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  • Whedon wanted a black actress to play Cordelia

    I was reading a few interviews on the making of Buffy and was surprised to see that Whedon had originally wanted to cast a black actress as Cordelia - but WB said no because they were nervous about any future romantic relationships between the characters that might be complicated by an interracial romance.

    It’s astonishing to me that in the mid-90s networks were still so unbelievably racist - that fears of miscegenation of all things prevented Whedon from making the show more diverse. I know there’s a lot of criticism of Buffy for the all white cast, but after reading that, it seems that in many ways it was the network who was to blame.

    As an aside, I wondered how the dynamic of the show would have changed if Cordelia had been played by a black actress - since she’s obviously the antagonist in the first season, I wonder if it would have felt uncomfortable for the wrong reasons.

    I also wondered whether her race was originally in Whedon’s mind when writing the script - and if so, whether there were any aspects of her character that reflected that. Probably not since most of the emphasis was on class and school hierarchies which would have been the same regardless of the character’s race, but it’s interesting to think about.
    Last edited by American Aurora; 05-05-21, 06:14 AM.

  • #2
    Originally posted by American Aurora View Post
    I was reading a few interviews on the making of Buffy and was surprised to see that Whedon had originally wanted to cast a black actress as Cordelia - but WB said no because they were nervous about any future romantic relationships between the characters that might be complicated by an interracial romance.

    It’s astonishing to me that in the mid-90s networks were still so unbelievably racist - that fears of miscegenation of all things prevented Whedon from making the show more diverse. I know there’s a lot of criticism of Buffy for the all white cast, but after reading that, it seems that in many ways it was the network who was to blame.

    As an aside, I wondered how the dynamic of the show would have changed if Cordelia had been played by a black actress - since she’s obviously the antagonist in the first season, I wonder if it would have felt uncomfortable for the wrong reasons.

    I also wondered whether her race was originally in Whedon’s mind when writing the script - and if so, whether there were any aspects of her character that reflected that. Probably not since most of the emphasis was on class and school hierarchies which would have been the same regardless of the character’s race, but it’s interesting to think about.
    The Network reasons are awful. Whedon pick would've been just as bad but for different reasons . The Black antagonist compared to the good looking all white cast heros yikes.
    Then there's Kendra whose never been on a plane before or has more than 1 shirt. Who then shows up to be killed by Sharpe nails 💅 😒
    In S4 Buffy crack about the First Slayer Hair..
    The whole evil Blackmen rape metaphor from S7 thats suddenly an empowerment metaphor when Buffy does it. Its just not a good look.
    Even Ats which is set in LA doesn't seem to have any people of colour in the City till Gunn shows up at the end and then they are so uncomfortable he doesn't really do much with him till S5.
    As for Firefly and the whole good guys being based off the Confederacy another yikes.

    Comment


    • #3
      Didn't Bianca Lawson audition for the role of Cordelia Chase?

      I don't think it would have been a bad choice. Don't forget she would have been the popular high school girl whereas the Scoobies were the freaks. Also, Cordelia is brave, witty, and intelligent.

      But if they would have pursued the Cordelia/Xander relationship with BL and NB they would indeed have had an interracial relationship. I remember there was a huge fuss when Bodyguard came out five years earlier in 1992 but not because it was a scandal but because it was a milestone. I really don't know why a network would think an interracial relationship could complicate anything (unless they are racists at the core of course).

      It's not only that Kendra has never been on a plane before she had to travel in the cargo hold. That's ... urrgh. That's really awful.

      ETA: Okay, I found this source that says she was offered the role and turned it down

      Actors Who Were Almost Cast in Buffy the Vampire Slayer | POPSUGAR Celebrity UK

      flow
      Last edited by flow; 05-05-21, 08:08 AM.

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      • Priceless
        Priceless commented
        Editing a comment
        Never heard that before

    • #4
      Originally posted by BtVS fan View Post

      The Network reasons are awful. Whedon pick would've been just as bad but for different reasons . The Black antagonist compared to the good looking all white cast heros yikes.
      .
      I'm curious as to why you mention the "good looking" aspect of the rest of the cast ? I assume the black actress would have been just as attractive, if not more, than the rest of the cast, so I don't really understand why you think it's a factor (genuine question here, I'm just not sure what you mean by this).

