Should straight white actors only be allowed to play straight white characters?
Last night’s episode of Saturday Night Live, hosted by Idris Elba, included a memorable sketch poking fun at social media’s intensifying demand that Hollywood actors must share the same racial, sexual, and gender identities as their characters.
In the faux game show Can I Play That?, three working actors hear about available roles in upcoming movies and determine whether or not they can, well, play that.
Described as “actors’ least favorite game,” Can I Play That? is, of course, produced by Twitter: “Twitter: One mistake, and we’ll kill you.”
The three contestants fumble while figuring out if they could safely portray characters like a blind person, a secretly Mexican astronaut, or Michael Jackson’s ghost, who can somehow only be played by Bohemian Rhapsody’s Rami Malek.
“Isn’t that what acting is about—you know, becoming someone you’re not?” Elba’s contestant asks.
“Not anymore, no,” says Kenan Thompson as the Can I Play That? host. “Now it’s about becoming yourself but with a different haircut.”
Could anybody get away with playing Caitlyn Jenner in a Caitlyn Jenner biopic? Nope. “It is an impossible movie to make,” Thompson says. “I dare someone to try.”
Who is allowed to voice characters in the Lion King remake since all the animals are African? “Society has decided that the lion voices are black but the meerkat is Billy Eichner.”
The sketch also winks at rumors that Elba might become the first black actor to portray James Bond.
“It’s a fictional character,” Elba told TimeOut London last year. “I’ve got mad respect for how Ian Fleming described him. He said he was a white guy, looked like this… That’s how it was written. But then there’s interpretation. If we were always bound by the confines that something has to be [one way], people would never have expanded on things and come up with some of the most genius ideas.”
The British heartthrob also shared his thoughts on straight actor Jack Whitehall playing a campy gay character in Disney’s upcoming live-action Jungle Cruise.
“Artistic license is artistic license,” Elba said. “If an actor has the attributes to do something, they should be able to do it. They’re acting.”
“You don’t necessarily have to be gay to play a gay character. Though you do have to be black to play a black character.”
In 2016 Elba formally called for greater diversity in film and television, including better representation of the LGBTQ community.
Watch the SNL sketch below.