Why James Dean's Posthumous Casting is Not Worth the Outrage [OPINION]

A few angry Hollywood voices spoke out against Magic City Films. The studio cast the late James Dean in the Vietnam War drama Finding Jack and they plan to recreate the 24-year old actor, who died in 1955, through CGI. Critics took to social media to express their outrage.

James Dean Resurrected Through CGI in Vietnam War Drama
Warner Bros.

Starts with James Dean, Who's Next?

Knives Out star Chris Evans compared the ramifications of restoring the dead across other media when he facetiously evoked Pablo Picasso (d. 1973) and John Lennon (d. 1980) as part of the slippery slope.

Actor Elijah Wood agreed, "NOPE. This shouldn't be a thing."

Zelda Williams, daughter of actor Robin Williams (d. 2014), chastised the exploitative nature of using the dead.

Adapted by Maria Sova from the Gareth Crocker, directors Anton Ernst and Tati Golykh obtained the permission of the Dean family to use his likeness. Dean plays Rogan, a supporting role. Ernst spoke to The Hollywood Reporter about their search.

"[We] searched high and low for the perfect character to portray the role of Rogan."

Ernst added only Dean could capture the "extreme complex character arcs." A soundalike provides the voice. Michelle Buchman, who runs social media for Star Wars, referenced an annual James Dean Festival.


Recreating Peter Cushing in Rogue One

Speaking of Star Wars, director Gareth Edwards made the conscious decision using CGI to recreate Peter Cushing in Rogue One (2016). Since Cushing died in 1994, Lucasfilm obtained permission from his estate to use his likeness. The film served as a prequel to 1977's A New Hope. Cushing played Grand Moff Tarken.

How soon they forget. Julie Ann Emery (Preacher) tweeted how the digital actor will be credited.

IMDB credits Guy Henry as Tarkin in Rogue One. His physical presence provided the basis for Cushing. Magic City Films likely takes a similar approach. George Lucas recast Tarkin in 2005's Revenge of the Sith. Wayne Pygram had a non-speaking role during the film's final scene.

A Long-Time Practice

This is not the first time companies used deceased actors for commercial purposes. Gene Kelly (d. 1996) and Audrey Hepburn (d. 1993) helped sell for Volkswagen and Gap, respectively. Some placed contemporary celebrities with the past. For example, Elton John appeared in a 1991 Diet Coke commercial with silver screen legends Humphrey Bogart (d. 1957) and James Cagney (d. 1986), and musician Louis Armstrong (d. 1971). Bogart followed with a posthumous starring role on television. As the main character in the season six finale of the horror anthology, Tales from the Crypt in 1995 in "You, Murderer", he played a dead man narrating to the audience his story. Costarring are  John Lithgow and Isabella Rosselini.


Another Coca-Cola commercial featured musician Paula Abdul with Cary Grant (d. 1986), Groucho Marx (d. 1935), and Kelly.

Where was the outrage then? What was their reasoning? Because those companies not find lookalikes either? One can excuse social media not being around in the '90s. With Rogue One's release, a stink was hardly raised for Cushing's 2016 "reappearance." And the technology existed for some time. Advancements improved over the years, but it's far from being abused. Because permission was obtained through proper channels, the aforementioned companies were within their rights.

The practice of using dead celebrities for commercial purposes is nothing new. If there was a rise of use, then the detractors have a case. So far, nobody is abusing the technology. So don't worry. No dead celebrities will take living ones' jobs.

About Tom Chang

I'm a follower of pop culture from gaming, comics, sci-fi, fantasy, film, and TV for over 30 years. I grew up reading magazines like Starlog, Mad, and Fangora. As a professional writer for over 10 years, Star Wars was the first sci-fi franchise I fell in love with. I'm a nerd-of-all-trades.

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