Specifically: Naming Idris Elba for every damn role in Western television and cinema.
The new James Bond? Have you considered Idris Elba? The next Doctor? I dunno, but I reckon it should be Idris Elba. A King Arthur film? Hey, what about casting Idris Elba? A Mary Seacole biopic? Guys, I know it’s left field, but have we thought about Idris Elba for the lead role?
I was reminded of this fancasting tic in the wake of Jon Stewart’s announcement that he was quitting The Daily Show after almost two decades. The nominations for his replacement came thick and fast, and alongside the usual suspects came the name of Jessica Williams, already a correspondent on the show, and a fan favourite.
Turns out Jessica Williams didn’t want the job, flattering though she found the vote of confidence from fans. She tweeted as much.
But that didn’t stop one writer (who has since apologised) from diagnosing Williams with a case of Impostor Syndrome, the cure for which would likely come wrapped in a pep talk from the likes of Luvvie Ajayi and Ta-Nehisi Coates, among others. William - and others - did not appreciate it. And I get it.
What was a well-meant “I choose you, member of a historically overlooked and discriminated against group, to be a figurehead of change” became something a little less sweet-tasting. It happened with Issa Rae when the clamour about SNL’s black woman black hole became an issue a couple years back. It happened with #Donald4Spiderman.
It’s happened with pre- and post-Oscar Lupita Nyong’o. It’s been happening with Idris Elba for years, even when he has articulated how “black James Bond” is really not up his street.
What is betrayed in these types of fancasting is a lack of imagination. An ignorance of anyone but whoever happens to be “so hot right now”. It’s understandable: We are wired to think of the highest profile; the person who features in the “Previously, on The X Show” reel at the front of our minds. And these are not necessarily bad things: It shows you’re maybe thinking about the underrepresentation of people of colour in the culture, and recognise that it needs to be addressed. And these actors are talented, charming, and capable performers. But it also suggests a shallowness of knowledge - the same actor(s), suggested for every role(s), over and over, regardless of suitability (on the grounds of age/physical appearance/comedy or drama chops/whatever, ad nauseam. It gets to be irritating.
It might not be the type of racism that kills, or shouts abuse in the streets, or discriminates against your name at the top of a CV or a rental application, but it shares the same seed. This is a more benign strain of the disease, relegated to a lower status because it involves pop culture, and its intentions are so fine. It’s subtle, but it’s subtly damaging. It’s also really goddamn lazy.
There are more black male actors than Idris Elba in this country; some younger, some older, some just as good, some better. They are worth considering for the real roles, as well as in fancasting exercises.