      As for the impact it would've made in the story, I'm thinking not a big one. As American Aurora says, the Cordelia/rest of the school dynamic is much more about class than about race, and while there's often intersection between the two, it's possible to have a very upper class black/poc person and a working class white person. I think it would've been really interesting and refreshing (though I'm sure that there are potential objections to this idea, notably accusations of glossing over racism and pretending it's only about class, which is very fair criticism). Tbh for the longest time I assumed it was already more or less the case, as I thought that CC was half latina half white

      What a challenge, honesty
      What a struggle to learn to speak
      Who would've thought that pretending was easier

      Comment


      • #5
        Originally posted by flow View Post
        Didn't Bianca Lawson audition for the role of Cordelia Chase?

        I don't think it would have been a bad choice. Don't forget she would have been the popular high school girl whereas the Scoobies were the freaks. Also, Cordelia is brave, witty, and intelligent.

        But if they would have pursued the Cordelia/Xander relationship with BL and NB they would indeed have had an interracial relationship. I remember there was a huge fuss when Bodyguard came out five years earlier in 1992 but not because it was a scandal but because it was a milestone. I really don't know why a network would think an interracial relationship could complicate anything (unless they are racists at the core of course).

        It's not only that Kendra has never been on a plane before she had to travel in the cargo hold. That's ... urrgh. That's really awful.

        ETA: Okay, I found this source that says she was offered the role and turned it down

        Actors Who Were Almost Cast in Buffy the Vampire Slayer | POPSUGAR Celebrity UK

        flow
        But the so called Outsiders are all extremely good looking white people. Whedon himself has said that Nick Brendon was way to good looking for the role but its TV. Also on rewatches its noticeable how much Cordy is constantly screaming and begging for help for Buffy to save her. That really wouldn't hold up well if Cordy was black.
        It would play up the stereotype of good looking white kids surrounded by evil and dislikeable people of colour but they are really the cool great ones.
        I almost forgot Latino Gang guy in 5by5 who Angel has to threaten to testify. Yeah not a great look

        As for an interracial relationships on screen in general I notice that its mainly a Black man and White woman in real life which are quite common both over her and in the US yet to watch Hollywood shows and movies those are pretty much non existant. At best it's a white guy and a black woman they will show but begrudgingly.

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        • #6
          Originally posted by Cheese Slices View Post

          I'm curious as to why you mention the "good looking" aspect of the rest of the cast ? I assume the black actress would have been just as attractive, if not more, than the rest of the cast, so I don't really understand why you think it's a factor (genuine question here, I'm just not sure what you mean by this).

          As for the impact it would've made in the story, I'm thinking not a big one. As American Aurora says, the Cordelia/rest of the school dynamic is much more about class than about race, and while there's often intersection between the two, it's possible to have a very upper class black/poc person and a working class white person. I think it would've been really interesting and refreshing (though I'm sure that there are potential objections to this idea, notably accusations of glossing over racism and pretending it's only about class, which is very fair criticism). Tbh for the longest time I assumed it was already more or less the case, as I thought that CC was half latina half white
          Because they are good looking and it would've played up to that. I'm sure the Black Actress would've been attractive but playing the antagonist it would've been less played up on compared to our heros

          Comment


          • #7
            It's frustrating that the network prevented a more diverse cast as it is one of the most common complaints about the show. Sadly, I think that a negative angle can always be found. The show could get the writing wrong of course, totally, but when you are fundamentally looking at people's strengths, weaknesses, their struggles and having some antagonism between your characters, it would probably be easy to end up with a racial element that could be looked at from a negative angle, even though unintentionally. The ratio of representation would have had to be far greater than one more person to reduce that potential. Just because their treatment wouldn't be practically the only example.

            Comment


            • #8
              Originally posted by American Aurora View Post
              I was reading a few interviews on the making of Buffy and was surprised to see that Whedon had originally wanted to cast a black actress as Cordelia - but WB said no because they were nervous about any future romantic relationships between the characters that might be complicated by an interracial romance.

              It’s astonishing to me that in the mid-90s networks were still so unbelievably racist - that fears of miscegenation of all things prevented Whedon from making the show more diverse. I know there’s a lot of criticism of Buffy for the all white cast, but after reading that, it seems that in many ways it was the network who was to blame.

