When Jackie Gleason was growing up in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn in the 1930s, many of his neighbors resembled his family, Irish and working-class. Today, the residents remain mostly working-class, but almost all are black.
Perhaps, then, it makes sense that a film remake of Gleason’s classic TV comedy “The Honeymooners” would feature a mostly black cast, with Cedric the Entertainer as the new face of loudmouthed Ralph Kramden.
The film, which opens in theaters Friday, reflects a growing trend in recent years called cross-casting—casting minorities in roles originally played by whites. Halle Berry starred in “Catwoman,” Lucy Liu was one of “Charlie’s Angels” and Ashton Kutcher and Bernie Mac recently starred in “Guess Who,” which inverted the racial casting in the 1967 classic “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.”
Colorblind casting in remakes, some say, is a hopeful sign that Hollywood executives are increasingly understanding that talented actors of color can fill prominent roles—and drive ticket sales.
Such casting does not always go smoothly. In Glenelg, Md., last month, a high school production of “Huckleberry Finn” had a black Huck Finn and a white Jim, but the copyright holder objected to the cross-casting and the performances were edited out of a C-SPAN talent show. And when Ving Rhames took the title role in the new “Kojak” on USA Network, critics brought him to tears during a promotional event in Los Angeles when they pummeled him with questions about how he could be believable in a role originally played by a Greek-American.
But when it comes to ethnic diversity, most studio heads “think like their grandfathers,” said Gabrielle Union, who plays Alice Kramden in “The Honeymooners.”
“The younger demographic wants diversity,” she said. “Give them what they want.”