Friday, October 5, 2007

Catherine Ryan Hyde's "Love in the Present Tense"

Catherine Ryan Hyde is the author of: the novels Funerals for Horses, Pay it Forward, Electric God, Walter’s Purple Heart, and Love in the Present Tense; a collection of short fiction, Earthquake Weather; and the Young Adult novels, Becoming Chloe and The Year of My Miraculous Reappearance.

Here she shares her thoughts about casting for the adaptations for her books, with particular reference to Love in the Present Tense:
If they made one of my books into a movie, who would I want to see cast in the major roles? An unusually dicey question in my case. Or so it seems to me. Dicey because they did make one of my books (Pay It Forward) into a movie. And I certainly would not have chosen Kevin Spacey for the role of the African American Vietnam vet. That was a surprise.

Electric God is well on its way to film, but I see no such issues hovering around it, so I’ll just wait and see what they do.

Potentially next in line would be Love in the Present Tense. Here it gets interesting and dicey all over again.

In Love in the Present Tense, we have three major characters: Mitch, a white guy; Pearl, who is half black and half Korean; and her son Leonard, who is one quarter black and one quarter Korean, and whose father is an Italian cop.

So far we have a hardcover and paperback edition of the work in which Leonard is thoughtfully depicted in the cover art. His face doesn’t show, but the color of his skin is just about the way Mitch described it in the book: coffee just the way Mitch takes it (with a generous splash of half and half). Then there’s the UK edition (it hit the bestseller list in the UK due to its selection for a major TV book club) and the large print edition. And on these covers, Leonard is a white boy.

Sounds like I’m not answering the question, but I swear I am. Just in a roundabout way.

I don’t care who they get to play Mitch. Someone like Jake Gyllenhaal would be lovely, but I’m flexible. I just don’t want them to cast a white girl as Pearl, and a white boy as Leonard.

Maybe they will, and maybe they’ll say, “We just thought it didn’t matter. That it wasn’t important to the story.” Well, here’s a question. If it doesn’t matter, why can’t these characters be something other than white for a change?

When asked, I many times repeated that the casting of Kevin Spacey was done simply because of what it meant to get Kevin Spacey. In other words, all economics. Certainly economics plays the lead in every Hollywood movie. But it doesn’t account for two editions of Love in the Present Tense depicting Leonard as a white boy. If it happens again, I’m not going to say it’s something other than … I won’t say racist, because it’s such a powerful and ugly word. It implies hate. I don’t think the people who whiten my characters are full of hate. I just think that, on a level they don’t even know exists, they like white better. So I’ll say … Eurocentrist. I won’t go in front of groups or out in the press and claim it’s anything other than Eurocentrism. Because I’ll no longer believe it.

So, that’s my answer. Actors of color. I don’t care which ones. I only ask that they not have blonde hair and blue eyes. Many of my characters don’t. Because many people in the world around me don’t.

And, you know what? It does matter. It matters to the story and it matters to me.

So, Hollywood. Consider yourself challenged to create coffee-colored Leonard. What do you say?
Visit Catherine Ryan Hyde's official website.

--Marshal Zeringue