Writing Event #11: Do Roles Matter?

When it comes to playing the role of a character, it seems the subject of who exactly plays said role has become more of a widespread topic. Mainly becoming more prominent in the latter half of this decade, many wonder whether playing the role of something you aren’t is acceptable. One prominent example that has been prevalent during the second half of this year was the controversy of white actors playing roles of color, mainly in animation. This was during the peak of the BLM resurgence, and it brought many talking points to the table on whether change needed to come to the industry when it came to playing these roles.

Of course, you could argue in some way that some of the actors who’ve played these roles have been playing this character for a long time (a prominent example being Cleveland of Family Guy), or simply the fact that the person is talented and fit for the role. While the argument is sound in some way, the problem does not lie in whether the person is talented or not, but rather the concept of whitewashing in the industry, a practice that has been going on for decades. Many actors who played the roles of people of color stepped down as a result of this, as they believed because of this practice, their roles were casted incorrectly, and that by playing the role they were engaging in some form of erasure.

The same can also be said for when it comes to cisgender actors playing the role of a transgender individual. The term ‘Cis’ is the simple term for someone who identifies with their biological sex, being male or female. This is another prominent example of why roles matter, even if you are a talented actor. Of course, a cisgender actor could have the talent to play the role, but giving the role to a transgender individual will not only be a more fitting choice, but it also gives more weight to the role as a whole. That sort of representation matters and as we’re trying to fix many practices in the acting industry that could be considered wrong now, it’s important to not just consider one’s talent in a role, but the authenticity of playing a character that you can connect to.

There’s a reason why a musical like Hamilton opened the gateway for people of color to be inspired and dream for a role on stage like that; it’s not just talent, but representing others in an authentic way can make change. More actors are starting to cast in roles that fit who they are as people, and the realization sinks in when this inspires others to play a role like that in the future. So, do roles matter? Absolutely. Yes, there’s a lot of talent out there. But combine the two, and you’ve got a recipe for something special.

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