              As an aside, I wondered how the dynamic of the show would have changed if Cordelia had been played by a black actress - since she’s obviously the antagonist in the first season, I wonder if it would have felt uncomfortable for the wrong reasons.

              I also wondered whether her race was originally in Whedon’s mind when writing the script - and if so, whether there were any aspects of her character that reflected that. Probably not since most of the emphasis was on class and school hierarchies which would have been the same regardless of the character’s race, but it’s interesting to think about.
              I have to be honest, I don't really believe the story. The WB had plenty of shows centered around black characters and had IR romances on other shows like Dawson's Creek. So what motivation would they have to put a fork in this one?

              Comment


              • #9
                Originally posted by HardlyThere View Post

                I have to be honest, I don't really believe the story. The WB had plenty of shows centered around black characters and had IR romances on other shows like Dawson's Creek. So what motivation would they have to put a fork in this one?
                Well, I think you underestimate producers - having worked with a few myself, they can be incredibly prejudiced for nonsensical reasons. Somehow they get it into their head that they’ll lose viewers/audience if a show is more diverse or has a gay character. They can also turn on a dime and go the opposite way if they believe it can make them more money. I think Dawson’s Creek and other shows were a few years later?

                The information is from Slayers & Vampires by Gross and Altman on Page 73. The quote is by George Snyder, who was assistant to Joss Whedon:

                Originally, Joss was looking for a black actress for the role of Cordelia. But one of the stumbling blocks there was the way we knew Joss anticipated the relationships shifting and changing. There was some concern at the network at the time that interracial relationships would be problematic. At that point, the WB was a different kind of network. I know that came up and Joss said, “I can’t have restraints on how I mix and match the dynamics. That’s part of the fun of the show, that Willow is in love with Xander. Xander is in love with Buffy. Cordelia can’t stand any of them yet finds herself drawn to Xander.” Joss decided it wasn’t worth fighting that fight at that particular time, but he didn’t want to be hindered in the dynamic of the shifting triangles.
                I love the carefully worded “at that point, the WB was a different kind of network” line. Kinda says it all without saying it.
                Last edited by American Aurora; 05-05-21, 12:04 PM.

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                • #10
                  Originally posted by American Aurora View Post

                  Well, I think you underestimate producers - having worked with a few myself, they can be incredibly prejudiced for nonsensical reasons. Somehow they get it into their head that they’ll lose viewers/audience if a show is more diverse or has a gay character. They can also turn on a dime and go the opposite way if they believe it can make them more money. I think Dawson’s Creek and other shows were a few years later?

                  The information is from Slayers & Vampires by Gross and Altman on Page 73. The quote is by George Snyder, who was assistant to Joss Whedon:



                  I love the carefully worded “at that point, the WB was a different kind of network” line. Kinda says it all without saying it.
                  I don't underestimate the fickle nature of Hollywood execs. I just also don't underestimate how nothing is ever Joss's fault and how he would have been soooo progressive if it weren't for the studios and actors getting in his way. No matter what the critique is, it's always someone else's fault.

                  According to Bianca, she got the job as Cordy but ended up turning it down for Goode Behavior. So which is it, you know? The WB was against a black actress or they cast one.

                  Dawson's Creek has that relationship in S1 of the show, which was S2 of BTVS when Xander and Cordy hooked up. As far as I'm aware there wre no major personnel changes between 96 and 97. The WB was kept afloat by black-led shows like Jamie Foxx, Sister Sister and Steve Harvey until it blew up in 98/99.

                  So, yeah, it just sounds to me like another case of Not Joss's Fault.

                  Comment


                  • #11
                    Originally posted by HardlyThere View Post

                    I don't underestimate the fickle nature of Hollywood execs. I just also don't underestimate how nothing is ever Joss's fault and how he would have been soooo progressive if it weren't for the studios and actors getting in his way. No matter what the critique is, it's always someone else's fault.

                    According to Bianca, she got the job as Cordy but ended up turning it down for Goode Behavior. So which is it, you know? The WB was against a black actress or they cast one.
                    That’s easy to answer - it was both.

