White Privilege at Work: Angelina Jolie

UPDATE: Read the Washington Post Article on RACE and Performance and how other bloggers feel about Jolie in “A MIghty Heart.”

Meet Angelina Jolie. The Academy Award Winning Actress has a new film out today that’s the buzz of all Hollywood called “A Mighty Heart” the story of Mariane Pearl’s (played by Jolie) quest to find answers about her husband, journalist Daniel Pearl’s kidnap and murder by terrorists in Pakistan.

Jolie–despite her Cambodian and Ethiopian children–is white. Pearl, is black (biracial). Now, some people may see this and saying I’m being essentialist or whatever…blahblahblah…But Halle Berry wasn’t available? Thandie Newton too busy? If I had to think about bi-racial black women to play this role, they’d certainly have been the first two thoughts (I would have leaned toward Thandie Newton for this one in particular.) Despite Berry’s Oscar win, she really doesn’t have the box office draw of Jolie, and neither does Newton (neither of whom can have the power to really “green-light” a project.). Also, apparently Jolie had become friends with Pearl, and hubby Brad Pitt had bought the rights to Pearl’s book of the same name as the film.

What this does remind me of is all those films from the 40’s and 50’s that one of my favorite entertainers, Lena Horne, was up for but they ultimately cast white women in the roles of “mulatto” women. Don’t buy it? Here’s two examples.

1949…Pinky. Lena wanted to play Pinky. Jeanne Crain got the part.
1951…Showboat. Lena wanted to play Julie. The role went to Ava Gardner.

The list goes on.

But that’s white privilege. 1950-2007. Maybe Jolie can beat Whitney Houston or Alicia Keys to the punch, and play Horne in a biopic that’s in the works! (Reportedly Horne wants Houston. Oprah wants Keys. Farrow, also wants Keys.)

(Lena’s 90th birthday is coming soon, to which I’ll give a proper b-day salute. But I’ll leave you with one of my favorite Lena Horne songs, “Yesterday When I was Young.”)

7 thoughts on “White Privilege at Work: Angelina Jolie

  1. I really dont see a big deal here.

    No one was complaining when Tyler Perry came out with Madea. Could he not find a woman to play that role?

    I dont understand why its always a race issue with people. That really shakes me up. Everything is a race issue…

    Can we just enjoy the movie for what it is: a great story.

  2. Well I think some people did complain about Tyler Perry’s Madea, and Eddie Murphy’s Norbit and Martin Lawrence’s Big Momma’s House and all that–namely black women. I can’t say anything about the film itself, but I do find the conversation about Jolie’s adoptions and “humanitarian” efforts as directly tied to the narrative of her ability to “transcend race” — nevermind the history of white women being cast in roles for “bi-racial” or light-skinned black women, that black women actresses, like Lena Horne, could not get.

    You can enjoy the movie if you find it enjoyable but it’s not outside of politics, nor history.

  3. Kenyon,

    I absolutely see your point. It would have been interesting to see Rosie Perez, Rashida Jones, Thandie or even Jada in this role.

    However, if Mrs. Pearl blessed the project, that’s good enough for me. In the end, she has to live with how her story was depicted.

    And considering that the story doesn’t have much to do with Mrs. Pearl’s Afro-Cuban/French background, I do think it’s a bit much to compare this situation to white-girl-does-tragic-mulatta roles such as in Imitation of Life (1959) and Gone With the Wind (oh lawd!)

    And no disrespect to Ms. Horne, but I’ll take some Ethel Waters or Pearl Bailey over her any day!!!

  4. I don’t know how I feel about this. I’m not interested in seeing the movie, but the ad I saw for it made me feel funny. Maybe it’s that Jolie as Marianne is wearing the same hairstyle and outfit through all the shots from the film – it’s like a costume, not a real person. In any case, Marianne is of mixed ethnic heritage; from things I’ve read she doesn’t identify as “black” only (if at all). Jolie herself has a mother who is native (or half native), so she is also of mixed ethnic heritage.

    Do all of the mixed ethnicity folks get to play each other? Does it have to do with complexion, and hair texture? Does it have to do with actual appearance (facial features, body types?).

    I think when we get beyond “simple” biracial-ness things get a little complicated. More and more folks are falling outside of the “check one” box. I agree that it’s easy for Hollywood to put Jolie in that role – especially since there is not a huge pool of popular mixed race actresses who are box office draws. More supply or more demand? Which comes first?

  5. I should add that I do agree that this is a case of white privilege – when the questions are tough ones, whiteness steps in and gives the answer.

  6. I never even realized that Marianne Pearl was biracial – the press didn’t talk about it during her husband’s kidnapping ordeal. I DID sense that she had some kind of African or Asian ancestry – but, since nobody said anything, I just figured she was Algerian or Moroccan (since lots of French people have roots in those countries).

    In any case, it would have been more appropriate to cast a Black or Latina or Middle Eastern actor to play her in the film.

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