[COMMENTARY] Spielberg Supports Pan-Asian Casting in "Memoirs of a Geisha")
- Pan-Asian doesn't mean prejudiced
Re Bruce Wallace's "The Geisha, in Translation" (March 6): Oscar-
winning English actress Vivien Leigh so convincingly consumed the
role of Southern belle Scarlett O'Hara that "Gone With the Wind"
remains an enduring classic to this day. Linda Hunt won an Oscar for
portraying an Indonesian man in "The Year of Living Dangerously," as
did American Gwyneth Paltrow for playing an Englishwoman
in "Shakespeare in Love." Liam Neeson earned an Academy Award
nomination for his portrayal of German businessman Oskar Schindler,
and Russell Crowe grabbed an Oscar for playing a Roman general. The
list of nontraditional casting choices is endless.
Is the Los Angeles Times applying a new standard of casting
for "Memoirs of a Geisha" that doesn't seem to apply to any other
Times staff writer Wallace [seems to imply] that when it comes to
roles in our movie, only a Japanese actor should be allowed to bring
these characters to life.
Did the troubled history between Japan and the United States prevent
American author Arthur Golden from creating one of the great,
intrinsically Japanese love stories of modern times? Ziyi Zhang is
one of the most popular actresses working today. In addition to her
many accomplishments, she was previously cast by legendary Japanese
director Seijun Suzuki in "Raccoon Palace." Should the historical
turbulence between China and Japan prevent her from being cast in
roles she completely commands with elegance, talent and grace?
Casting a film should never be subject to a political litmus test.
Isn't there already enough prejudice in the world? Films such
as "Memoirs of a Geisha" allow audiences to travel across borders
and peek behind cultural curtains to discover the universality of
Instead of judging this fictional film on its artistic merits and
waiting to see the performances of its acclaimed international cast,
Mr. Wallace seems to have decided to argue for a new standard that
would create a chilling effect on nontraditional casting choices. As
producers, we categorically reject the ignorance and insensitivity
that would lead to such cultural censorship.
As our director, Rob Marshall, recounted in your story, our film is
not a documentary. But even though our story is fiction, it is
inspired by a real time and place. Accordingly, we have been very
mindful of the many cultural sensitivities that have faced us, and
have applied years of research, many experts and a great deal of
respect to the task of honoring another culture. However, the
creative process of casting has traditionally allowed filmmakers the
freedom to choose the most talented, skilled and renowned actors for
Criticizing a film because of an actor's birthplace or race is as
ugly as it is wrong. When audiences finally see "Memoirs of a
Geisha," they will be captivated by the amazing performers who have
respectfully and lovingly brought this forgotten world and epic love
story to life.
Lucy Fisher, Douglas Wick and Steven Spielberg / Culver City
Fisher, Wick and Spielberg are the producers of "Memoirs of a