Scarlett Johansson dropped out of playing a transgender man in an upcoming film, the latest in a series of misguided casting decisions. Johansson, an honourary Canadian for her brief marriage to Ryan Reynolds, was criticized for her role in the Hollywood remake of the Japanese anime Ghost in the Shell where her character was originally written as Asian.
Emma Stone gave us a portrayal of someone who was part-Asian in the very forgettable Aloha film. These are some of many examples where Hollywood was blind and deaf to underrepresented populations.
Transgendered actors should be heavily considered to play transgendered roles. They should also be considered for non-transgendered roles.
We're not directly comparing what transgendered actors or actors of colour have gone through or are going through. We were curious about the requirements about casting a Canadian to play a Canadian.
Plenty of Canadian actors work in Hollywood playing roles as Americans. A few changes are needed to avoid Canadian speech patterns (e,g., A-dult vs. a-dult). Canadians observe more about what American is all about (not a-boot) so "learning American" is easier for a Canadian actor than someone "learning Canadian."
Actors don't have to change speech patterns to "be Canadian" for a role. But the actors should have some clue in case the script requires some authenticity.
This is especially true if an English-speaking actor is playing a French-Canadian character. Some of those horrible examples are lame attempts at comedy. Others are dramatic in their lame portrayals.
John Malkovich (Secretariat)
Rosanna Arquette (The Whole Nine Yards)
Laurence Olivier (The 49th Parallel)
Justin Timberlake (The Love Guru)
Keanu Reeves (Youngblood)
Johnny Depp as Guy LaPointe (Tusk; Yoga Hosers)
Reeves proved that just because you are English-Canadian doesn't mean you can play French-Canadian. Timberlake and Depp fall into the sad category that an outrageous French accent will do to play French-Canadian. South Park pokes at this American impression in the It's Christmas in Canada episode with funnier results.
The Whole Nine Yards does take place partially in Montréal so the creators deserve points for trying to add some French language element to a landscape that is otherwise free of French, but like Timberlake and Depp, Arquette is trying to be French in Montréal, which is not authentic.
Depp is expected to play the same role in Moose Jaws, the last of the True North trilogy from Kevin Smith.
The worst English-Canadian portrayal in recent memory is the hauntingly poor portrayal of Sandra Bullock in The Proposal. Bullock didn't try to add anything Canadian to her character and acted like she had never emigrated to Canada.
Argo had a fine Canadian actor in Victor Garber to play Canadian Ambassador to Iran Ken Taylor but the primary issue was that Garber was way older than Taylor was in 1979-1980.
Maclean's posted a collection of unconvincing Canadian characters in 2014, giving them credit for pointing out examples I did not know: 3 English-Canadian portrayals that didn't feel Canadian: Robert Donat (The 39 Steps); Spencer Tracy (Edward, My Son); and Dana Andrews as pilot Ted Stryker (Zero Hour!).
This trend used to be worse. A pair of old-time films of note gave very little thought to casting Canadians as Canadians. The family core of The Happy Time (1952) were French and American actors playing residents of Ottawa. Bobby Driscoll, later of Disney fame, plays the son. French actors Charles Boyer and Louis Jourdan play his father and uncle, respectively. American actress Marsha Hunt plays the wife to Boyer.
49th Parallel (1941) is actually a British war film that takes place in Canada. Laurence Olivier and Leslie Howard are the more famous names in the film. Canadian actor Raymond Massey actually plays a Canadian in the film, the only time that happened in his film career.
Hollywood is possessed with the need for a star in a role regardless of the role. That is true with John Malkovich trying to play a real French-Canadian person and Sandra Bullock trying to play an English-Canadian person.
Television has shown to be much better ground for Canadian characters. Karine Vanasse is French-Canadian and plays a French-Canadian character on Cardinal on CTV and available in the United States on Hulu. Jessica Paré is bilingual and played bilingual as a French-Canadian actress and singer on Mad Men. Evelyne Brochu played a French character on Canadian show Orphan Black, but is French-Canadian in real life.
The best English-Canadian TV example was Canadian Cobie Smulders playing Canadian Robin Scherbatsky on How I Met Your Mother. Creators Craig Thomas and Carter Bays used Scherbatsky's Canadian background to develop several great episodes. Tim Hortons, the 1996 Grey Cup game in Hamilton, the Hoser Hut, and Alan Thicke were used to expand Scherbatsky's Canadian past.
Scott Pilgrim Saves the World has some useful tools to help Hollywood films enhance their Canadian identity. Start by filming the movie in a Canadian city and not hiding those Canadian elements. Then cast Canadians such as Michael Cera, Ellen Wong, and Alison Pill. Finally, have Canadian indie band Broken Social Scene supply the music for the band in the movie.
The more Canadians that are involved, the more likely the Canadian impression won't fall flat. We know Ryan Reynolds had nothing to do with The Proposal. Again, this isn't a direct connection with what transgendered and others go through in Hollywood, but the advice would be similar. Talk to people, ask questions, and get them involved in the filmmaking process. Film exists to tell stories from lots of different voices.
video credit: YouTube/FinderKeeperTrailers
photo credit: How I Met Your Mother/CBS