                    She may have been ‘cast’ in the pilot auditions - but both things happened at the same time. WB told Mutant Enemy that they didn’t want a black Cordelia AND Lawson was cast at the same time in Goode Behavior. Which made it a convenient way to avoid the whole issue. Actors do multiple pilot auditions all the time and turn them down. Doesn’t mean they would even make it to the series. Willow didn’t.

                    I don’t think this places Whedon in a particularly great light, if you ask me. He could have told the network to pound sand and cast another black actress and shopped it somewhere else. The fact that he didn’t fight for it at all actually doesn’t reflect well on him if true. But having worked in the entertainment industry, I can easily believe that it was a matter dropped by all parties like a stone to avoid controversy.

                    Comment


                    • #12
                      Originally posted by BtVS fan View Post

                      Because they are good looking and it would've played up to that. I'm sure the Black Actress would've been attractive but playing the antagonist it would've been less played up on compared to our heros
                      I really don't see the connection here. Cordelia was the antagonist and her beauty was played up as much, if not more, than the rest of the cast's. I don't see why it would be different with a black Cordelia. It's the trope of the beautiful, privileged mean girl, and ethnicity doesn't really play a role in that.

                      As for the rest, I wonder at what point the network allegedly forced CC on Whedon ? And if that was indeed the case, how it played into this whole story ?
                      What a challenge, honesty
                      What a struggle to learn to speak
                      Who would've thought that pretending was easier

                      Comment


                      • #13
                        Originally posted by American Aurora View Post

                        That’s easy to answer - it was both.

                        She may have been ‘cast’ in the pilot auditions - but both things happened at the same time. WB told Mutant Enemy that they didn’t want a black Cordelia AND Lawson was cast at the same time in Goode Behavior. Which made it a convenient way to avoid the whole issue. Actors do multiple pilot auditions all the time and turn them down. Doesn’t mean they would even make it to the series. Willow didn’t.

                        I don’t think this places Whedon in a particularly great light, if you ask me. He could have told the network to pound sand and cast another black actress and shopped it somewhere else. The fact that he didn’t fight for it at all actually doesn’t reflect well on him if true. But having worked in the entertainment industry, I can easily believe that it was a matter dropped by all parties like a stone to avoid controversy.
                        Which is a big part of why I don't really believe the story. We have Joss's assistant claiming this, but many prevailing factors suggesting the contrary. As you said, he could have told them no, which would have meant the possibility of them passing on the show*. Or he could have just said, OK, no Cordy/Xander and then did it anyway later. If Joss wanted inclusion, he could have added it. Oz didn't have to be white. Or Scott Hope or Riley or Wesley or Anya and on and on and so forth.

                        *There was no other place to shop it. Everyone turned it down.

                        Comment


                        • American Aurora
                          American Aurora commented
                          Editing a comment
                          I agree with you that Whedon could have found a way to circumvent it if he really wanted a diverse cast - he could have cast Xander black as well - which doesn’t place him in a great light regardless of which story is true.

                      • #14
                        Originally posted by Cheese Slices View Post

                        I really don't see the connection here. Cordelia was the antagonist and her beauty was played up as much, if not more, than the rest of the cast's. I don't see why it would be different with a black Cordelia. It's the trope of the beautiful, privileged mean girl, and ethnicity doesn't really play a role in that.

                        As for the rest, I wonder at what point the network allegedly forced CC on Whedon ? And if that was indeed the case, how it played into this whole story ?
                        Here is the story of casting CC by Daniels. It's always sounded to me as if both Sarah and Charisma were cast more by the WB than Joss.

                        The coda to our Buffy casting saga came a short time later when we finally found our Cordelia. We’d been kept waiting all afternoon for a meeting with an aspiring actress who only had a handful of credits to her name. Most of the same large group wound up waiting in a conference room so long we ordered pizza. Another hour later, we had finished eating and were wrapped up in a lively conversation about what makes good television. Finally, a leggy, shapely brunette with a hairdo right out of Charlie’s Angels burst into the room, all in a fluster because she’d had trouble finding the ranch, and then when she got to the trailers she’d been sent to the wrong room.

                        Kathleen and I and the others exchanged glances as Charisma Carpenter huffed and puffed and told the story of her troubles in getting to the audition. She was worth the wait.

