FILM

Cinematic Ghost Slavery: James Dean Set to Appear in New Movie

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.

TV Features

How TV's "Good Cops" Promote Dangerous Narratives About Real-Life Police

Shows like Brooklyn Nine-Nine make cops seem harmless, an illusion tainted with centuries of racism.

Two summers ago, during one of the darkest periods in my personal life, I found solace in Brooklyn Nine-Nine.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine is a sitcom that stars Andy Samberg as Jake Peralta, an NYPD detective with an impressive track record of solved cases despite his goofy, unsophisticated demeanor. Since its premiere in 2013, the show has been commended for its representation of LGBTQ+ and BIPOC people; the recurring cast includes two very smart (and never overtly sexualized) Latina women, as well as two Black men in the precinct's top roles. In 2018, the show received a GLAAD Media Award for its depiction of queer characters. Throughout its seven seasons, Brooklyn Nine-Nine has addressed serious issues like workplace sexual harassment, reconciling with an absent parent, and coming out to disapproving family members, all while retaining a sharp, tasteful sense of silly humor. Rotten Tomatoes has given multiple seasons of Brooklyn Nine-Nine a perfect 100% rating, likening it to "comfort food."

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Could we count the ways James Franco and Tommy Wiseau are similar?

Whether he's actually sedated by Pineapple Express or just really happy all the time, James Franco appears to be eternally stoned. Browsing through Franco's filmography on IMBD, a true fan could detail when Franco's pothead aesthetic went from novice smoker to the guy who does bong rips and dabs for breakfast. His wide, jubilant grin is a telling sign, contorting his face into layers of wrinkles as his eyes open just enough, indicating his earthly cognition.

James Franco has done it all or has at least tried to. He has an M.F.A. from Columbia, a master's in filmmaking from NYU, and was even a professor at NYU, UCLA, and Colombia just for kicks. Outside of his scholastic endeavors, most people know Franco as Spidey's best friend (and frenemy in the inexcusably bad Spider-Man 3), or as the other half of the Hollywood bromance with Seth Rogen. Seth Rogen is the peanut butter to Franco's jam and The Disaster Artist, inspired by a memoir of the same name, is the bread to their midafternoon lunch. This buddy comedy interprets how its source material, the cult sensation The Room, came to be: Given the Franco and Rogen treatment, one of the worst movies ever made now stars Franco as Tommy Wiseau and, to no one's surprise, Franco lands the woozy, slurred performance by acting like a knockoff brand of himself.

Could we count the ways James Franco and Tommy Wiseau are similar? Yes and no (in fact, James Franco has probably written a term paper psychoanalyzing the parallels of Wiseau's imago with his own). Would Franco have been a Wiseau had he not found his comedy niche or a Rogen to counter his wild antics? Yes and no. The Disaster Artist conveys how someone can make a piece of art so bad that it's lauded by everyone for its badness. How can something so tacky, so cheap, and so weird still find itself in arthouse theaters around the States? And how can a movie that has the aesthetic of a back-alley porno get Hollywood recognition from one of the finest bromances to grace the silver screen?

Well, for every Tommy Wiseau desperate for fame and fortune, there's a friend who's willing to back up his bad ideas because of…friendship. Yep, The Disaster Artist is about friendship and the early stages of creation, what it feels like to have an idea you believe in enough to become a pariah. Franco is joined by his little brother, Dave Franco (who plays Greg Sestero), an aspiring actor who, unlike Wiseau, has a shot at acting. The Disaster Artist is a hilarious enactment of some of the best worst acting you've ever seen; the Franco brothers share a weirdly poetic exchange onscreen as friends trying to make it big, and Seth Rogen (as Sandy Schklair) sits in a chair winking at the audience like: "Look, we get the joke and then some."

Watching The Room is similar to watching any movie in the Twilight franchise: it's a cringeworthy experience, yes, but it's also your favorite comedy of all time, a noteworthy addition to the films your friends come over to hate-watch with you on Friday nights. The fun is there because Tommy Wiseau was somehow able to convince a cast of actors and a production crew to film the type of movie you'd believe in after five bowls of Pineapple Express, one filmmaking tutorial on YouTube, and a pep talk from a hobo wearing Chanel slippers. It doesn't matter if the actors you've convinced to star in your romantic melodrama are all doing laxative commercials to pay rent, or that your voice slightly sounds like you're from a faraway land where a Yiddish and New Orleans accent intertwine. You too can dream big and make a wonderfully bad movie.

Classroom Takeaways

Here's a fun drinking game. Take a shot every time Tommy Wiseau seems confused by the cameras in front of him. Have a paramedic on standby.

POP⚡ DUST Oscar-worthy Score: ⚡


Shaun Harris is a poet, freelance writer, and editor published in avant-garde, feminist journals. Lover of warm-toned makeup palettes, psych-rock, and Hilton Als. Her work has allowed her to copyedit and curate content for various poetry organizations in the NYC area.


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