Kate (kate_nepveu) wrote,

Racism and casting

This makes me want to merge my anti-racism icon with my headdesk icon:

As for Dave Karnes, his role as one of two Marines to locate McLaughlin and Jimeno by searching the pile when the professional rescuers had backed off is based on reported accounts and fictionalization, since he didn't cooperate with the film's producers. . . .

Had the filmmakers convinced Karnes to work with them, they also might not have missed a more glaring blunder. [Karnes, the] other Marine who helped locate the two trapped men and who until recently had not come forward, is not white as he was portrayed by the filmmakers. He is black.

Slate, Oliver Stone's World Trade Center Fiction: How the rescue really happened.

Words fail me.

Edit 8/12 5pm: I mis-read the second quoted paragraph, taking the extended opening "The other Marine who helped locate the two trapped men and who until recently had not come forward" as a reference back to Karnes, reminding the reader who he was. I thought it awkwardly phrased and confusing, and so I edited the sentence with the bracketed text as above in an attempt to make it read more smoothly. Upon re-reading after comments below, it seems that the incorrectly-portrayed man was not Karnes, but was the other man. It accordingly further appears that the author of the Slate article did not interview this unnamed second Marine. It is therefore possible that the malfeasance of the filmmakers is less than I had stated below—though I maintain that their incorrect assumption was a product of unconscious racism.

However, I must reserve judgment on the full culpability of the filmmakers, because from the article, it is not clear whether: anything at all about this unnamed second Marine was known before he came forward "recently"; how long ago "recently" was; and, finally, whether the filmmakers made any attempt to find out who he was. If anyone can point me to sources regarding any of these matters, I would appreciate it. end edit

Edit 8/13 10am: brett_dunbar, who pointed out my mis-reading above, provides two links: (1) a DoD profile of Karnes that extensively quotes him about the rescues, and which to my reading gives Thomas an important role in the rescues, and (2) a New Pittsburgh Courier article about Thomas, "'World Trade Center' omits Black soldier", that quotes Thomas about the rescue and the movie. Read, as they say, the whole thing, but here are the bits about the movie:

The World Trade Center movie tells the story of the rescues of New York Port Authority police officers John McLoughlin and Will Jimeno from Ground Zero, as well as that of the men who rescued them. In real life, the officers were rescued by sergeants Karnes and Thomas. In the film, however, they were rescued by Karnes and PFC Dave Thomas; a composite character, played by William Mapother, a white actor, who is meant to represent Thomas.

World Trade Center producer Michael Shamberg said that they knew about Sgt. Thomas's role in the rescue, but were unable to find him when creating the film. He said producers didn't discover Thomas was a Black man until after they had started the movie. He also said that in spite of the fact that the film was co-written by McLoughlin and Jimeno was consulted for authenticity, no one ever asked them for a physical description of the man who helped save their lives.

"Frankly, we goofed--we learned when we were filming that he was an African-American," said Shamberg. “We would change it if we could. I actually called him and apologized, and he said he didn't mind. He was very gracious about it.”

Shamberg also apologized for another African-American officer, Bruce Reynolds, who was also portrayed as white in the movie.

Thomas, meanwhile, didn't learn the film was about his story until he saw the unmistakable image of two marines peering into a whole at Ground Zero during a commercial for the movie. He said that while he wasn't angry about how the film turned out, he does wish it could have been more realistic.

"If you're going to tell a story, you should try to get it as accurate as possible," he said. "Some of the things did bother me to a certain degree--I'm an African-American male, and there's a white character being depicted as myself. But I'm not upset. It's bigger than myself-It's bigger than Staff Sgt. Kearns. A lot of people lost their lives. That's what needs to be remembered."

My emphasis. So, I'm back to being just as angry at the filmmakers as at the beginning. end edit

Relevant reading: rachelmanija on multicultural casting: part one, part two. Though really, the level of depth in those posts would probably be lost on those filmmakers.

Edit 8/11 7pm: given that, as quoted in the article, "the filmmakers have repeatedly stated their desire to 'chronicle what happened as truthfully as we could,'", it is no longer permissible to say that the portrayal of Karnes was symbolic rather than historical. I will seriously lose my temper at the next person who attempts to use this as an excuse for the filmmakers casting a white person to portray a black person in a "truthful" portrayal of actual events. Understood? end edit

Tags: movies, race
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