Once you start looking for these things they’re everywhere

In Current Affairs
September 23, 2007

So according to the Guardian Angelina Jolie is “too famous” to convince as Marianne Pearl in the new film “A Mighty Heart”. In fact, the Times agrees. I haven’t seen the movie, don’t know if it’s good, don’t know if Angelina’s performance is great or rubbish. But this strikes me as an astonishing thing to say. Surely the whole business of being a film actor is to become, and remain, famous?

I wonder why one never hears that Russell Crowe is “too famous” to convince as John Nash. Or that George Clooney is “too famous” to portray Fred Friendly in Good Night and Good Luck? Could it be because  we expect male actors to build careers, to take on a wide range of roles, to be judged by their acting skill and not just their looks? But female actors must forever be the ingenue, enchanting us with their youthful beauty and then vanishing from the scene to let some other similar-looking woman take their place? 

Watching a movie of course involves as much suspension of disbelief as watching any other type of theatre; we have to decide to forget that we know that face (just as we decide to forget that we’re in a darkened cinema, that music doesn’t usually suddenly strike up at emotional moments, that people aren’t actually 2D… and so on). One would imagine it wouldn’t be harder to do that for one actor than another – unless they were doing a bad job, which neither of these articles suggests.

Now, fame implies power, at least in the world we live in.  Perhaps it’s that power that these journalists are responding to. What they’re saying is not that Angelina Jolie is “too famous” to play this role, but that she is “too famous”, full stop. A powerful woman? Unbelievable.


And another thing. Why are there no East Asian leading men in Hollywood except in kung fu movies? There are white leading men (including Jewish leading men, the hidden minority), obviously and, since the groundbreaking work of Sidney Poitier in the 1960s, black leading men. There are a few Hispanic leading men, and some with Native American backgrounds, but why no one with ancestry in China or Japan or Korea or the Philippines or, or, or…? This is one of those things which, having thought of it, I now can’t believe I never noticed before.

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