What are the moral implications of casting dead actors in new movies?
The legacy of the hit Netflix show Black Mirror will undoubtedly be the oft-used phrase, "That's some Black Mirror sh*t."
It's an idiom that has taken on a life of its own, often uttered by frat boys who know the vague premise of the show (fictional technology creating terrifyingly existential situations) from Twitter memes. No, Cayden, the new iPhone's triple camera is not some Black Mirror sh*t, it's just a slight technological improvement, now go finish your Four Loko and break another folding table. In fact, there are few real life instances that deserve this descriptor. For the most part, we are far from a world where any of the technologies in Black Mirror are even close to possible.
But James Dean, who died in 1955, appearing in a movie in 2019? Now that's some Black Mirror sh*t, Cayden.
Unfortunately, it's all too real. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Dean will star in a "Vietnam era action-drama" called Finding Jack. The movie's directors, Anton Ernst and Tati Golykh, said of the casting choice: "We searched high and low for the perfect character to portray the role of Rogan, which has some extreme complex character arcs, and after months of research, we decided on James Dean," He continued, "We feel very honored that his family supports us and will take every precaution to ensure that his legacy as one of the most epic film stars to date is kept firmly intact. The family views this as his fourth movie, a movie he never got to make. We do not intend to let his fans down."
The movie will be based on the novel by Gareth Crocker
Of course, this isn't the first time technology of this nature has attempted to bring back a dead icon for the pleasure of an audience. You might remember the now famous moment in 2012, when a Coachella crowd believed for a brief moment that Tupac Shakur was alive and well, performing on stage alongside Snoop Dogg. Or perhaps you caught wind of Whitey Houston's upcoming tour. Or maybe you remember thinking, "Is that Peter Cushing?" when watching Rogue One. Indeed, the British actor's likeness was used to recreate the role of Grand Moff Tarkin in the Star Wars saga. Perhaps even more eerily, images from Audrey Hepburn's film catalogue were harvested to create a one-minute ad for Galaxy chocolate bars in 2013, long after her death.
Artistic New Audrey Hepburn Galaxy Chocolate Commercial www.youtube.com
When asked by The Hollywood Reporter about this new utilization of CGI technology, Mark Roesler, CEO of CMG Worldwide, which represents Dean's family, said, "This opens up a whole new opportunity for many of our clients who are no longer with us." This eerie statement should strike fear into the heart of every struggling actor in LA who already has to compete with millions of other struggling and established actors to even land an audition, much less a major movie role. In a world where artists flounder to get adequate financial compensation for their work, it's downright irresponsible to cast dead people in roles that real living actors could inhabit. Not to mention, this practice so obviously undermines the art of acting, which is undeniably about the give and take of energy between living, breathing artists. Some of our most iconic movie moments were improvised between actors living in the moment of the scene, but how can that kind of creativity be included in the process if one character is just a pieced together series of old images? If you're doing a scene with what will eventually be a CGI James Dean, how do you play off your scene partner? How do you feed off the energy of a computer generated ghost?
In regards to these kinds of practices—the Whitney Houston hologram, in particular—journalist Simon Reynolds put it succinctly, saying, " On an ethical and economic level, I would liken it to a form of 'ghost slavery'," he continues. "That applies certainly when done without the consent of the star, [but rather] by the artist's estate in collusion with the record company or tour promoter. It's a form of unfair competition: established stars continuing their market domination after death and stifling the opportunities for new artists."
Essentially, If actors like Dean never die and just go on performing, even as their body decomposes under a quiet patch of grass somewhere, why support new artists at all? How do you break into an industry where you have to compete with the ghost of an actor whose legacy was firmly cemented by his untimely death?
Additionally, do we have any reason to believe Dean would have wanted his perpetually youthful image in a movie about a war that didn't even happen in his lifetime? What autonomy do artists have over their legacy after they pass?
While the morality of these digital resurrections remains firmly in a grey area, one thing is clear: The show business industry will do whatever it takes to milk every last cent from their artists, living or dead.Now thats some Black Mirror sh*t.
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Protest music aside, there is a slew of good underground music out today
An invigorating slew of protest music hit the shelves today.
Detroit-based emcee Tee Grizzley collaborated with Queen Naija and the Detroit Youth Choir to craft a melodic ballad that attempts to open up a dialogue with police. Meanwhile, alt-Jazz pioneer Terrace Martin took a different approach in his collaboration with Denzel Curry, Daylyt, G Perico, and Kamasi Washington, with "Pigs Feet" being more of an angry f*ck you than an attempt at communication.
