Friday, October 23, 2009

#765. Billy Dee Williams Being Paid Not to Play Two-Face

A smart wager could be made that more than 50 percent of the United States population has seen a Star Wars film. Perhaps you grew up in the Episode I - III and stumbled into a theater 10 years ago to the farce that was The Phantom Menace.

Perchance, you saw Episode IV first and quickly became enamored with the Empire for its brutal effectiveness and wanton, perhaps systematic deployment of power. If you ventured to watch this film, you might have noticed a lack of casting diversity by George Lucas, for in his world that was long ago, and in a galaxy far, far away, Black people didn't exist:

"It was rumored that Billy Dee Williams (Lando Calrissian) was bothered by the fact that there were no black people featured in the original Star Wars (1977) film. The story goes that Williams approached George Lucas and complained that the film had a complete dearth of African-American characters. Williams had touched on a long-standing debate in Hollywood about casting black actors in science-fiction movies. Lucas, unaware of this oversight, offered the role of Lando to Williams."
A lack of Black people in science-fiction movies? Could this be because of lack of interest in space by Black people, or just a pattern of discriminatory casting by Hollywood (take for instance Logan's Run - a future world where Black people don't exist)?

It wasn't until The Empire Strikes Back that Black people were introduced to the gloriously- inane world of Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker, for Billy Dee Williams came aboard as the dashing, roguish and cavalier Lando Calrissian.

Let's be honest: Williams is a cool guy that has acted in a number of fine films, and though he was a traitor to Han Solo, he did help destroy the second, partially Deathstar in Episode VI, along with that strange looking dude (that resembled Ted Kennedy in his later years) in the Millenium Falcon.

Billy is best known for his role as Calrissian, the Token Black of the Star Wars Universe, and has made a lucrative career by appearing as that character at Star Wars Conventions the world over, for nary a nerd can deny the awesome appeal of a fake universe and the adroit Black pilot of the Falcon.

Sadly, the role that could have propelled Williams into the 1990s as the "it" actor never came to fruition. And what role might we be referring too? How about the iconic role of Harvey Dent in the Batman myth, a character that both Tommy Lee Jones and Aaron Eckhart would play with differing styles, yet the same resultant addition of millions into their bank accounts.

Cast in the Tim Burton's 1989 classic Batman as Harvey Dent - who becomes the villain Two-Face, Billy Dee Williams was about to enter into yet another geek-certified role that would endear him to millions of comic book collecting, date-less perpetual adolescents:

"One of his most notable roles was in 1989's Batman as district attorney Harvey Dent. Williams originally took the role believing that it would land him in a sequel playing the supervillain Two-Face and arranged a pay or play contract in preparation for the role. However, the studio decided to pay the penalty fee instead when the time came for the third installment, Batman Forever, in order to cast Tommy Lee Jones for the role."
Yes, the world was denied a Black Two-Face, so that Jones could on the make-up and be the villain in 1995s Batman Forever:

"A slightly different contract scenario was the case for Billy Dee Williams and his ill-fated quest to play Two-Face in the Batman films.

When Williams signed on to play Harvey Dent in the first Batman film, as part of his contract, he was signed on to play Two-Face if/when the Batman films decided to use the villain.

However, when Tim Burton decided to pass on Batman Forever, the second sequel to the film, incoming director Joel Schumacher did not want Williams for the role, so the producers instead paid Williams his fee for the film for NOT appearing in the movie as Two-Face.

That led to Tommy Lee Jones becoming Two-Face."

Williams gave an interview, where he lamented that he was not given the chance to play Two-Face:
"I haven't seen The Dark Knight. I understand it's very good, but I think the first Batman -- the one I was in -- was probably the best one. And I wanted to play Two-Face; I thought it would have been a very unique thing to do. I would have done something interesting with the character, there's no question about it. It's just too bad I didn't have the opportunity."
Considering how much money the Batman franchise has made at the box office - The Dark Knight made $1 billion alone - it's a shame that Williams was denied the right to play the role of Harvey Dent, a gifted District Attorney who is tormented by inner demons and thus becomes a psychotic, homicidal lunatic after his disfigurement.

