Bethany Says… – Reclaiming Representation

Fancasts are creative exercises by fans of media, usually tv shows or films, in which characters are cast with new or different actors, but many fans use them as more than just an opportunity to cast their favourite pretty actors. Fancasts, commonly called raceswaps or genderswaps, are used as methods of protesting a lack of diverse representation in media, poking fun at traditional excuses and reclaiming non-representational media. Most of them are accompanied by convincing photoshop jobs, done as fictional promotional material for the show or film, or actors photoshopped into shows or costumes they’ve never been in.

Raceswaps cast entire franchises with non-white actors, such as fancasts of Doctor Who that showcase the host of non-white talent that has never been cast as the Doctor. Options abound.  Chiwetel Ejiofor as the Ninth Doctor. Sendhil Ramamurthy, of Heroes fame, as the Tenth Doctor. Rory played by Richard Ayoade. The changes have multiple motives. Unrepresented fans seek to reclaim a media that refuses, constantly, to represent them in leading roles by imagining a world in which that representation happens.

Raceswaps also undermine traditional excuses for not casting diverse actors, as franchises claim “the talent doesn’t exist” or “there aren’t as many non-white actors.” If fans, making tumblr posts out of the bedrooms, can find enough non-white talent to convincing recast the entire Doctor Who series from beginning to end (no really, it’s been done), why can’t the BBC? Idris Elba would have made just as convincing a Batman and Sinqua Walls just as good a Robb Stark. Antonia Thomas would make an excellent Daenerys Targaryen.

In a world where media is full of white actors and leading roles are often cast white even in circumstances where a non-white actor would be canonical. The upcoming Marvel Doctor Strange movie cast a white man to play a canonically non-white character; the 2010 Avatar: The Last Airbender film cast all white actors to play characters that are Asian in the original show. (Admittedly that film was awful, but just because no one watched it doesn’t mean blatant white washing is ok.) Even Jennifer Lawrence, loved as she is, was cast in the Hunger Games as a response to a casting call that specified white actresses only, despite Katniss’ canonical ‘olive skin’. How many brilliant stories or films have we missed out on when we were exclusively casting white men in our fantasy films? Especially when the internet has pictures of Nichelle Nichols as Gandalf the Grey!

The point isn’t that fans want all roles to be filled by non-white actors and actresses, the point is that hardly any are like that now. The jarring feeling most media consumers feel when they’re confronted with a raceswap highlights how alien the idea of diverse casts are. They shouldn’t be, and fans continue to create a hopeful world in which they aren’t.

Genderswap fancasts fill a similar niche, perhaps even more influenced by the fact that many online fan communities are disproportionally female. Although female representation is growing, most ensemble cast tv shows, and even films, are majority male. Ocean’s Eleven, the testosterone heist party of a film, could be much improved by Marion Cotillard as a suave Terry Benedict or the hilarious Anna Kendrick and Kat Dennings as the bickering Mormon drivers. Thor was a pretty slow film but personally I would have enjoyed it way more if Jennifer Lawrence had played Thor.

The idea isn’t impossible. US show Elementary is an adaption of the Sherlock Holmes stories that casts Lucy Liu as Joan Watson. Genderswap fancasts don’t just imagine a world in which female actresses are cast in diverse roles, but a world in which stories often thought to be exclusively male can be carried by female leads. A world in which films like Thor could be a story about a female Asgardian who falls to Earth and no one would flinch. Female fans use genderbending fancasts as a way to imagine the media they love in a way that actually represents them.

Raceswaps and genderswaps are fans refusing to simply be passive consumers. Fans of all kinds of media from around the world are active, imaginative consumers who don’t idly accept the world they are shown, but work to create a better one.

[Bethany Garry – @brgbethany]

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