- TV is not without its controversies – and definitely not without its casting controversies.
- Some of the biggest casting controversies in recent entertainment history include Ruby Rose as Batwoman and Joseph Fiennes as Michael Jackson.
- Cartoons have gotten into trouble, too, including “The Simpsons” with its portrayal of Indian character Apu, played by Hank Azaria.
With this high volume of programs, however, there’s even more potential for controversial creative choices on the part of TV makers.
We’ve picked 10 recent casting decisions that created headlines. Keep scrolling to see our picks.
When Matt Smith was cast as the 11th Doctor in “Doctor Who,” many fans were left unsure if the young actor could do the role justice.
The story of Doctor Who, an alien who can travel anywhere in space and time with the help of his trusty sidekicks, has been around in some fashion since the ’60s. The show was revived in 2005 after a decade-long hiatus starring Christopher Eccleston as the titular doctor. He lasted a season, and the role was taken over by David Tennant for three seasons.
Enter Matt Smith, the then-unknown actor who prompted many headlines with some variation on the phrase “Doctor Who?” Plus, he was only 26, making him the youngest Doctor ever, and that despite the character being hundreds of years old.Fans were wary of someone that age being able to accurately capture the decades-long struggles that the Doctor has had to go through.
According to The Scotsman, the message boards were on fire when the news was announced back in 2009. “Who can take this guy seriously in an Earth-shattering crisis? I couldn’t – it would be a joke,” wrote one angry fan.
But the backlash to Smith was only the beginning of fan reactions to the show’s castings …
When Jodie Whittaker was cast as the first female Doctor Who, fans threatened to boycott the show altogether.
For years, fans have been asking when the torch would be passed to a female Doctor. They got their wish when Whittaker was announced as the 13th Doctor in July 2017, succeeding Peter Capaldi.
While there was a lot of positivity around the show’s choice of Whittaker, many were outraged that this immortal, time-travelling alien could switch genders. Reactions ranged from “The doctor is a time LORD. Not a time LADY,” in a since-deleted tweet, to “No disrespect to the actress chosen but the producers have brought my Dr Who history and memories to an abrupt end” on Facebook.
The controversy seems to have helped the show – Whittaker’s first season generated the show’s best ratings since Matt Smith’s first season in 2010.
One of the contestants on Rachel Lindsay’s season of “The Bachelorette” allegedly tweeted racist and sexist remarks in the past — and went on to compete for the first black Bachelorette’s heart.
When Rachel Lindsay was announced as the first black Bachelorette, people were thrilled that the franchise was taking a step toward diversity. Its shows are notoriously white. But while the season was airing, contestant Lee Garrett’s problematic tweets were uncovered.
Garrett allegedly made both racist and sexist tweets on topics like the Pulse nightclub shooting and the Black Lives Matter movement.
The story led to questions about how the show screens potential contestants, and even if producers choose problematic participants on purpose. These questions were further strengthened by the casting of later contestants Garrett Yrigoyen, accused of offensive social media behaviour, and Lincoln Adim, convicted of assault.
The character of Apu on “The Simpsons” has been called a racist portrayal, made worse by the fact that he’s played by white actor Hank Azaria.
Though Apu has been part of “The Simpsons” since 1990, criticism of the character and the actor portraying him garnered major attention after Hari Kondabolu’s 2017 documentary “The Problem With Apu.” Kondabolu said the character, who runs a convenience store in Springfield and has a thick and vaguely Indian accent, perpetuates harmful stereotypes.
During “The Problem with Apu,” Kondabolu said he sees the character as “a white guy doing an impression of a white guy making fun of my father.” “The most popular show on television is showing mainstream America what an Indian is,” said actor Utkarsh Ambudkar during his interview for the documentary.
The character’s also been played by white actor Hank Azaria, who has acknowledged that Apu’s portrayal of the wide and varied Indian community could be problematic.
Joseph Fiennes got flak from fans and Paris Jackson when he portrayed Michael Jackson in an episode of “Urban Myths.”
“Urban Myths” is an anthology show depicting pop culture urban legends. An episode entitled “Elizabeth, Michael, and Marlon” showed the (likely) fictional road trip that Elizabeth Taylor, Michael Jackson, and Marlon Brando took after the 9/11 attacks.
The casting of Taylor and Brando, Stockard Channing and Brian Cox, respectively, got no particular push back. But when Joseph Fiennes, a white man, was cast to play Michael Jackson, the internet was outraged. The outrage can be summed up in one user’s tweet: “The most disrespectful thing I’ve ever seen!”
Jackson’s daughter, Paris, responded in a string of since-deleted tweets as well. “I’m so incredibly offended by it, as I’m sure plenty of people are as well, and it honestly makes me want to vomit,” she wrote.
