The sexiest Crusoe yet
The new series Crusoe (tonight, NBC, CITY-TV, 8 p.m.) begins its first frames with the same quote, minus the word "checker," which would likely confuse modern-day viewers. And thereafter, all similarities to the book end.
The principal characters and setting remain intact, but Crusoe turns the literary classic into a rollicking action series of feature-film scope. The TV version features elements of both Survivor and Lost, as well as the Pirates of the Caribbean film franchise.
At the same time, Crusoe is a buddy show. In the book, Crusoe rescued Friday from a tribe of fellow cannibals, thereby making the simple native his loyal manservant; such was the thinking of the British empire in those days. In the TV series, the new Friday, played by Zimbabwean actor Tongayi Chirisa, is Crusoe's complete equal, as it should be. He's also his best friend, verging on life partner.
For all its shortcomings and flat flourishes, "Crusoe" has one very significant thing going for it, a virtue that can be summarized in four reassuring words: At Least It's Different. It bears no resemblance to the crime procedurals that glut the network schedules, and though it has similarities both to ABC's "Lost" and to the CBS reality veteran "Survivor," it's exactly like neither.
So the series, unlike the book, has nothing to do with the indigenous people of the Americas. Once again, Hollywood has given a key Native role to a non-Native. Add Friday to the growing list of racist casting decisions (along with Silver Fox, Tonto, and Jacob Black).
Why not cast whites as blacks?
Let's suppose Johnny Depp, Taylor Lautner, and Lynn Collins discovered they were 1/16th black as well as 1/16th (or whatever) Indian. I can just imagine the Hollywood studio execs' eyes lighting up. Taylor Lautner as Kunta Kinte in a remake of Roots! Johnny Depp as Malcolm X in a remake of his autobiography! Lynn Collins as Celie in a remake of The Color Purple!
Why not? We're presuming these actors are as much black as they are Indian. So why not have these whitebread stars play iconic black characters? Why not go for cute and popular actors if it'll sell more tickets? Maybe they can wear shoe polish if they don't look black enough.
Who cares, right? It's just a movie, right? Quit complaining and get a life. Etc.
Needless to say, that'll never happen. Blacks and others would be outraged at the bastardization of their history, culture, and literature. People would be organizing protests, marching in the streets, demanding justice.
But no one hesitates to substitute non-Natives for Natives. There's no good explanation for this other than anti-Indian racism. In Tonto's case the racists are at Disney. In Friday's case they're at NBC making Crusoe.