Casting Scottish Characters: Parody vs. Representation
Is it ok for non-native talent to portray Scottish characters?
An accurate representation of Scottish characters in media can be hard to come by. It’s almost a cliché at this point that Non-native actors usually voice Scottish characters.
Audiences can be ok with this, but other times they aren’t. Today we aim to differentiate the two and discover when it’s ok for non-authentic talent to portray Scottish characters and when it’s not.
To do this, we need to break down two definitions: parody & representation.
The Definition of Parody
Parody is a comical imitation. Often seen in literacy, music, and visual mediums, parody consciously replicates a style or character. Comedy is always the reason for this imitation, which aims to use the audience’s context and then push it further.
Spoof and parody are not the same. Parody uses a specific example as inspiration before exaggerating that text or character for comical purposes. Spoofs also aim to exaggerate their source material further. However, their inspiration is generally less specific. A spoof will mock an entire genre, while a parody will imitate and twist a specific film within that genre. For example, Piranha was a parody of Jaws, but Scary Movie was a spoof of the entire horror genre.
Regarding Scottish characters, parody takes a real or fictional being and relies on the pre-existing context to create a funnier version. This can be a specific Scottish character or stereotype.
What does Scottish parody look like?
The most apparent parody of a Scottish character, with zero doubt, is Groundskeeper Willie of The Simpsons. To serve as comic relief, his purpose is to embody Scottishness to the extreme. Rugged, angry, ginger, and almost impossible to understand. Groundskeeper Willie embodies every Scottish stereotype, unrealistically packed into one character and voiced by an American.
The definition of representation
Representation is the portrayal of someone or something in a particular way. Generally, it can be broken down into an accurate or non-accurate representation. This is when that specific portrayal has successfully or unsuccessfully imitated the chosen person, object, place, or idea.
In modern times, representation has become a much more political word. The lack of accurate representations of cultures and people in media has driven a global change in casting. Who can or can’t voice a character has become a hot topic. This aspect of representation usually concerns either the accuracy itself, the number of accurate portrayals generally, or whether the character was authentically cast.
Whether the representation is accurate is simply an opinion. However, whether someone is represented is a production choice to include the character and a casting choice when hiring the talent.
What does Scottish representation look like?
A generally well-received example of Scottish representation can be seen in Disney’s Brave. Regardless of historical accuracy, the film hired Scottish talent to portray Scottish characters. Although stereotypes are also prominent in this film, they aren’t all smothered into one Scottish character. This gives off a much more realistic and positive portrayal of Scottish people.
Are non-authentic Scottish characters ok?
So, we’ve established the definitions of parody & representation. But can non-authentic actors portray overtly Scottish characters?
Generally, Scottish people don’t have a problem with Groundskeeper Willie. We also don’t mind that an American voices him. And yet, the public opinion of Mel Gibson playing William Wallace or Chris Pine playing Robert the Bruce is very different.
Scotland has had surprisingly few Historical epics for a country packed with history. This is only made worse by casting non-Scottish talents to lead these films consistently. But why does this annoy Scots when The Simpsons doesn’t?
Parody vs. representation is why. We Scots don’t look for accurate cultural representation when we watch The Simpsons. We get to laugh along with the extreme Scottish stereotype because its purpose was never to offer genuine representation, just comedy. This is also discussed in our article on the national identity (or lack thereof) in Shrek.
A Scot watching Braveheart is a different story. We want to feel national pride when the hero is fighting for Scotland, but instead, we are represented by an Aussie’s questionable accent. The same goes for Chris Pine, an American, in Outlaw King. Although Pine’s accent was less questionable, he didn’t satisfy the national craving for authentic Scottish representation. Especially in a film where Scottish people actively wanted to be represented.
For Scottish characters, parody vs. representation is the divide between when authentic local talent should be used and when it doesn’t need to be. We don’t mind a lack of representation when it’s funny and over the top. However, non-authentic voices don’t land when the character’s purpose is to represent. It’s not offensive, just irritating and wholly unsatisfying to Scottish audiences.