Author Cassandra Clare addresses the importance of not whitewashing in the film adaptation of her book series
“vanillanightt asked you:
It’s not really a question, but an observation. I understand the reasons, but on Facebook after the recent post about TMI casting information a lot of fans are confused as to why they would want an Asian actor for Magnus Bane. Think you could clear it up, once again, to clear the confusion?”
Okay, although I admit I am confused about the confusion. They want an Asian actor to play Magnus because Magnus is Asian. (Technically, Magnus is biracial. I would be perfectly happy with a biracial actor playing him — but otherwise the option is an Asian actor, not a white actor. It doesn’t matter if any of Magnus’ background is white. Casting him white would erase that part of his background that is Asian. And important. There are plenty of roles out there for white actors. Most roles are for white actors. This is not one of them. There is very little I have control over as regards casting. I cannot pick an actor for Magnus. I don’t have that ability. But I can say, and say strongly, that I want them to cast an Asian or half-Asian actor, and I did. It is pretty much the one ironclad demand as regards casting that I have made, i.e. : if you don’t cast an Asian actor, I’ll never talk about this movie again, nor will I see it.)
Let’s take a quick look at some example descriptions of Magnus from the books:
City of Bones, first time we meet Magnus: “Clary could tell from the curve of his sleepy eyes and the gold tone of his evenly tanned skin that he was part Asian. He wore jeans and a black shirt covered with dozens of metal buckles…”
In Clockwork Angel, when Tessa first sees him: “His hair was like rough black silk, so dark it had a bluish sheen to it; his skin was brown, the cast of his features like Jem’s.” (This was difficult, because Tessa doesn’t have the language or knowledge to think about race this way — she says Magnus is “of foreign extraction” — but “the cast of his features was like Jem’s” means he looks like the only other person in the book who is half-Asian. Jem. His skin is also described as brown in Clockwork Prince.
From Magnus’ Vow, things in Magnus’ possession: “a half-burned piece of stationary from the Hong Kong Club — a place he had been barred from not for being a warlock, but for not being white.”
And: “He touched a piece of twisted rope nearly at the bottom of the pile, and (Magnus) thought of his mother, the daughter of a Dutch colonialist father and an Indonesian woman.”
In City of Lost Souls, when Magnus says I love you to Alec, he says it in Indonesian. Also in City of Lost Souls (you can cover your eyes if you’re avoiding spoilers, though this is not particularly key to anything:)
“Where was Magnus born?”
“Batavia, if you must know. Indonesia. Of course, it was the Dutch East Indies then. His mother was a native.” (Meaning: she was Indonesian. Not a fan of the way Camille words this, of course, but it’s the way she would word it, and Camille is not a nice person.)
I’ve seen people say “But Magnus is only a quarter Asian! So he could totally be played by a white actor!”
Except, no. Magnus is the same race as his mother. He is half Asian. Because his father was a demon. Demons do not have a race: warlocks are by default whatever race their human parent is. And I am somewhat disturbed by the eagerness to try to paint Magnus as white, or whiter, when he clearly is not. He is clearly, visually not: both viewpoint characters in both series on being introduced to him, notice that he is not white, but Asian. (This is not really even my favorite thing to do: when I look back on City of Bones one thing that I don’t like about what I did is introducing Magnus that way. I feel like Clary noting that he is Asian underlines that somehow “the default is white.” But even though she does notice it, obviously a huge amount of people assume Magnus is white anyway. So I feel there are better ways I could have and should have handled it, but clearly that information has to be gotten across.)
I have gotten many letters over the years from readers who are happy that Magnus is not white, that Jem is not white, that Maia is not white, that Aline is not white. The fact is that most parts in books are for straight white folks and even more so in films. There are not that many parts for actors who are not white — even less substantive ones. Taking those things away by casting Magnus as white and talking about him as white does cause actual pain to actual people — and to what end? Why? Why send the message you only want to read about white people and only want to see white people on your screens?
Here’s a really good post on fancasting Jem as white, for instance:
I remember being told early on in the whole movie process (before I sold the rights) that I should be wary about having written a biracial character, because if there is any excuse to cast a character as white, even if they are not, even if they are only half, Hollywood will take it. I am not sure this is the time for Racism 101 (explanations of what privilege means and the fact that racism is systemic — not random isolated instances but a message we get over and over and over in the most insidious possible ways that says that white is the default, white is better) but there is a reason the term “whitewashing” exists. And it happens, all the time.
The general assumption that is always made about characters is that they are white. I am constantly asked if Jem is Chinese, even though he is from Shanghai and speaks Mandarin and says he is Chinese and is portrayed on the cover of the book by a half-Chinese model. Apparently the idea he might not be white is just that startling. And why is it startling? Because of things like whitewashing. Because if mainstream media can take an opportunity to accord more privilege to the already privileged, and make everybody white, by and large they will. And every time it happens, it contributes to the problem and makes sure the problem lasts longer.
So why are they casting Asian actors for Magnus? Because Magnus is Asian. (And a casting call for Asian actors also means half-Asian actors. Because if you are half-Asian, in Hollywood, you’re considered Asian. Give that some thought.)
You don’t want Magnus and Alec’s romance cut out of the movies, or them made straight. I know you don’t. Casting Magnus as white is no better. Just …think about it, okay?