Still, I believe in Harvey Dent, and feel that Billy Dee Williams playing a traditional white person (Dent has only been depicted non-white in the Burton movie) as one of the ultimate villains in Batman's rouge gallery would have done wonders for his career.

Williams said that in an interview, one key factor played the inhibitor to his potential as an actor being sabotaged - racism:

"Racism. Plain prejudice from both sides, black and white. It's become such a hassle, man. Because everybody is looking at that rather than at much more important things. I see changes happening now. The success of all these black actors right now is so important."
This could be the reason why Williams was paid not to play Two-Face in 1995, for studio executives might have decided that he was not a good fit to play a white character, although he had previously played Harvey Dent in the smash hit of 1989 (the film netted an inflation adjusted $411 million).

Racism is or not, by 1995, Williams was no longer the bankable star nor was he even cast in any mainstream movies. Attention spans being what they are, most people had forgotten that Williams was even cast in the secondary character of Dent in the first Batman movie.

Being Black had nothing to do with not playing Dent in Batman Forever. Being irrelevant in the acting world - except for appearing at Star Wars conventions - did.

This is why Stuff Black People Don't Like includes Billy Dee Williams being paid not to play Two-Face, for had he been allowed to became disfigured and thus the villain, Batman wouldn't have stood a chance.


Anonymous said...

make a post about chess...
like we all know, there are thousands of black chess champions.
or maybe not.

Anonymous said...

Black people probably wouldn't have liked seeing a black man representing a "psychotic, homicidal lunatic" either. Damned if you do, damned if you don't.

They DO however, like making us pussy-foot around conundrums like this. Truth be told, I've never been much of a pussy-footer myself. I also don't feel the need to be ever vigilant for another reason to be offended. Even a movie with a black girl playing Cinderella don't faze me (I wouldn't watch it).

I wonder when we'll see a movie about the Nguni tribes with Shaka Zulu played by a White man? I'm willing to wager that we won't. Any takers?


STP said...

Pretty amazing how they have to inject themselves into absolutely everything. Watch a hour of TV and you would think blacks make up 70% of the popuulation.

Anonymous said...

Watch an hour of A&E's "The First 48", and you'll think blacks are responsible for a lot of crime.

The First 48--surely that's a SBPDL article waiting to be written.

Mgrub said...

That black cinderella movie with "Moesha". What an utter joke. The prince was filipino, his mom was black and the dad, some of caucasian I think not,necessarily white. So how do those two produce an asian son? Might as well been done by elementary students. Geez, the DWL and their counterpart ilk must have eaten it up and then threw it up(the former for appearances of course).
Why do blacks have to be everything that has nothing to do with them. How many whites want to portray black characters. If a white man wanted to play "Othello", they'd wage riots.

Anonymous said...

Hey Mgrub,
Why is it you think that white actors do tend to portray non-white characters all the time and no one seems to notice. Take for instance pretty much every biblically based movie and television show ever produced? Not only do they not speak Hebrew, Latin, or Arabic, they speak Shakesperian English! No one even raises an eyebrow (except some blacks) Heck, it has only recently occurred to me how often English actors portray the whole of European culture. How is it that Richard Donners 3 Musketeer movies did not star one French actor? I guess as long as the role is white anyone can fill the part? Certainly works that way for French, German, Irish, and Jewish roles. Heck it also used to work for Native American and on occasion Asian roles in Hollywood, and for roles that required lighter skin black women, white women have gotten the part. Go watch the first adaption of Imitation of Life, in fact watch them all, I don't believe a black woman has ever had that role. Come off it Mgrub, you lose on this one

Anonymous said...

Hey don't blame us Blacks for some of the bad casting going on. I, for instance never would have considered casting Will Smith in Wild,Wild West. Only a money grubbing white guy could have ever thought that was a good idea.

Anonymous said...

I've come to the conclusion that a WHOLE lot of white people really have no friggin' idea how racist they are.

Anonymous said...

What an odd thing to take issue with, since Batman Forever had a different director and a script that was so bad the actor playing BATMAN in the Burton films walked, as did Robin Williams tapped to play the Riddler if Burton had made a third film.

Being a part of Shumacher's mess could well have ended Billy Dee's career. It certainly did nothing but harm to the vets of BF or B&R.