Written by Penelope Farthing
As far as television goes, I prefer watching shows set in the 90s or later (I’m a Millennial, sue me). However, preferences aside, I respect their position in pop culture. That said, I believe that some shows are fine as they are, as part of iconic television history, such as some of my favorites, I Love Lucy, Barney Miller, and Living Single. But since Hollywood seemingly lacks new ideas these days, it is no surprise that we are seeing remake after remake gracing our screens. Renowned shows All In The Family and The Jeffersons are next in line to get this treatment, for one night only on May 22, spearheaded by original show-runner Norman Lear and late night powerhouse Jimmy Kimmel.
The casting choices were a little…suspect. George Jefferson, originally played by Sherman Hemsley, got the darkening treatment, and will be played by Jamie Foxx. Louise Jefferson will be a bit lighter than the original actress Isabel Sanford, and will be played by Wanda Sykes. The character of Florence, originally played by Marla Gibbs, and, incidentally, one of the few original cast members who is still alive to witness the remake, got the most drastic treatment, and will be played by Justina Machado, a nonblack Hispanic woman.
Isn’t it a bit insulting that the casting of a show firmly rooted in the black body of entertainment and pop culture saw fit to erase the image of a woman who played such a pivotal role? What are the chances that a woman of Marla Gibbs’ complexion getting cast in a modern-day remake of a Hispanic-centered sitcom or telenovela? As an example, if Three’s Company got a remake, I’d bet money the actresses playing the new Janet and Chrissie would stay true to the source material. But if Sanford and Son was given this remake treatment, I would bet even more money that the cantankerous Aunt Esther would be cast with another dark skinned black woman, and Donna, Fred’s recurring love interest, would get the light-skin or biracial treatment.
Casting has not been mentioned for the characters of the BW/WM interracial couple Helen and Tom Willis (if they will even appear in the one-night-only episode at all). In the original, Berlinda Tolbert, a fully black woman, portrayed their daughter, Jenny. But now, I imagine the role of their biracial daughter would go to an actual biracial woman with no hesitation. I would support that casting decision, mind you, but it seems so much easier nowadays to cast biracial/multiethnic women to represent all shades of blackness, rather than the opposite (Zoe Saldana as Nina Simone or both the biracial actresses who have played Storm are two prominent examples). Why is that, I wonder?
And before you say “You’re a swirler! The children you produce are the same ones who will replace you or other black women!”, let me say that if/when I have children, they will be educated on why they don’t belong in the spaces meant for fully black people, and to partake in the spaces created for mixed people. My (future, potential) biracial children won’t replace anyone because I plan to have these conversations with them once they are old enough to understand.
Wanda and Jamie’s casting don’t annoy me as much, but I have something to say about that too. In today’s climate, it is a growing rarity to see a black male actor cast with a black female actress as a wife/love interest. Not to mention, it is nearly impossible to find a black actor with a love interest who is darker than him. Now, I don’t watch a lot of television so I could be wrong. If there is a currently airing primetime TV pairing where both the man and the woman are black, and the woman is darker than the man, drop a comment below.
I personally feel that Janet Hubert would make an excellent Weezy (though I’m biased because I just love Janet Hubert, so I could be wrong), and Wanda, being a sharp-witted comedienne, would have done well in the role of Florence.
What do you think of the casting choices? Who would you have chosen in the remake? Sound off in the comments below.