Fisti over at Fistful of Films is hosting a new blogathon with an interesting objective: to draw attention toward racial inequality in modern filmmaking by looking at roles played by white actresses that could have been done by a black woman. It's a fine goal and one which I hope I might eventually be able to take part in directly, but it did get me to thinking about this idea. After all the film industry is still full of inequalities in need of rectification (Fisti himself noted that black men tend to get more versatile roles in movies than black women).
Sometimes, it is necessary to cast a specific person in a role. If you need someone to play Martin Luther King Jr. you're not going to cast Michelle Rodriguez. If you're doing a movie set in the Vietnam War from the American perspective most if not all of your cast is going to be made up of men, with probably a large portion of them being white. If you're doing a movie about the slave trade from the point of view of the slaves, your main cast is going to be largely black. In some cases, there isn't much you can do, and for the script to work it is necessary that a character be a specific race or gender, but that's not always the case.
What I am going to do here is present a male character I think might be interesting to see played by a woman. Even better is that this is one where the ethnicity of the actress wouldn't really matter at all, so here is my pick:
Naturally, plenty of adaptations since the Disney film (and possibly before) have tried to force a love interest into the narrative, such as writing in Nemo's daughter or something, but why try to force a romantic interest who wasn't in the book? You don't need a romance to have a female lead present, and perhaps we could try changing the gender of one of the four protagonists.
Ned Land might not be believable, on account of the fact that women were generally not permitted so work as whalers at that point in history. Professor Arronax might also be harder to do since while there female scientists in the 19th century (Marie Curie being a famous example), it would be harder to explain how a woman living in such a misogynistic society managed to become a respected professor of marine biology. Likewise Conseil might also be harder to handle for the same reason, but what about Nemo? It might just work.
Think about it. We never learn the full story behind Captain Nemo (at least, disregarding the explanation provided in Verne's novel The Mysterious Island), but what we do know is he's a man who is fed up with the injustices of the world finds peace beneath the ocean. He was presumably the victim of some atrocity but horrible things have happened to both men and women.
As a woman, Nemo would have even more reason to lash out against the 19th-century world, given she would have already the subject of discrimination by white men who believed her to be inferior, and that would be in addition to the crimes committed against her. Also, since Nemo's backstory is never fully explained, it wouldn't really matter what race the actress was. Perhaps even with the right actress and/or a good makeup job you could take things a step further by making Nemo's true ethnicity impossible to pinpoint.
I don't know about you, but I find the idea of a female Captain Nemo to be a fascinating one. Obviously you'd have to avoid trying to force in a romantic sub-plot (though perhaps there could be some fun to be had there, I could see Ned trying to get off the Nautilus by seducing Nemo and failing spectacularly). Perhaps a film adaptation taking this approach instead of trying to write in a romantic interest could be amazing, maybe even on par with the Disney film.