Los Angeles Times
Calendar Live

March 20, 2005

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 film?

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 human emotions.

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 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 each role.

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 Geisha."

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