Hollywood & the Ministry of "Silly Accents"
Photo Credit: "Invictus"
Film , Television , Web Series

Hollywood & the Ministry of "Silly Accents"

"Invictus"
“Invictus”

So… maybe we should all just agree that, just as this article I read on the Guardian UK’s site said: “unless one casts Indians to play Indians (unlike Alec Guinness in ‘A Passage to India,’ 1984), Danes to play Danes (instead of accent-prone Meryl Streep’s Karen Blixen in ‘Out of Africa,’ 1985), Irishmen to play Irishmen (to avoid the many begorrah horrors) etc, most accents – in movies – border on caricature”; and so we should just accept that fact, instead of griping every time an actor’s/actress’ attempt at an unfamiliar accent fails?!

That’s as much of a question as it is a statement, by the way.

Conversations have been had on this blog about the accents of American actors taking on non-American roles (and vice-versa). Examples are many.

Frankly, for most audiences who don’t have an ear attuned to the nuances of let’s say British or South African accents (which themselves also vary), American actors putting on accents will probably sound authentic enough to the average American.

But is “authentic enough” enough? Is the audience being deprived of a proper “education,” or are our expectations too high, in expecting perfection of speech from these actors, especially when many of us here likely wouldn’t even be able to recognize what’s authentic and what’s not, in any given situation?

The writer of the above article I referenced makes a comparison between “blacking-up” and actors in roles that require that they speak in an unfamiliar accent – essentially suggesting that just as black people are now “allowed” to play themselves on screen, instead of white people in black face, “accents should be left to native speakers.”

In this industry, it comes down to this: Are there recognizable/bankable English-speaking Xhosa actors, and English-speaking Afrikaner actors to play Mandela and François Pienaar respectively, in “Invictus” for example (a film that starred Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon)?

I agree that an overall appreciation of a film can indeed be undermined by suspect accents; and what all this calls into discussion is the casting of “natives” in roles like the above I mentioned, instead of American Hollywood stars, if ensuring authenticity is crucial. But then that challenges one significant industry belief: that recognizable names and faces are needed in order to sell a picture – an idea with a lot of support that likely won’t falter any time soon.

So in short, expect more “suspect” accents, especially in Hollywood studio movies centered on stories about non-Americans played by American actors.

On the reverse, while there have most certainly been exceptions, given how ubiquitous American/Hollywood films are all over the world, I’d say that most non-American actors do a pretty good job mimicking North American accents; again, there have been exceptions. But how many people knew Idris Elba was British when he played Stringer Bell in “The Wire” years ago?

Thoughts?

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