It is supposed to be about being a woman that binds all women regardless of race and ethnicity across a great divide of time. Forget all others and let us focus on the parallel circumstances and kindred experiences as women. But alas, that seems only a tale told by a romantic fool such as I am. If you think this is hyperbole, then I suggest you read the tweets and comments on the recent news that a black actress plays the role of Anne Boleyn, the second wife of Henry the Eighth and the mother of Elizabeth the First, in the upcoming British periodical drama, which went viral among the learned and the general. In addition to the vehemently acrid narratives on the racial authenticity of Anne Boleyn – especially from fellow women-, the juxtaposition of the two women’s images, the actress Jodie Turner-Smith and the queen Anne Boleyn itself, belies the popular sentiment as though to mock the actress’s appearance in the fashion of the Tudor period by making parallels with the classical portraiture of the Anne of 1000 days. It has produced vociferous tweets full of fury from people who regard the role as audacious cultural appropriation faithful to the PC ethos of the time.
Actress Turner-Smith’s playing the Tudor woman Anne Boleyn is indeed an innovational idea of breaking the typecasting based on the physical distinction for the roles thinkable and conventionally conceivable for the specific attributable characteristics of certain characters. Thus, non-whites playing the roles conceived for whites are seen as usurping the equilibrium of cultural heritage, upending the very foundation of national identity translated into racial identification, a sentiment prevalent even among the professed liberals anti-everything related to Trump, Republicans, and racism. The rejection of the race crossover representation on screen is supposedly due to the difficulty of following the story’s fluid narrative, unable to be absorbed in the story, not least because performers’ distinctive physical attributes mar the harmony of racial fluidity. But do we really?
I have watched a few good dramas (British) in which the races of performers do not pin down them to the racially charged roles. To illustrate, in Benedict Cumberbatch’s Frankenstein, the wife of Victor Frankenstein was played by a black actress. Besides, his father, M. Frankenstein, is a black actor, a fine ensemble of excellent thespians whose energetic performance brought Mary Shelly’s original Gothic story to a theatrical feast to the eyes and the mind. While watching the drama, I was not distracted by the black performers’ appearances being the father and Genevan Victor Frankenstein’s wife. Instead, the powerfully emotional and assiduously methodological performances resurrected the textual characters to real humans, full of pathos with vigor and wonder. Also, British Asian actress Gemma Chan, who played the role of Elizabeth Hardwick in ‘Mary Queen of Scot’s,’ is known for her versatile roles transcending her racial background. Her recent performance as a cyborg with a touch of humanity named Anita in ‘Humans’ is as naturally harmonious as streams of a river flowing into a great ocean, not highlighting her physical differences.
So why the fuss full of sound and fury of the people who cannot accept the black queen in the Tudor drama when they are boastful of the most advanced mind since the age of Enlightenment? In the wake of the global Black Lives Matter movements, people have become afraid of the wind of changes as a frightful tsunami to subvert social foundations, upending the social orders adverse to their belief systems. Although I don’t eschew their concerns for the wind of changes as I am also conservative, not conventional in belief, the current vehemently acrid opinions about the black woman becoming Anne Boleyn are tokens of latent racialized hostility surfaced by the deluged dissents pouring forth from the socially suppressed sentiments. Indeed, you can’t ignore the differences between the two Anne Boleyns. Still, there are more commonalities than the images seen through your optical sensory input: that they are both women of elegance and confidence who are not afraid of expressing what they can. The actress shows she can pull off the character with what she has, and the queen her the courage to confront the criticism for being the cause of subsequent religious turmoil that changed the face of Christendom in spades. Let not prejudice darken entertainment.