Cursed is the absolute future of television. Netflix’s new Arthurian adaptation is the only show streaming today that has a natural prioritisation of black actors. Devon Terrell as Arthur and Shalom Brune-Franklin as Morgan le Fay are both pioneering choices, but they’re also remarkably talented young actors.
But that’s the point. Some people have become so depressingly obsessed with the idea that only Caucasian actors can play “white” characters that new talent is sidelined. Cursed is brilliant TV because the BAME casting does nothing but add quality new acting talent to the credits. The actors are superb, and that is where the “motivation” ends.
As Daniel Craig’s tenure as Bond comes to an end, social media is alight with calls to keep Bond white and English. This, of course, ignores that the world’s greatest Englishman is half-Scottish, half-Swiss. No accurate movie adaptation of Ian Fleming’s books has ever been made. It’s utterly racist to cling to a “white Bond” when every other character and plot of the source material has been radically altered anyway.
Historical movies are a more contentious subject. Darkest Hour and 1917 came under criticism for the inclusion of BAME characters who some, including actor Lawrence Fox, feel is inaccurate to their time. Hogwash. Movies are fictional; they should fundamentally entertain. There’s no evil conspiracy in having a diverse casting pool. Anything on the big screen belongs to us all, and the casting should not be bound by such a parochial condition as “it all must be true if it’s in a movie”.
Darkest Hour is replete with creative licence, indulgence and outright mistakes, but so is every other movie ever. We can surely enjoy new talent, whatever their sex, race, colour or creed, taking on old and fresh characters because that, as a culture, is how we grow and survive.
As hokey as it sounds, we need to remember the enormous power of television and movies to set a standard. It doesn’t need to be explicit, or political, but it needs to show us at our best, as Cursed does. For successive generations, Star Trek instilled in children the absolute normalcy of having a diverse cast at a time of social and political change.
And you don’t need to like sci-fi to acknowledge that contribution. They were characters doing a job – their representation was revolutionary to the audience but totally irrelevant in-universe. It’s the reason why Martin Luther King Jr famously talked Nichelle Nichols out of leaving because her character epitomised an intrinsic character on the bridge who happened to be black.
While noble in intent, we cannot forget appalling injustices in our past. Positive BAME portrayals in historical movies such as Adrian Lester as Lord Randolph in Mary Queen of Scots should not obscure the truth of racism, repression, massacre and genocide. All art is the product of its time, and if there is one warning, it is to ensure that pop culture does not take the place of history. The two can exist side by side with an informed public.
If Cursed is the future of the past, then let’s celebrate the fact that our mythology, our characters and yes, our history, continue to offer innumerable such opportunities for renewal across the globe. It’s criminal to be bound by colour in doing so, and we’ll deprive ourselves to new iterations, and a new lease of life.
Alastair Stewart is a freelance writer and public affairs consultant. Read more from Alastair at www.agjstewart.com and follow him on Twitter @agjstewart