Apologies to my regular followers not in the know about this, but I just gotta get this out
So, I’ve continued to follow the debate about Elizabeth Olsen playing Wanda Maximoff, and I’ve heard a lot of reactions along these lines from those defending this casting choice:
“But Romani can be white. A lot of them are white. Jewish people are considered white by [insert region of the world here]. Wanda herself is white! She won’t even be Magneto’s daughter in the film so she’ll be a completely different character whose ethnicity doesn’t matter!”
Here’s the thing, friends:
- Comics aren’t always the best medium to portray ethnicity due to limitations of style or technique…check out how folks like Talia al Ghul or even Vixen have come across very whitewashed in comic book pages, but this doesn’t change their established ethnicity. Wanda Maximoff may look like any other white woman in comic books, but that doesn’t change her established ethnicity.
- Race and ethnicity are semantic, societal constructs that vary wildly based on culture. People who would be considered “white” by (the impressively fluid) American standards of the term might not be considered white by standards of other cultural regions. Or vice versa.
- Moreover, the fact that people of ethnic backgrounds can and often do pass as white in our eyes does not open up the Jewish or Romani community as a free-for-all for white actors to portray, particularly when it looks like more ethnically-appropriate actors weren’t even being considered for the part. Please read up on the historical and continual contemporary persecution of Romani people who don’t have the luxury of passing as “white” to their neighbors — the exact group with whom Wanda herself has most identified throughout the course of her storylines — and then get back to me about how two of the only such superheroes of that ethnicity get to to be portrayed by vanilla-white actors.
- Because the fact is that someone of Wanda’s ethnicity can indeed be pale-skinned, bright-eyed, or even blonde…but I’m sorry, I don’t care how politically-incorrect this sounds, but if the first person you think of when I mention “Jewish-Romani biracial” is someone who looks like Elizabeth Olsen, then I’m calling that out for the bullshit that it is. And I think there is something incredibly disingenuous about taking some of the rare minority superheroes out there, who is finally getting to chance to be showcased in a major blockbuster film alongside some other major heroes, and making her and her brother as white as you could possibly get away with and then saying “Oh no, see, they’re still Romani, because there are some Romani who can pass for white folks!” It’s Jake Gyllenhaal as the Prince of Persia all over again, and Benedict Cumberbatch as Khan, and a dozen other instances of whitewashing justified with whatever excuse we can come up with to keep white actors onscreen and minority actors from even playing themselves.
- Let’s pretend that there are entirely equal ratios of Jews/Roma who have more ethnic coloring and those who have more hegemonic coloring. Let’s just imagine for a second that someone of these ethnicities have identical chance of looking dark or looking white, whether this is actually true or not (it isn’t). If this is the case…then it’s still bad that both actresses chosen for this role so far look like they do. Why? Because if all else is deemed equal and yet we still trend towards whiter complexions in representation, well, this is not actually equal, this is not being neutral, this is not showing racial ambiguity; if you say “this character can visually be any racial coloring in the world” and we still land right back on white as a result, this is showing a clear bias towards white as “default.” If she can resemble anything, why does she resemble a white girl with a dye job?
- Finally, not being Magneto’s children need not alter Wanda or Pietro’s ethnicity in any way. If their ethnicity itself is going to be erased entirely, then that’s whole other, separate offense on top of the preexisting offensiveness.
This site is notorious for claiming that characters like Spider-Man or the Human Torch can be played by black actors since, hey, being black doesn’t change their characterizations or backstory…in theory. Well, alright, here is a character whose characterization and backstory would change a whole darn lot if you alter her ethnicity in any way, and yet we think getting blonde Aryans to play her is no different than Emma Stone playing two different white women with different hair colors or Daniel Craig playing a slightly different white James Bond than Pierce Brosnan? If people honestly think that then I’m sorry to say we’re speaking completely different languages here in a way that simply cannot be bridged.
This is everything I was too inarticulate to rant about the other day.
Wanda is my favorite heroine. Absolute favorite. And part of her appeal is her heritage and how it influences who she is. She’s not Ms. Marvel or the Invisible Woman or the long, long list of blonde, blue-eyed girls.
If that’s what they want in the movie they should use one of those characters. Wanda’s a mutant who grew up Romani. Her story is about being the constant outcast. Take away that part of her and it’s not her character anymore.
And, yeah, white by default is just infuriating. Making someone a “passing” character when her story is specifically about not passing? Totally missing the point of Wanda and Pietro.