Sunday, June 13, 2010

Prince of Persia--a flap over nothing

I haven't seen Prince of Persia, nor am I in any great haste to do so. But I have noticed, as many probably have, the huge flap on the web over the fact that "a white actor" is playing a Persian.


Persia, of course, is largely that area now called "Iran." ("Persians" incidentally, always called the place "Iran." The Greeks are the ones who called them Persians.)

Hands up, anybody who knows where the name "Iran" comes from? Anybody? Yes, Ashley?

That's right. "Eran" which in Latin was "Arianus," which in English, is "Aryan." Yep. Hitler's master race. The white people. The Aryans were the root race of what we call Persia.

Now, things changed a bit when Alexander tromped through and his troops inseminated many of the Aryan women there. Though, being Greek and following Alexander, they may have inseminated more of the Aryan men.

And, of course, the Mongol hordes passed through, and killed about a zillion of the Aryan men, and, of course raped many of the women.

And, fairly recently as such things go, the Arabs stormed into the place, killed about a zillion of the men, raped the women, or, worse, married them, and converted everyone to Islam at swordpoint. So now there is a lot of Arab blood running in modern Iranian veins...along with an occasional touch of East Asian that can be seen in the eyelids (the same effect you sometimes see cropping up in Eastern Europe and Germany), as well as some Greek genes, which is why--no, wait, I already did the obvious Greek joke.

I've met many Iranians, and, yes, some of them look a good deal like Arabs. But I've met many who look like total honkies, because--well, if you buy any of the Aryan race crap, they are the spring and lifeblood of honkydom. Which the Germans long recognized, and why Germany and Iran/Persia/Whatever, have long been so cozy.

The Jews and Arabs are the Semitic peoples--or, as Hitler and his gang called them, "mud people." The Persians are the Master Race (and some of them actually believe it).

So, the outrage over casting Jake Gyllenhaal as a mo-fo honkie haole fishbelly ghost person Aryan strikes me as pretty weird. (Plus, the guy isn't as white as, say, Paul Bettany. I've seen lightbulbs that looked dark compared to him.)

Look, I understand that for decades white actors were cast as other races, pushing aside some excellent actors in the process, and that's reprehensible.

On the other hand, I've always enjoyed it in modern film and theater when someone is cast in a different gender--Cate Blanchett as Bob Dylan, for example--or a black man is cast in what is a white role without any comment whatsoever, such as Denzel Washington playing Don Pedro in Branagh's production of "Much Ado About Nothing." So I've always hoped that in the future, no one would much give a shit.

I understand the urge to redress wrongs. But I think the lines often get drawn in the wrong places, and I think this is a great example. I think Jake Gyllenhaal can play an Aryan without any issues whatsoever being raised.

The funny thing is, if they had cast an Arab or a Turk in that role, I don't think we'd be hearing any noise whatsoever--even though racially that's just as extreme as casting Marlon Brando as an Okinawan. (Bad idea, that one--but it was done.)

Then again, I think about it and realize that most Americans think Iranians are Arabs. Hell, the other day I heard someone bitching about all the Middle Easterners moving into his neighborhood, and, after asking a couple of questions, realized he was talking about people from India. So I guess a lot of people are all riled up because they think Jake Gyllenhaal is going to be playing an Arab. Or an Indian. Or, well, one of those kind of people, and a Persian should be played by, like, you know, an Arab or Indian or Mexican or somebody, well, ethnic.

Here's the real problem. The US is filled with people like Miss Teen South Carolina.

I'm much more bothered when Hollywood rewrites stories so that the races of the original characters are changed to white (whatever the fuck that is). There's the problem.

Jake Gyllenhaal playing an Aryan? No problem. Though if I were king, I'd have gone with Jude Law.


PS There was also a lot of outrage when Jonathan Pryce--a great actor, IMHO--was cast as a Eurasian in Miss Saigon. I couldn't really get that wound up about it. People are pissed that a European was playing a Eurasian--because they thought it needed to be an Asian? Umm, big disconnect for me. "Eurasian" is typically what Hawaiians call "hapa"--50:50.

I can't wait to see what happens when they do a Tiger Woods biopic. Because my guess is that Asian actors won't even be auditioned--even though plenty of Cambodians, Indonesians, and Malaysians look more like Tiger Woods than most black Americans do.

I think they'll probably cast Will Smith.


Tim Stretton said...

I'm outraged and boycotting the film! A turkey should be played by an Avian actor... and this surely is a turkey.

As a fantasy writer naturally I have the additional grievance that a video game--an entirely different kind of narrative--should get made into a film when there are so many great cinematic fantasy stories out there. Why does't someone have the spirit to make a Cugel film (and if they want Jake Gyllenhall to play Cugel we can live with that...)

David Isaak said...

Hmm. I hadn't thought of that--maybe a lot of people just want a reason to tell their kids that they can't take them.

Now that you mention it, it's surprising nobody in Hollywood ever latched onto Cugel. Easily as busy as any Conan tale, but with more humor and less meathededness.

Myself, I'd like to see Daniel Craig in the role.

Tim Stretton said...

Maybe it's the absence of meat-headedness which is the problem...

I'm sure Aliya would second Daniel Craig. I'd go for Jeff Goldblum...

David Isaak said...

"I'd go for Jeff Goldblum..."

Now THAT'S a truly interesting casting choice.

But I think we need him for one of the various wizards. I can easily picture him wielding an Excellent Primatic Spray.

Alis said...

I've had several Iranian friends over the years and, if ever the a-word (Arab) was mentioned, they got just a teeny-weeny bit upset...

David Isaak said...

Hi, Alis.

Yes indeed.

"The Arab eats sand in the desert, but in Isfahan even the dogs have iced water to drink."