Spike Lee is known for being a lot of things, but few (no one?) would criticize him for creating "white-washed" portraits of America throughout his films. Lee is an indie cinema pioneer whose willingness to tackle racially-charged subject matter has remained constant, on through to his upcoming film, Red Hook Summer; even his genre efforts traditionally boast a diverse acting ensemble, as far as ethnicity goes (Clockers, Insider Man).
The Oldboy remake (going under the tweaked title Old Boy) is the next item on Lee's docket. Josh Brolin is playing the protagonist, Joe Douchett, a weak-willed man imprisoned in a hotel room for nearly two decades. He emerges a hardened brute, tasked with discovering the reason for his punishment by his mysterious captor (Sharlto Copley).
Old Boy was a lightning rod for controversy well before Lee signed on as director. Steve Spielberg, at one point, had plans to team with Will Smith on the project, but that failed to pan out. Such filmmakers as Danny Boyle and Matthew Vaughn were shortlisted as propositions to take the helm about a year after Spielberg moved on; another eight months passed before Lee finally landed the job (and kicked the figurative hornet's nest again).
A leaked casting cast for Old Boy is responsible for the latest wave of fan anger over the project. The call sheet features several roles that call for caucasian actors and actresses. However, descriptions for the few non-white supporting characters like an unnamed Asian woman ("mysterious exotic beauty"), a middle-aged African-American woman ("drug addicted nutcase"), and a Latino man ("bullishly strong street thug/criminal") have some people up in arms.
Here is the full casting shortlist for Lee's Old Boy:
[WALLACE SHARKEY] Male, 60ish, Caucasian. Joe's well-tailored, slickster boss.
[DONNA HAWTHORNE] Female, Mid 20s, Caucasian. Joe's ex-wife and mother of Mia. Once a homecoming queen, now a stripped down hardworking single mom.
[DAVE BERMAN] Mid 40s to 50s. African-American. Shlubby, but very welthy businessman. Joe hits on his much younger girlfriend.
[ASIAN WOMAN] Female, Early to mid 20s, Asian. A mysterious exotic beauty sitting at the bar observing Joe. MARTIAL ARTS EXPERIENCE A PLUS
[CHUCKY] Male, Mid 40s, Caucasian. A free spirited likeable human teddy bear who sports loud vintage Hawaiian shirts. Joe’s best friend.
[BROWNING] Male. Caucasian. Small in stature. A career criminal with pockmarked skin.
[CORTEZ] Latin male. 50s. A bullishly strong street thug/criminal.
[JAKE PRESTON] Male, Mid 30s to mid 40s, Caucasian. A clean cut tough looking former cop; the no-nonsense host of the TV show "Unsolved Crimes."
[ADULT MIA] Female, Early 20s, Caucasian. A musical prodigy on cello. Sensitive, intelligent, beautiful but humble. CELLO EXPERIENCE A PLUS.
[GRACE] Female, 50s, African American. A drug addicted nutcase in the Mobile Hospital.
[JOHNNY] Male, Mid 40s to 50s, Caucasian. A disheveled, schizophrenic man who is on the street near the Mobile Hospital unit.
[A BURLY MAN] Male, 40s, Caucasian. Muscular and serious with close-cropped hair.
[THE CHECKPOINT] Male, 40s, Open Ethnicity. A serious looking sort (probably trying to hold down two or three jobs to support his family) who is sitting at a desk in the underground parking garage.
[EDWINA BURKE] Female, Late 50s to early 60s, Caucasian, distinguished-looking. She is from Evergreen Academy where Joe attended school. She is tough, smart, and very much a lady, but a lonely one.
[SECURITY GUARD] Male, 40s to 50s, Caucasian. The guard at Evergreen Academy that patrols the grounds and takes his job a bit more seriously than he needs to.
[AMANDA PRYCE] Female, 14, Caucasian. Adrian's younger sister. She is pretty, yet shy and a bit awkward-looking.
[YOUNG JOE DOUCETTE] Male, 17, Caucasian. A young Josh Brolin.
Lee has already responded to the latest bit of Old Boy controversy on Twitter, saying:
People You Need To Relax.The Cast Of OLD BOY Will Be Diverse.If You Think Otherwise You Do Not Know My Work.Bother Other Directors 'Bout Dat.
The filmmaker also addressed fan concerns over the racial stereotypes mentioned in the Old Boy casting list, saying that "all that stuff has been changed." Moreover, the themes and characters in Korean director Park Chan-wook's Oldboy (and the original Japanese manga) are partially rooted in Asian culture and history - though not so much that a respectful Americanized adaptation isn't feasible.
Park's film has earned a loyal cult following for its qualities as a (really) dark and harrowing examination of human nature, thanks to squirm-inducing plot twists and turns coupled with nightmarish, surreal, imagery (such as when the protagonist hallucinates ants crawling all over his body). Brolin has admitted to being nervous, but insists the script by Mark Protosevich (The Cell, Thor) offers a clever new take on that material.
That's assuring to hear, as Lee has married filmmaking wizardry with lackluster scripts in the past; the final result has been movies that use Lee's technical expertise as a crutch for messy storytelling (She Hate Me, Miracle at St. Anna). Old Boy is said to have a conclusion that's even more shocking than its predecessor, so it's all the more important that the buildup to that ending is solid.
Old Boy begins production this October in New Orleans, according to the casting sheet. We'll let you know if that changes.
Source: Angry Asian Man