When it was announced that Angelina Jolie was playing Mariane Pearl, wife of the tragically beheaded reporter Daniel Pearl, in Michael Winterbottom’s next movie A Mighty Heart (based on Mariane Pearl’s book of the same name), it did seem a touch odd – Mariane Pearl is of Cuban and Dutch ancestry, and quite obviously what we sensitively call a “person of color.” Jolie is a person of white. Very, very white. Don’t let those lips fool you.
I thought that maybe she would just play the role as is – Pearl’s ethnic heritage has no bearing on the details of the story, as far as I know. But the first picture of Jolie as Mariane Pearl seems to indicate that she’s playing the woman as brown – which is curious, because looking at paparazzi photos of Brad and Angelina in India this week, she looks her usual pale (click here for that). That seems to mean that Jolie is playing the role in brown face. The real Mariane Pearl is here to the right, Jolie as Pearl is at the bottom of the page.
The whole thing is a little weird, because it isn’t like the world is devoid of talented actresses who are the right physical type to play Mariane Pearl. And it isn’t like Winterbottom is one of those guys who casts stars in his films – and he definitely isn’t an Ed Zwick type, as shown in his excellent movies The Road to Guantanamo and In This World, two films told completely from the point of view of non-white people (if Zwick had directed either film the main character would have been a white guy helping these poor brown people out).
I’m all for color-blind casting… in fiction. I think that a film based on true events needs to cast actors who somewhat fit the physical types of the people they’re playing – at least as long as our main mode of filmmaking is one based on “realism.” What really complicates things is that the filmmakers have acknowledged that Jolie doesn’t look like Mariane Pearl and have adjusted with a fake supertan or something, rather than just letting her be herself and saying, ‘Fuck it – she’s the best actress for the role and this is what she looks like.’ (Note: I doubt Angelina Jolie is usually the best actress for ANY role, but that’s neither here nor there).
The whole issue is a twisty turny one. Should able-bodied actors thus not play disabled people? Should skinny actors not put on fat suits or gain weight for a role? Should pretty actors not wear ugly noses or rotten teeth? Can an Italian play an Englishman? Can a Latino pass for an Arab? All I can say is that when you have white actors putting on ethnic make-up, I get a little uncomfortable.