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A roar beyond race

Updated: 2015-10-26 07:10
By Raymond Zhou (China Daily)

As for the depth of understanding, she cites an analogy she credits to Czech animators the Brothers Quay and now considers her own motto: "When I create, it's like taking an elevator from the ground floor to the 15th floor. The audience can get off on any level. If we see a great Chinese film and we think it's great, yet we do not understand all its political nuance, the philosophy or the depth of history, we get off on level 6. Maybe the friends of the filmmaker and other Chinese get off on another level-a deeper level.

"Shakespeare did the same: You could be the masses, the groundlings, who went in for the humor, the love story, the vengeance and violence; but then another person would get the poetry. I think you can create different kinds of art that operate on different levels."

I grilled Taymor about other "sensitive" scenarios: "Would you ever cast a non-black for Simba in a US production?" (The 16-year-running Japanese production and the upcoming Chinese production, for obvious reasons, cannot be used as points of reference here.) She says she does not want to do it. The original film uses Matthew Broderick, a white actor, for the voice of the role, she explains. "I want African or African-American actors for the three main roles."

"For artistic reasons or because minority actors in the States are not getting a fair share of opportunities?" I asked.

"Both," she said. But she added that vocally they sound right. "I like that sound."

In her equally acclaimed but much smaller A Midsummer Night's Dream, Taymor cast actors of different races not because the characters were written that way, but because they were the best actors for the parts.

"In the theater it's more like that. We in America, it's much more blended."

In a South African production, she recounts, Timon the meerkat was played by a black actor and Punbaa the wart hog a white actor, which added political overtones. They were the outcasts who have been outside apartheid. They were in the jungle and missed their best friends. But the casting did not intend to convey that layer of meaning, but rather, these particular actors happened to be the best for the roles, she explained.

"But in a country with no apartheid or racism, that interpretation would all disappear."

Taymor distinguishes between using a black face and putting on darker makeup for a role. She sees the former as racist and the latter an artistic choice.

When she is questioned about the authenticity of Chinese actors for the Chinese Lion King, which will debut in Shanghai early next year, she says: "The parts are supposed to be animals, not African people."


Putting ghost butts in seats

Hard pill to swallow?

For more stories by Raymond Zhou, click here

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