I was hoping I wouldn’t need to write about this topic, but I feel like it’s better to make a post about it instead of just reacting to people’s questions and opinions. Still, it’s too bad this is even an issue.
The lead actor in Ellie is the wonderfully talented Sebastian Labissiere. Here is a film still from Ellie with Sebastian, and here is a photo from the private cast & crew screening with Sebastian and I embracing after not seeing each other since the Ellie shoot in August (I’ve missed this kid a lot).
Sebastian is African American. Why would this be a topic of discussion?
As I’ve written in previous blog posts, Ellie started out in 2014 as a project at Prodigy Camp. I wrote the screenplay under the mentorship of John Jacobsen, and I attempted to film Ellie during my one week stay at Prodigy Camp. We shot some of the scenes, but the production was too complex to finish at Prodigy Camp during the allotted three hour window, and so I shelved the project for six months before picking it up again last spring to do here in Ottawa.
In the 2014 Prodigy Camp version of Ellie, Nathan Gamble was cast in the lead role. Here is a still of Nathan from the original version of Ellie. The framing is reversed, but it’s the same moment in the film as the photo with Sebastian above.
When it came time to cast Ellie last year, I decided to make it an ACTRA union production with the incredible help of casting director Ilona Smyth.
In my early discussions with Ilona, I made it clear I had no racial requirements for the casting. I only wanted the best actor for the roles, period. After the first round of auditions for the lead role, I was left with a choice between two very talented actors: Sebastian, and a caucasian actor.
Before choosing Sebastian I realized there was a possibility the colour of his skin might cause people to interpret the story of Ellie differently or feel uncomfortable with some parts of the film. However, I felt strongly that Sebastian was the right actor for the role, and not giving him the role because of skin colour would be very wrong. I will not judge or make decisions based on race.
I know that film is art, and people get to choose how they interpret art. But I want to make it clear: as the screenwriter and director of Ellie, my intention was to tell the story of Ellie in the best way I could with the best actors, and nothing more. I feel I’ve done that.