”Shame on you HBO.”
The casting of Peter Dinklage as the late actor Hervé Villechaize in an upcoming HBO production has triggered the Twitter crowd to call him out for “whitewashing.” Hervé, critics accused, was half-English, half-Filipino. So why is he being portrayed by a 100-percent Jersey boy?
But here’s the thing: Hervé wasn’t Filipino.
Earlier this month HBO teased “My Dinner with Hervé,” a film about the life of the French-English star of “Fantasy Island” and “The Man With the Golden Gun.” Like Dinklage, Hervé had dwarfism, but at time when the movie industry was even less open to differently-abled performers.
For Hervé — who at his time was mainly cast for supporting and caricature-esque roles — to be played by the star of “A Game of Thrones” shows how far the industry has come — and perhaps how far it still has to go.
But on social media the tone was less celebratory.
No. No. NO. Shame on you, HBO.
Herve Villechaize was French-born Filipino and British. Casting Dinklage in a wig and with a fake accent erases his real identity and tragic story and is a crushing blow to APA actors who could’ve owned this role. https://t.co/WdOPn3Rxkt
— Jeff Yang (@originalspin) August 25, 2018
“Shame on you HBO,” said CNN opinionator Jeff Yang. “Casting Dinklage in a wig and with a fake accent erases his real identity…”
The real identity Yang’s referring to is presumably Filipino.
To the inconvenience of the enraged, however, Hervé wasn’t of Filipino descent.
“There’s this term ‘whitewashing.’ I completely understand that. But Hervé wasn’t Filipino,” Dinklage told Entertainment Weekly, responding to criticism in an interview published Thursday.
”He was French, and of German and English descent. So it’s strange these people are saying he’s Filipino. They kind of don’t have any information.”
Dinklage also thinks he knows what caused the misinformation: Hervé’s appearance, which could have in part been the result of his dwarfism.
“The funny thing about the backlash is it addresses what we address in the film about not judging a book by its cover. Hervé was judged by how he looked, and cast and perceived to be who he is accordingly,” said Dinklage. “People are jumping to conclusions based on a man’s appearance alone and that saddens me.”
Not that there’s anything surprising about a group obsessed with race ending up making false judgements based merely on physical attributes.
Dinklage expounded: “Maybe people were thinking of ‘The Man with the Golden Gun,’ which was shot in Southeast Asia, and ‘Fantasy Island,’ where he’s on an island, and that, compounded with how he looked, made some think he must be from that part of the world.”
Dinklage also told EW that Hervé’s family described him as “so proud,” not someone who would be abashed of his identity, whatever it is.
Similarly, Hervé was provocative about his dwarfism, freely using the word “midget,” which Dinklage told EW is “sort of like the n-word if you’re a small person.”
“He beat people to the punch with the word, and he had a big middle finger up to anyone who tiptoed around any issues they had,” said Dinklage. “Which I also respect. Sometimes I think we tiptoe around the issue so much we never address it. He was lovely in that way. He offended a lot of people, but that was part of his joy as well.”
As for the spurious offense about Hervé’s ethnicity, Dinklage expressed respect to the commenters’ general sentiment — their “sense of justice,” as he put it — but also irritation with the sloppiness of their criticism.
“Hervé would be laughing at this right now, and part of me is too. But when I start to be accused of things that are not truthful and not real, that’s when you want to say, ‘Okay, calm down,'” said Dinklage.
Back on Twitter, Yang, who apparently elided the extra step of confirming Hervé’s origin, did spend at least “ONE MINUTE” scraping through casting websites to find a Filipino actor with whom HBO could replace Dinklage and rectify the “shocking travesty.”
— Jeff Yang (@originalspin) August 25, 2018
To his credit, Yang admitted his mistake on Friday and even offered some contrition.
Twerrata: Wikipedia and social media in general were wrong, apparently: Hervé Villechaize did NOT have Filipino ancestry, per Dinklage outreach to his family. Apologies for amplifying what was apparently false information. https://t.co/YIGfi2Deg7
— Jeff Yang (@originalspin) August 31, 2018
- Peter Dinklage: Getty Images