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We’ve come a long way from John Wayne playing Genghis Khan

There has been a lot of talk recently about getting more minorities into leading roles in Hollywood movies, and yes, there is still a ways to go.

If you want to get a look at how far Hollywood has come in casting minorities, though, go back and watch (if you dare) The Conquerer, widely considered one of the worst movies ever made. Something which didn’t help in this so-called biography of Genghis Khan was the casting of John Wayne as Khan.

John Wayne was called many things during his acting career, but Asian was not one of them. He was a big name at the time, though, and that was the biggest thing the studios apparently looked at then.

Another example of casting by name instead of ethnicity could be seen in the 1956 version of Teahouse of the August Moon, which featured Marlon Brando as the male lead – an Okinawan.

Go further back, to the Mr. Moto and Charlie Chan series of movies. Both of the title characters were Oriental detectives. Both were played by a number of actors during the course of the two series. None of the actors were Oriental.

It wasn’t just Oriental characters who were miscast as Caucasian actors. Go back even further, and you find Al Jolson and others playing in blackface.

I was thinking about some of this as I interviewed Grace Dove on Tuesday afternoon. The former Prince George resident is currently pursuing her acting career in Vancouver, but can be seen on the big screen in Prince George right now in Monkey Beach.

Her big break came a few years ago, opposite Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant. Both roles called for a First Nations woman, which Grace is.

Partway through the interview, I asked her if she was at the point yet where she would feel comfortable auditioning for a role where no ethnicity was specified.

The example I used was a theoretical remake of The X-Files. I will admit up front I know some things about the series, but I am not a fanatic.

It seemed to me that the female lead character of Dana Scully could have been any ethnicity, and I asked Grace if she would audition for a role like that.

She was quick to say she would, which to me is a good sign of how the movie industry is changing. If she had gotten into the industry, say, 15 or 20 years ago, she would probably have been told to only audition for roles that specified First Nations.

Now, she feels the freedom to audition for roles she wants, rather than roles that match her ethnicity.

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