last Airbender"

    Director M. Night Shyamalan took a lot of heat for casting white actors like Nicola Peltz and Jackson Rathbone in "The Last Airbender," which is based on a popular Nickelodeon anime series featuring Asian and Inuit characters. In response, Shyamalan said: "<a href="http://io9.com/5504967/shyamalan-addresses-airbenders-race-controversy-and-answers-your-questions" target="_hplink"> The great thing about anime is that it's ambiguous. The features of the characters are an intentional mix of all features</a>."

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