                        “Because that’s exactly what Cordelia would do. Keep everyone waiting and then come in and selfishly be unaware of things,” Jordan Levin says. “She was perfect.”

                        Comment


                        • #15
                          Originally posted by HardlyThere View Post

                          Here is the story of casting CC by Daniels. It's always sounded to me as if both Sarah and Charisma were cast more by the WB than Joss.
                          It wouldn't surprise me. From everything that I've read, he didn't have a lot of control on that kind of stuff at first. As for SMG specifically, all I'd read was that he had made her read for him a good number of times, which might indeed indicate that he wasn't too convinced at first. Was there a specific reason why the WB would push for them in particular ?
                          What a challenge, honesty
                          What a struggle to learn to speak
                          Who would've thought that pretending was easier

                          Comment


                          • #16
                            Originally posted by Cheese Slices View Post

                            It wouldn't surprise me. From everything that I've read, he didn't have a lot of control on that kind of stuff at first. As for SMG specifically, all I'd read was that he had made her read for him a good number of times, which might indeed indicate that he wasn't too convinced at first. Was there a specific reason why the WB would push for them in particular ?
                            The quote is all they say about Cordy/Charisma.

                            Whedon had been attached to the idea of another actress playing Buffy Summers, but in our view that actress didn't capture all of the character's youthful contradictions.

                            Gellar nailed the part of Cordelia during her reading. We'd seen every actress between the ages of 18 and 24 in town during the Buffy casting process (or at least those willing to audition for a WB series with a funny name), and still we were stymied on the lead role. After Gellar's reading, the large group of us which included Joss, Gail Berman, Peter Roth, Garth, Kathleen Letterie, and Marcia Shulman, a well-known independent casting director, couldn't stop talking about how fantastic she was. After a few minutes, Peter leaned over to me and whispered that he thought Sarah should read for the lead role. In another corner of the room, it turns out Garth was saying the same thing to Kathleen at just about the same time.

                            Sarah came back to read for Buffy the next day, but realistically, I think she got the job as soon as Peter and Garth made the suggestion. Letterie had taken a general meeting with Sarah a few months before Buffy came along, and she struck our chief talent scout as a name to remember.
                            They also pushed for recasting Willow.

                            Finally, there was a meeting among the key players: A handful of us from the network, Joss and Gail, and Peter Roth. We asked Joss to make a handful of not-major changes that included recasting the crucial supporting role of Willow, which went to starlet Alyson Hannigan, and an adjustment to the script to make it crystal-clear to viewers that Sunnydale lay at the opening of Hellmouth and was steadily being invaded by vampires. And we all agreed the pilot needed to be re-shot.

                            Comment


                            • #17
                              All said regarding writers, producers, actors, directors, viewers, readers, etc. are what I remember, my opinions, etc.

                              What’s said in this post/comment is what I remember, my opinions, etc.


                              AtS = Angel.

                              A&F = Angel & Faith

                              AtF = After the Fall







                              * If anything, David Boreanaz and Charisma Carpenter are the 2 worst actors in BtVS S1-S3. They were hired for their looks.

                              BtVS S2 was greenlit because of Buffy/Angel.

                              BVS S3 was greenlit because of Buffy/Angel, Spike, and Spike/Dru.

                              BtVS S3 needed the popularity of Faith.



                              * The casting of BtVS is fine. There was no NEED to have a more diverse cast. And the storylines were fine. Things must be seen within the context and within the time things happened. BtVS was relatively very progressive for its time.

                              I noticed the lack of discussion in this thread of "What if Angel was black?"

                              How about, "What if Spike was black?" Didn't the guy who played Mr. Trick audition for Spike? Would the audience actually prefer a more diverse cast that almost certainly wouldn't have worked out as well and thus the show have been cancelled after BtVS S1 or BtVS S2?

                              So much of the Buffyverse hinged on SMG's having perfect chemistry with David Boreanaz for what Buffy/Angel was and SMG having perfect chemistry with James Marsters for what Buffy/Spike was.

                              And Eliza Dushku worked out great as Faith.


                              * And, hey, Cordelia Chase looks maybe somewhat Latina--isn't that better for a show set in California than if Cordelia was black?

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                              • #18
                                Charisma Carpenter was a good little comedic actor. She had great timing and screen presence. Her acting never stood out to me as being bad.

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