Walking Dead star criticizes rise of wokeism in Hollywood casting

Walking Dead star criticizes rise of wokeism in Hollywood casting and says roles should not solely be given to actors with ‘lived experience’ but considered on a ‘case-by-case basis’

  • Lennie James said he would ‘challenge’ the idea that certain roles must be reserved only for actors with lived experience to ensure authenticity 
  • It comes as several high profile actors copped criticism for their portrayal of characters of different backgrounds and experiences other than their own
  • But some actors have hit back, arguing that the whole craft of acting is predicated upon being able to assume the role of somebody you are not  
  • British actor and screenwriter Lennie James has questioned the notion that film roles should only be played by actors with lived experience and called for casting to be made on a ‘case by case basis’. 

    James, 56, said he would ‘challenge’ the idea that certain parts must be reserved for particular actors to ensure their performance is authentic because it would fundamentally change the role of the actor.

    The actor, who is known for playing devoted father Morgan Jones in the hit AMC zombie series ‘The Walking Dead,’ and DCI Tony Gates in British police series ‘Line of Duty‘ told the BBC casting decisions should be made ‘on a case by case basis’. 

    ‘I don’t believe in blanket statements… because then the role of the actor slightly changes and is slightly different to the one I hope and pray that it is,’ James said.

    It comes as several internationally renowned actors have copped criticism for their portrayal of characters of different ethnicities, gender, sexualities and experiences than their own. 

    But many have argued the function of an actor is to play the role of somebody they are not, and that making casting decisions without nuance – based exclusively on lived experience – would make the craft of acting redundant.

    British actor and screenwriter Lennie James has questioned the notion that film roles should only be played by actors with lived experience and called for casting to be made on a 'case by case basis' (James pictured at Comic Con in 2019)

    British actor and screenwriter Lennie James has questioned the notion that film roles should only be played by actors with lived experience and called for casting to be made on a ‘case by case basis’ (James pictured at Comic Con in 2019)

    The actor, pictured in character as devoted father Morgan Jones in the hit AMC zombie series 'The Walking Dead' said he would 'challenge' the idea that certain roles must be reserved for particular actors to ensure their performance is authentic because it would fundamentally change the role of the actor

    The actor, pictured in character as devoted father Morgan Jones in the hit AMC zombie series ‘The Walking Dead’ said he would ‘challenge’ the idea that certain roles must be reserved for particular actors to ensure their performance is authentic because it would fundamentally change the role of the actor

    James explained that he agreed actors with lived experience should have more of an opportunity to be cast in more roles ‘in areas where authenticity has been underserved’. 

    ‘Where gay actors have not been given the opportunity to play gay parts, or disabled actors have not even been considered for the opportunity to play disabled parts, in that situation then I would 100 per cent be part of the conversation of saying, why not? That absolutely should change,’ James said.

    But he insisted that blanket casting decisions should be challenged when it comes to choosing an actor based solely on whether their real-life identity aligns with the role. 

    James’ comments come as two Academy Award winning actors – Dame Helen Mirren and Javier Bardem – were targeted in recent weeks for their portrayal of characters with whom they did not share lived experience.

    Mirren was criticized by fellow dame Maureen Lipman for her portrayal of former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir in the lead role of the upcoming film ‘Golda’.

    Lipman said that other Jewish actors should’ve been cast in the place of Mirren because ‘the Jewishness of the character is so integral’ – though quickly contradicted her argument by suggesting Tracey Ullman, another non-Jewish actor, would be a suitable choice for the role.

    Rabbi Jonathan Romain, director of Maidenhead Synagogue in Berkshire, expressed his view on the row, saying: ‘You don’t have to be Jewish to play a Jew’.  

    Rabbi Romain, 67, said: ‘We had a discussion on this at Maidenhead Synagogue two weeks ago; the unanimous verdict was that actors should act – that’s what is their skill.’ 

    Bardem meanwhile copped flak for assuming the role of Cuban American actor Desi Arnaz in the 2021 film ‘Being The Ricardos’, despite being a Spanish man from the Canary Islands. 

    Bardem responded defiantly to critics, arguing: ‘I’m an actor, and that’s what I do for a living – try to be people that I’m not,’ before going on to suggest there may be double standards afoot when it comes to non-native English speakers playing characters of other nationalities.

    ‘What do we do with Marlon Brando playing Vito Corleone? What do we do with Margaret Thatcher played by Meryl Streep? Daniel Day-Lewis playing Lincoln? Why does this conversation happen with people with accents?’ Bardem argued.

