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

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.


The Uncanny Inevitability of Whitney Houston's Musical Hologram Tour

Whitney Houston's hologram will tour this January through April.

This fall, Whitney Houston will go on tour.

Or at least, a holographic version of her will. The late singer's image—recreated via laser beam shot through a prism—will be transmitted out on stages across the world, allowing millions of fans to experience the star's legendary presence in not-quite real life. The tour will kick off in Mexico on January 23 and will end in Belarus on April 3rd.

Entitled "An Evening With Whitney," the tour will be "a celebration of her best work," according to Brian Becker, the chairman and CEO of BASE Hologram, the company responsible for this. Previously, BASE sent simulations of Roy Orbison and opera singer Maria Callas around the world.

Unless there's an afterlife and Whitney Houston is looking down from above, the real Whitney will have no say in where and how her image will be projected. Many fans aren't happy about that. "Capitalism will recreate your likeness and project it in front of millions, so it may posthumously profit off you for eternity," wrote one disparaging Twitter user. "There are truly no limits to its ethical depravity. Nothing is sacred."

Another wrote, "Utterly disrespectful and disgusting. Let the greats Rest In Power. Shameful they're using her name and likeness for this. An evening with Whitney? "That" is NOT Whitney Houston. I'm sorry Nippy, you deserved better."

It's true that Whitney Houston will have have no say in where her image is going to be sent and what she's going to sing on this tour. This raises a lot of questions about the dead and what it means to respect a person's posthumous legacy and autonomy.

Namely, what do we owe the dead? Is a hologram tour that different from a posthumous biographical film that pieces together a person's narrative? And if so, why?

Whitney Houston seems like an inevitable choice for a hologram tour, but in some ways she's also a particularly terrible selection because of how widely and deeply beloved she was and is. Fans are so tenaciously invested in her legacy that it seems like this concert has a good chance of being canceled, in both the real world and the digital one (the lines between these worlds, of course, are feeling blurrier by the day).

Still, is a hologram tour so different from what record companies have always done to artists, creating images and projections of who they are and selling them at thousands of dollars a seat? Regardless, there's something so profoundly uncanny about the concept of buying tickets to see a 3D representation of a deceased person that it's hard to imagine one of these tours ever sitting right.

In the end, hologram tours seem like the logical result of late capitalism's desire to drag every last penny out of each product and consumer, humanity's desire to transcend death, and the emergence of the technology that theoretically makes this transcendence possible. The problem is that Whitney Houston herself never signed off on her own rebirth—but if she had signed a waiver allowing her hologram to be projected after she dies, would that make a hologram tour more okay? What if a living artist started sending out holograms instead of (or even while) actually touring, and would it make a difference if the holograms were broadcast live? Or is there something irreplaceable and sacred about seeing your favorite artist in the flesh?