In a 1993 interview with Oprah, Jackson said he wouldn’t want a white actor portraying him. “Why would I want a white child to play me? I’m a black American. I’m proud to be a black American. I am proud of my race. I am proud of who I am,” he said.
Following the controversy, the episode was pulled and never aired, though clips still live on on YouTube.
Finn Jones was cast as superhero Danny Rand/Iron Fist, and people were unhappy the part didn’t go to an Asian actor.
“Iron Fist,” the story of an orphaned Danny Rand coming back to New York City with mystical powers and kung fu expertise, was recently canceled after two low-rated seasons on Netflix. But one of the problems with “Iron Fist” emerged before the show even aired.
In the original comics, Rand is white. But this ’70s-era back story is considered racist by some today. Some thought that changing Rand’s background and making him Asian American could help modernise the character and make him less problematic.
When asked by Vulture about the “racist story about a white saviour who learns Asian martial arts,” Jones defended the show. “Don’t get angry and start a mob when you don’t even – you haven’t even seen the show! You don’t even know what we’re doing with it. It’s unjust. It’s unfair,” he said.
Though the “Charmed” reboot was advertised as being about three Latina sisters, only one of the three is actually Latina.
When the CW announced a “Charmed” reboot that was going to be focused on three Latina sisters who find out they’re witches, fans were ecstatic. The show was not the first to get updated with a Latin cast, and it felt like a victory for advocates of diversity in entertainment.
The backlash started once people found out that two of the three actresses are not Latina. Madeleine Mantock, who plays Macy, identifies as Afro Caribbean, and Sarah Jeffery, who plays Maggie, identifies as African American. Melonie Diaz, who plays Mel, is the lone Latina of the trio.
As Vulture’sAngelica Jade Bastién writes, “Hollywood’s treatment of minorities as if we are interchangeable cast[s] doubt on whether the show can handle the complex political topics it interweaves into its world-building.”
Ruby Rose was bullied off Twitter after she was announced the Arrowverse’s Batwoman.
The DC TV universe, known as the Arrowverse in honour of the flagship show “Arrow,” has an annual crossover event every year. The 2018 crossover was called “Elseworlds,” the name of a similar plot in the comics where popular characters switch identities, and marked the official debut of Batwoman, as played by Rose.
Rose identifies as gender fluid and part of the LGBTQ community, so many applauded her casting. Batwoman (real name Kate Kane) is canonically a lesbian. However, Rose took herself off Twitter after being hit with accusations of not being gay enough to play the character. “Where on Earth did ‘Ruby is not a lesbian therefore she can’t be Batwoman’ come from?,” she wrote before leaving the site.
Sasheer Zamata was cast on “Saturday Night Live” after the show was repeatedly called out for a lack of diversity.
Zamata herself isn’t controversial, but the situation surrounding her casting made headlines. When she was added to the roster in 2014, Zamata was the first black woman in the cast since 2007, then also the fifth black woman in the cast in the show’s 40-plus seasons.
In a 2013 interview with TVGuide.com, cast member Kenan Thompson said he was refusing to dress as a woman in sketches anymore. After the interview, “Scandal” star Kerry Washington hosted, and “SNL” poked fun of its lack of diversity – in the first sketch of the night, Washington switched between playing Michelle Obama, Beyoncé, and Oprah.
After the episode, The Hollywood Reporter obtained an October 2013 letter written by civil rights group ColorOfChange to “SNL” head Lorne Michaels. The organisation praised him for tapping Washington to host, but called the show out for not hiring any black women since Maya Rudolph’s 2007 departure. Zamata’s casting was announced soon after.
The original creator of “Star Trek” was less than impressed with the casting of Patrick Stewart as the newest captain of the Enterprise.
Almost two decades after the original “Star Trek” series went off the air in 1969, the USS Enterprise and its crew were brought back to the small screen in 1987, led by Sir Patrick Stewart, at the time mainly known as a Shakespearean stage actor.
Though not a public controversy per se, show creator Gene Roddenberry staunchly opposed the casting of Stewart as Captain Jean-Luc Picard. According to Stewart, Roddenberry “profoundly disagreed” with the idea of Stewart as Picard, and “strongly felt that [Stewart] was wrong for the role.”
Plus, according to original Enterprise captain William Shatner’s documentary “Chaos on the Bridge,” Roddenberry took issue with Stewart’s baldness, having him wear a wig during casting.
Thankfully, no wig was ultimately used for Picard, and “The Next Generation” ran for a successful seven seasons and four movies with Stewart at the helm. An upcoming Picard-centric series on CBS All Access is also in the works.
- Read more:
- All the biggest Golden Globes snubs of the year – from ‘Atlanta’ to ‘This Is Us’
- ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ star Ellen Pompeo interrupts an interview to criticise the lack of diversity: ‘I don’t see enough colour’
- 9 TV reboots that weren’t nearly as successful as the original
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