    The creator of the West Wing, Aaron Sorkin, also came to the defence of Bardem and took aim at the rise of identity politics in Hollywood.

    Mr Sorkin, 60, said in an interview with the Sunday Times Culture magazine: ‘It’s hearbreaking and a little chilling to see members of the artistic community re-segregating ourselves.

    ‘Spanish and Cuban are not actable. If I was directing you in a scene and said: ”It’s cold, you can’t feel your face”. That’s actable. But if I said: ”Be Cuban”. That is not actable.’

    Dame Helen Mirren is pictured in character portraying Israel's first female prime minister, Golda Meir. Mirren, who is not Jewish, was criticized by fellow dame Maureen Lipman for her portrayal of the Israeli ex-PM as Meir's 'Jewishness is so integral'

    Dame Helen Mirren is pictured in character portraying Israel’s first female prime minister, Golda Meir. Mirren, who is not Jewish, was criticized by fellow dame Maureen Lipman for her portrayal of the Israeli ex-PM as Meir’s ‘Jewishness is so integral’

    Javier Bardem (pictured in character) copped flak for assuming the role of Cuban American actor Desi Arnaz in the 2021 film 'Being The Ricardos', despite being a Spanish man from the Canary Islands. Bardem responded defiantly to critics, arguing: 'I¿m an actor, and that¿s what I do for a living - try to be people that I¿m not'

    Javier Bardem (pictured in character) copped flak for assuming the role of Cuban American actor Desi Arnaz in the 2021 film ‘Being The Ricardos’, despite being a Spanish man from the Canary Islands. Bardem responded defiantly to critics, arguing: ‘I’m an actor, and that’s what I do for a living – try to be people that I’m not’

    The sentiment among star actors who have been the subject of criticism for their contentious portrayal of characters is somewhat divided, with some apologizing for the decision and expressing regret at having assumed their roles as others fiercely defend having done so.

    Eddie Redmayne, who was nominated for an Oscar for his portrayal of trans artist Lili Elbe in the 2015 movie ‘The Danish Girl’, said he regretted taking on the role and would have made a different decision if he were able to go back.

    ‘I wouldn’t take it on now. I made that film with the best intentions, but I think it was a mistake,’ said the Fantastic Beasts actor.

    ‘The bigger discussion about the frustrations around casting is because many people don’t have a chair at the table. There must be a levelling, otherwise we are going to carry on having these debates.’

    Eddie Redmayne (pictured in character), who was nominated for an Oscar for his portrayal of trans artist Lili Elbe in the 2015 movie 'The Danish Girl', said he regretted taking on the role and would have made a different decision if he were able to go back

    Eddie Redmayne (pictured in character), who was nominated for an Oscar for his portrayal of trans artist Lili Elbe in the 2015 movie ‘The Danish Girl’, said he regretted taking on the role and would have made a different decision if he were able to go back

    Conversely, Cate Blanchett remained steadfast in her decision to play a lesbian character in the 2015 film ‘Carol’ when she was hammered for not having the experience required for the role. 

    ‘I will fight to the death for the right to suspend disbelief and play roles beyond my experience,’ she declared.

    ‘Now, particularly in America, we expect and only expect people to make a profound connection to a character when it’s close to their experience.’  

    Although critics at the time pointed out that Redmayne’s casting as a trans woman in 2015 should have been questioned, the actor received mostly plaudits for his performance. 

    Cate Blanchett (pictured in character) remained steadfast in her decision to play a lesbian character in the 2015 film 'Carol' when she was hammered for not having the experience required for the role

    Cate Blanchett (pictured in character) remained steadfast in her decision to play a lesbian character in the 2015 film ‘Carol’ when she was hammered for not having the experience required for the role

    But the presence of identity politics and the notion of casting actors with lived experience truly came to the fore in 2018 when international superstar Scarlett Johansson pulled out of a movie in which she was cast to play a trans man following backlash from trans actors.

    Actors Trace Lysette, 30, and Jamie Clayton, 40, sternly criticized the decision to cast to cast Johansson in a movie entitled Rub & Tug – which was subsequently cancelled – a prostitution ring led by trans man Dante ‘Tex’ Gill.

    ‘So you can continue to play us but we can’t play y’all?!,’ Lysette tweeted.

    ‘Hollywood is so f*****… I wouldn’t be as upset if I was getting in the same rooms as Jennifer Lawrence and Scarlett for cis roles, be we know that’s not the case,’ she continued. 

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