Lulu Wang's The Farewell offers a prime case study on why culturally diverse voices are so necessary in our modern Hollywood landscape.
Writer/director Lulu Wang's The Farewell offers a prime case study on why culturally diverse voices are so necessary in our modern Hollywood landscape—especially if we want interesting, original movies instead of endless franchise reboots.
Part of what makes The Farewell so unique is the specificity of its perspective. The story—which is almost entirely true and gained traction as a This American Life segment before being turned into a movie––follows Billi (Awkwafina in a brilliantly reserved performance), a young Chinese-American woman who discovers her Nai Nai (grandmother in Mandarin) is dying from lung cancer. Billi travels back to China to see Nai Nai and say her farewell, but there's a problem: Nai Nai doesn't actually know that she has cancer, and her family is determined not to tell her. As such, the family organizes the wedding of Billi's cousin, Hao Hao, as an excuse for everyone to gather in China.
This sets the stage for an emotionally fraught balancing act whereby Billi and her family need to feign excitement for a celebratory event that mainly exists as an excuse to say goodbye to a beloved family matriarch. But more than that, the premise allows Wang to explore the differences between American and Chinese culture surrounding family, illness, and death.
Writer/Director Lulu WangJessica Lehrman
In American culture, individuality supersedes everything else.
Freedom of choice feels like a necessity, so naturally, we believe that if we're dying, we need to know in order to make proper preparations and plan the remainder of our lives accordingly. Having grown up in America, this is Billi's frame of mind.
But in Chinese culture, family far outweighs the individual. Many Chinese families are tight-knit in a way that American families are not. Oftentimes, Chinese families function as cohesive units wherein everyone, from siblings to cousins to grandparents, live within close proximity to one another and are involved in many elements of each others' lives, from elder care to child-rearing.
From this perspective, freedom of choice is not nearly as important; what's important is not making your family worry. This results in a reliance on "good lies." If you know you're sick, you hide it from your family so they don't worry unnecessarily. And if you know someone else is sick, you bear that burden for them so that they can continue living without stressing about the inevitable. It works out, because you trust your family implicitly to make decisions in your best interest.
In short, the American and Chinese perspectives could not be more opposite. But while many previous films, both American and Chinese, have explored these perspectives individually, it takes the perspective of someone with a foot in both cultures to adequately measure them up alongside one another.
Billi may be American for all intents and purposes, but she spent her early childhood in China and cares deeply for her Nai Nai. Her love for her family, along with pangs of guilt for not embracing her Chinese heritage more, tempers her automatic inclination towards the "righteousness" of Western philosophy. While she beats herself up internally for lying about her Nai Nai's health, she ultimately accepts her family's wishes. Even if she would prefer to be told the truth if she were in her grandma's shoes, she understands that her Nai Nai probably doesn't feel the same way. After all, her Nai Nai is culturally Chinese.
Ultimately, Nai Nai survived––both in the movie and real life. Wang's real-life experience took place over six years ago, when her own Nai Nai was given a three-month life expectancy. She's still alive to this day.
It's hard to discuss a movie as impactful as The Farewell without delving into anecdote.
Watching as a white American with zero foreign cultural ties outside of "looking vaguely Jewish," I approached the matter with a thoroughly American perspective.
At first, I fully agreed with Billi's initial response to her family's proposal: shock and anger. It seemed cruel to let someone die without even giving them a chance to decide how they were going to spend their last few months. But by the end of the movie, I no longer felt so sure. Perhaps my initial outrage at customs unlike my own betrayed a deep-seated sense of cultural superiority. I didn't like that about myself, and I appreciated The Farewell for helping me see things from a different perspective.
My girlfriend, who's half-Chinese (she was born in America, but her mother is a first generation immigrant) had a very different reaction. We had recently seen a Bollywood video that was supposed to take place in New York City. It was funny, because their idea of New York was a giant American stereotype.
"Imagine if almost every movie you ever saw about your own culture was like that Bollywood video," my girlfriend said. "Then you see something like this where everything, from the dialogue to the set decorations, are spot on. It hit close to home."
Wang approaches cultural differences in her film with a softness and complexity that stems from an understanding of both American and Chinese culture but, more importantly, the space in-between, which is occupied only by people who have been torn between the two.
Diverse perspectives such as Wang's offer a limelight to unique cinematic experiences that most people would never have exposure to otherwise. And movies like The Farewell lead to cultural understanding, discussion, and introspection that simply isn't possible without them. They highlight the ongoing need for representation in Hollywood movies, and they prove beyond a shadow of a doubt how diversity can be a force for good.
THE FAREWELL Trailer (2019) www.youtube.com
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