Let's Discuss: Hollywood's Casting Crisis

For the past few weeks, Hollywood has been in a firestorm after unleashing one controversial casting decision after another. First with Ben Affleck being announced as Batman, an announcement that was met with derision, outrage and to put it mildly, dissatisfaction.

Then on Labor Day, the announcement that women everywhere were waiting for finally arrived, the casting of the leads in the hotly anticipated “Fifty Shades of Grey” film adaptation of the hit book series. Charlie Hunnam and Dakota Johnson would be lambasted online and angered fans would once again set the internet aflame with their frustration.

For “Shades” fans, it wasn’t as much a whiplash because the casting decision had been leaked periodically. The names in contention were fodder for social media and the reaction that it garnered should have been enough for industry analysts to decide if it was worth risking the backlash.

With fans voices being able to be heard more than ever, the ability for film producers to react and curb casting picks that can be better received, is better than it’s ever been. That doesn’t seem to be making an impact though.

Despite market research and a bastion of opportunities to gauge public reception, unpopular choices are still being made. Albeit, the popular public opinion can’t always be where we find the answers to who should be cast, if we based it off of that Justin Bieber could be Batman, er, “Bieberman”.

Casting has always been one of the most crucial elements of the entertainment field. Casting directors have been among the most underappreciated talents working in the industry. Their work is finally being merited by being bandied about as a potential Oscar category in the upcoming Academy Awards season. It seems that Hollywood, for now, seems to consider casting an art.

So it is in the eye of a few and chosen beholders. What goes into casting though? Who makes the decisions? Why do they decide upon who they do? The answer a lot of people don’t want to hear is that it is political and there is a “cast” system in Hollywood.

If an actor works in TV, movies, is a rising star, a reality persona etc. their “list” status is different and that is the truth. Everything down to whether they work on cable or network TV; plays into their creed. There is no free market in casting. 

As with both casting announcements, petitions were immediately started by fans begging for a turnaround. Petitions have, to my knowledge, not worked for mainstream movies; though they have been moderately successful in the daytime medium. After a decision has been made, the reality is fans have very little say in turning the ship around. The reasoning behind both of these high-profile casting decisions is where things really diverge.

Ben Affleck’s casting can mostly be chalked up to, the consequences of a business relationship between Affleck and WB.  For fans, it was a shock, as his name wasn’t even among the names rumored to be under consideration. They didn’t even have time to fight back.

The mainstream media pounced to defend the casting blunder, citing Affleck’s career comeback as a director. The thing they failed to mention is that while Affleck’s directing and writing career have earned deserved accolades, his reception as an actor hasn’t drastically improved. Out of his last three directorial efforts, he has cast himself as the lead in two of them. His performances never garnering rave notices.

He has been given the lead in countless big budget efforts (“Armageddon”, “Pearl Harbor”), sentimental fare (“Jersey Girl”) and yes, he has even played a superhero in 2003’s ill-received “Daredevil”. All were failures.

The way certain media has responded, is as if he is new to the business and fans have made a rush to judgment and an unfair appraisal of his works. It’s simply baseless. People’s dissatisfaction is well based on history, not some fanboy tantrum as the press has made it out be.

As for “Fifty Shades”, Charlie Hunnam has had a longer on-screen career than his soon-to-be co-star Dakota Johnson. He’s an established actor; having been the series lead of the ratings and critical hit, “Sons of Anarchy” for six seasons. While, he might be labeled an “unknown” by the mainstream public, he has had a steady acting career for quite some time, remaining on the precipice of his “big break” for years.

The issue facing his casting had more to do with his previous roles and whether he fit the physical bill of the enigmatic billionaire, Christian Grey. As an actor who has played both the leader of a motorcycle club and one of Dickens’s heroes (“Nicholas Nickleby”), his acting abilities aren’t in question. 

Dakota Johnson is an unproven talent, having seen most of her work, her acting capabilities can’t truly be judged, as she simply hasn’t had much to do. To this point, she is mostly known for her parentage. The biggest, personal hindrance with, Hunnam and Johnson’s respective castings is their similar physical look. Both blond and blue eyed, they look better fit to play siblings than lovers.

Time will tell if either of the casting controversies will hurt the respective films. It does bring up several issues facing casting in Hollywood. How much, if any, input should fans have in deciding who is cast in major projects?

Should an unpopular actor be given a high profile role after more than their share of bungled efforts? Should unproven box office performers, have the weight of a highly buzzed about franchise hoisted on their shoulders? 

At the end of the day, the mainstream press has fanned the flames of the controversy by notably taking sides to defend the studio’s decisions and lampooning those who aren’t going with the flow by falling in line.

As it stands, it is up to Hollywood to make the final decision as to who is cast. It is up to the people, to decide if they are going to support it by spending their money to see the results. As long as audiences are spending money, they have a stock in the decision and a right to air their grievances.

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