Walking down Hudson Street in Greenwich Village last summer, I passed a smiling Mariane Pearl, the bravely stoic widow of the slain Wall Street Journal reporter, Daniel Pearl, and accomplished journalist in her own right. A Mighty Heart, indeed. She was unmistakable: her signature curls hoisted high atop her head and her warm complexion noticeably...warm.
As in brown.
Pearl is of Afro-Cuban, Dutch and Chinese descent -- and she looks it. Angelina Jolie, even in blackface, does not.
Upon hearing that the white actress was cast as Pearl in an adaptation of her memoir, my own heart did a mighty cautionary flutter. My assumption was that Hollywood wimped out on the interracial element of Danny and Mariane's love story, thinking it easier to convey the drama to a color-conscious mainstream audience by keeping both characters white, much as James Baldwin did in his international, gay intrigue mini-tome Giovanni's Room. To Baldwin in 1956, what could have been the story of a black bisexual ex-pat involved with an Italian man in Paris was better told as a whitewashed tale of two white guys in love. A forgivable disappointment, given that it was fiction. And the 50's.
But fast-forward to the winter of 2002 and anyone with a television didn't need to adjust their color dials to see that Mariane Pearl is, indeed, of color. Paramount, the producer of the film, noticed, too. Reps for the company were not available for comment, so maybe I just need to adjust the color dial of my own screen. But, I don't know. This image, published in USA Today, shows a pouting Angelina Jolie in character on the streets of India - which appears to have been cast as Pakistan, but whatever -- with a curly wig hoisted atop her head looking decidedly...warm...in blackface.
While it's one thing to cast a white actress and simply pretend that her real life equivalent is also white, if this photo is accurate, A Mighty Heart, the movie, is treading in very deep waters, with no cultural reference to serve as a life jacket. Jennifer Aniston had it right when she said Brad Pitt, one of the film's producers, lacked a sensitivity chip. Surely Angelina Jolie, with her Cambodian, Ethiopian and "chosen one" offspring is not similarly challenged?
So my question to producers is this: Did you try Thandie Newton's agent? What about the Oscar winning actress Halle Berry, who if you Askmen.com, is just as hot and talented as Jolie?
Given the dearth of roles for women of color, this casting choice illustrates the magnitude of the time warp Hollywood got sucked into or the vacuum within which it exists. Or maybe I'm just behind the times. If Charlize Theron can play a pock-marked serial killer, Gwyneth Paltrow a fat girl, and everybody's African, maybe it's time for me to think outside of the box. So h ow about Matt Damon in a biopic about Tiger Woods? George Clooney as Barak Obama? Or, maybe this it totally out of left field, but I've always thought Brad Pitt would make an excellent Kofi Annan.