Jordan Peele says ‘I don’t see myself casting a white dude’

Jordan Peele with Get Out cast at UniversalDuring a conversation series at East Hollywood’s Upright Citizen’s Brigade Theatre, director Jordan Peele spoke to an audience about a range of topics covering his career.

Peele spoke of his humble beginnings, educational journey, early career and what has captured most people’s attention: his take on inclusive casting.

The headline inducing quote being, “I don’t see myself casting a white dude as the lead in my movie.”

Though the focus has been predominantly on this line, Peele quickly added, “Not that I don’t like white dudes,” as he nodded towards the moderator of the event. “But I’ve seen that movie.”

Contextually the quote, which has drawn ire over the internet, came in response to his discussion about the power he wields with the success of Get Out and now Us.

“The way I look at it,” Peele explained, “I get to cast black people in my movies. I feel fortunate to be in this position where I can say to Universal, ‘I want to make a $20 million horror movie with a black family.’ And they say yes.”

Peele’s answer was succinct and concise, highlighting the privilege he is now afforded, that only came after loudly disproving long-held myths about representation and the profitability of non-white leads. His debut film Get Out was a breakout success, but made on a modest budget of $5 million and without the draw of an A-lister such as Will Smith or Denzel Washington.

His sophomore film Us continues that success and has taken him even further, and again he did it with the decision to cast a black family and two actors, still fairly on the come up, as the film featured Lupita Nyong’o and Winston Duke in their first leading roles of their careers.

However, that hasn’t stopped the director from receiving negative backlash, which has resulted in a skewed double standard when compared to similar responses from other critically adored auteurs in Woody Allen and the Coen brothers. It should also be clarified that Jordan Peele’s quote only addresses the leading roles in his films, as his movies still feature prominent roles for white actors such as Catherine Keener, Bradley Whitford, Allison Williams, Caleb Landry Jones, Stephen Root, Elisabeth Moss and Tim Heidecker.

In contrast, Allen and the Coens’ reception of criticisms towards their casting choices reflect a point of privilege, one that Peele hadn’t been afforded until after proving himself.

In a rare sit-down interview with Roger Friedman of The New York Observer in 2014, Allen was broached with the subject of casting, or lack thereof, of black actors in his films, which brought about a defensive reply from the director, who was described as horrified by the question.

“Not unless I write a story that requires it,” Allen said. “You don’t hire people based on race. You hire people based on who is correct for the part. The implication is that I’m deliberately not hiring black actors, which is stupid. I cast only what’s right for the part. Race, friendship means nothing to me except who is right for the part.”

While seemingly a response that toes the line of being a reasonable explanation, Allen fails to see the contradiction in his answer. If he writes a story that requires the casting of a black actor then he is in fact hiring actors on the basis of race. To that end there has only been one black actor in a prominent role for a Woody Allen film in the last 20 years: Chiwetel Ejiofor in Melinda and Melinda.

A similar situation occurred with the Coens in 2016 during the promotion of their film Hail, Caesar!, which happened to coincide with the Oscars when the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite reached a fever pitch thanks to the list of nominees that year.

During an interview with Jen Yamato of The Daily Beast she brought up the topic with the two directors, asking them about the criticisms about the lack of minority characters in their film, to which they replied in a decidedly defensive manner.

“Why would there be?” countered Joel Coen. “I don’t understand the question. No—I understand that you’re asking the question, I don’t understand where the question comes from.”

Yamato followed it up, asking if it is “important or not important to consciously factor in concerns like diversity,” which garnered this response from Ethan Coen.

“Not in the least!” Ethan replied. “It’s important to tell the story you’re telling in the right way, which might involve black people or people of whatever heritage or ethnicity—or it might not.”

Having a film populated with diverse characters isn’t a lot to ask for, but the Coen brothers’ response is indicative of the privilege they have been afforded their entire careers if their first thought is “Why would there be?”

If these directors have free reign to cast actors of their choice without considering diversity, then Jordan Peele cannot be criticized for his statement, particularly when it doesn’t entirely eliminate the possibility. ~Paolo Maquiraya

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Comments & Discussion

  1. Kevin • March 29, 2019 @ 9:55 AM

    He casts a lot more “white dudes” in prominent roles than Woody Allen (or most white directors) cast black actors, or any minorities, in small roles, let alone supporting or lead roles.

  2. CHERRY • March 29, 2019 @ 10:23 AM

    I FEEL ALL GOOSEY GOOSE ABOUT THAT, HOW DO YOU FEEL GANDER..

  3. bob • March 29, 2019 @ 2:12 PM

    “was broached with”? Is that supposed to have a meaning in the English language?

  4. Shay • March 29, 2019 @ 4:25 PM

    “Broached with” definition: to open up (a subject) for discussion

  5. Nickster Meister • March 29, 2019 @ 5:00 PM

    The film industry had nearly a century when no one thought to ask would you cast a black person? Boy, white people sure are defensive when they dont get the whole pie.

  6. Nickster Meister • March 29, 2019 @ 5:04 PM

    I remember Woody Allen casting a black woman as a maid. Oh, and I think I remember seeing a black man as an extra in one of his 70s films.

  7. paul • March 30, 2019 @ 2:54 PM

    so we are all agreed. Woody, Jordan, and the Coen brothers, are all racists.

  8. Timber • March 30, 2019 @ 5:26 PM

    The longer we carry on this notion that race matters, that “diversity for the sake of diversity” matters, we will continue to battle racism from all sides.

    You don’t want to watch films with “only white actors”? Fine. Don’t watch them.

    You want to make films with “only black actors”? Fine. Make them.

    You want to believe that people cast “only this” or “only that” because of incipient racism, guess who’s the racist…?

    This article’s writer is, himself, expressing racist sentiments by ascribing racist motives to people who have offered little to no evidence of racism themselves. Continuing to force “diversity” for the sake of diversity, rather than proper storytelling, will continue this endless cycle of racism, towards everyone. To these people, everyone who doesn’t think like them is a racist…and that’s rather sad.

  9. Pamela Whitelow • March 31, 2019 @ 4:28 PM

    Timber, you sound like a person unstable in all his ways. Dont try that reverse racism crap unless you have live a life of racism, yoare disqualifield. We’ve been battle racism from all sides for some 400 hundred year now, youre just a late spectaor to this war. It doesnt mean we havent been fighting this same fg, thi same war, this same battle that my foreparents fought not so long ago.its not what one wants to believe its what put right in from of you. Incipatien racisim, Lol, you made that up., didnt you, of course uou did and others like you. If you think that Allen an Cohen never once considered casting a black actor not just having the leading role but maybe supporting role or promonient role, you would be right, the question is why, hint and it not about casting white, I mean the right person for the job. That would mean that for them 99.9.1/2 of the time the white person looks lime the right person that just so happened to look like them.

  10. Holden • April 3, 2019 @ 3:06 PM

    Pamela, I’m Asian, and we get almost zero representation in films outside of martial arts, or when you need a sexy Asian chick. I am not so stupid, however, to think that Allen has some sort of obligation to insert Asian people into his films. I would actually be offended if he did this, if it did not serve the storytelling and he was doing so just to throw us a bone. I have enjoyed his films in the past, and I never once thought about the lack of Asian people in them because I never expected him to cast them in the first place. They don’t belong in those films at all.

    I know that if Asians want to get represented in films, they’re going to have to brush up on their English and start to refine their image. Until that happens, I’m not going to expect any white or black directors to provide us with a shortcut out of pity. Forced diversity is one of the most condescending concepts out there…on the level of affirmative action at least.

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