Today's Los Angeles Times has a story about Mena Suvari, who is starring in a new film, Stuck, by Stuart Gordon. She plays Brandi, a young woman who hits a homeless man with her car late one night, sending him right through the windshield. Brandi panics and drives home (with the guy still in her windshield) and tries to go on with her life. The plot is based on a true story — the woman's name was Chante Mallard, and she hit a homeless man in 2001 after she spent an evening smoking pot, drinking and taking Ecstasy with friends. Her boyfriend later ditched the body in a park. Mallard is now serving a 50-year jail sentence. Mallard, it should be noted, is black. Mena Suvari is not. But she does wear cornrows to play the role of Brandi.
In an interview with Premiere magazine, Mena says of the decision to have cornrows: "It was in conjunction with [director] Stuart. I think we just wanted to kind of establish Brandi as a particular kind of girl from a particular place. I think that we felt that it would be, like, Providence, Rhode Island, with a mix of cultures. That's kind of what we were going for."
Stuart Gordon, whose films include Re-Animator, Castle Freak and Space Truckers, has the right to take creative license and make what ever kind of film he likes. But why didn't he use a black actress? Why was it okay to just put blonde, ethnically Estonian Suvari in cornrows? Why have Angelina Jolie play Marianne Pearl? There are so few black actresses in great, meaty roles (Jennifer Hudson in SATC does not count) and most of the big releases have male stars. There's a lack of parts for women in Hollywood altogether — do actresses of color have a chance if white women can just put on some corn rows (or a curly wig) and play "a particular kind of girl from a particular place" ?