Sorry To Be A Pest, But Yes, It Matters: There Was And Is Nothing Wrong With Casting Charlton Heston As A Mexican D.A.

Quiz: which is obviously unethical? Casting a Scotch-English actor as a Mexican, or casting a Cuban-American as a Sicilian-American?

Pop Quiz: which is obviously unethical? Casting a Scotch-English actor as a Mexican, or casting a Cuban-American as a Sicilian-American?

I was watching Turner Movie Classics over the weekend, and guest Louis Gossett Jr, best known for playing the drill sergeant who makes An Officer And A Gentleman out of jerk Richard Gere, had chosen the Orson Welles cult film “Touch of Evil” for the evening’s viewing. Host Ben Mankiewicz noted that the film, which he agreed was a classic, now causes politically correct eyes—like his and Gossett’s— to roll because Charlton Heston had the role of a Mexican district attorney. Without saying why, both Ben and Lou tut-tutted and agreed that this would never be tolerated today, and the role would obviously be cast with someone like Antonio Bandaras. It was too obvious to decent viewers to explain, I guess.

We have gone over this issue before here, and more than once, but what was special and disturbing about this conversation was that it assumed a new cultural ethics standard as if everyone agrees with it; the previous standard, we now know in our wisdom, was wrong; and now it’s clear what is the right path going forward. This is how mass media, which is pervasive, powerful, and overwhelmingly controlled by none-too-bright and none-too-ethical knee-jerk leftists, accelerates the natural evolution of societal and cultural ethics. When the media sends a united message that an issue is decided, those of slug-like alertness and apathetic mind—and there are a lot of them— will simply absorb the edict without applying critical thought.

Oh…the right thing is to just let anyone who wants to come to this country jump the border. Got it. Oh…guns should be confiscated and banned by the government if it can save one life. Of course. Oh…the minimum wage should be a living wage. How true…

The fact that there is not and should not be cultural consensus on such conclusions because they make no sense logically or ethically will be buried  by sheer repetition and certitude, unless sufficient numbers of people who are paying attention and do not surrender to false authority protest loudly and repeatedly. In a previous post on this topic, I wrote…

“Through the fog of such distortions, the idea of rigid ethnic casting doesn’t seem so crazy, though it is crazy indeed. I regard it my duty as someone who has both professional expertise in ethics and casting to slap down this rotten and indefensible idea every time it raises its repulsive head.”

Thus I am keeping my promise. The principle that Ben and Lou are assuming our society accepts is nonsense. It is also bad ethics.

It would be equally reasonable were I to tell Gossett, ” Of course we all know today that “An Officer and  Gentleman” should have cast a real drill sergeant in the role that made you a star.” After all, that’s what Stanley Kubrick, a visionary, did when he cast R. Lee Ermey as the drill sergeant from Hell in “Full Metal Jacket.” Retired military personnel shouldn’t lose roles they can play without acting to non-veterans like Gossett, who never got closer to being in the Armed Services than watching “Combat” on TV when he was a kid. Why has no one ever complained that Andy Garcia, a Cuban-American, played a member of the Corleone family in “Godfather III,” while harping on the Scottish-English Heston’s turn as a Mexican is a cottage industry among movie critics? Does Anthony Quinn’s film performance as Pancho Villa pass the casting political correctness test because he was half Mexican? When does the percentage of ethnic authenticity get too low to allow an actor to get a role because he has the skills to pull it off? Is one drop of Mexican blood enough?

(Wait…where have I heard that logic before?)

Why does the assumption by  Gossett and Mankiewicz apply to a Scotch-English American (Heston) playing a Mexican, but not to a Mexican-American actor playing a Dane, in “Hamlet”? You know the answer if you’re honest. The new casting rules have nothing to do with fairness, art or cinema, and everything to do with quotas, affirmative action, and favored minority groups. Danish Actors Don’t Matter.

To quote the end of my last essay on this infuriating topic, with one new aside:

Rigid type-casting that would mean fewer roles for Hispanic actors, not more. I watched “The Guns of Navarone” last night; Anthony Quinn played a Greek, as he did more than once. He was superb. Should I be outraged that the part wasn’t cast with a Greek actor? After all, my great uncle, George Coulouris was alive then, and he was a famous Greek actor (though a bit old for Quinn’s part at the time). Of-Course-Not. What mattered is that Quinn, who was half-Mexican, played Greeks better than most Greeks. [ Addendum: Quinn later won his Oscar for playing “Zorba the Greek“]

There is no outrage, there is no bias, there is no lack of diversity. There is just a standard issue Social Justice Warrior bad idea, that if it is not slapped down every time it appears until it stays down, will lead to worse movies, rigid typecasting, and less range and opportunity for all actors, including Latins. Count on me to do my share of the slapping, but nothing is stopping you from joining in.

I wrote that in March. Based on what I just heard on TCM, not enough of you have been slapping. No, it’s not as important as the right to bear arms or controlling our borders, but bad cultural standards tend to have unanticipated ugly side-effects. With this one and others, don’t let repetition obliterate common sense.

40 thoughts on “Sorry To Be A Pest, But Yes, It Matters: There Was And Is Nothing Wrong With Casting Charlton Heston As A Mexican D.A.

  1. If the cultural purists are so adamant on this issue, why haven’t they condemned “Hamilton” for casting black actors in the roles of the founding fathers?

      • No but both Hollywood and theater have a very long history, 1000s of years actually, of casting actors in roles which do not match every detail of their real-life.

        Sort of like a Cuban-American as a Sicilian mafioso.

        • Jack, are you really saying that not casting a white actor for a minority role is “discriminating against white actors?”

          • How could you possibly think that’s what I wrote or think? Not casting any actor for a role he or she is capable of playing well, popularly, artistically or profitably because of the actor’s ethnicity or race is discrimination. Pretty simple.

            • “How could you possibly think that’s what I wrote or think? Not casting any actor for a role he or she is capable of playing well, popularly, artistically or profitably because of the actor’s ethnicity or race is discrimination.”

              So if a director believes a Hispanic actor would, by nature of his ethnicity, be a more authentic choice than a white actor, is that discrimination?

              • Of course not. Ethnicity is a feature like anything else. Height, weight, quality of voice, mannerisms, presence, physicality, lots more. It just isn’t a factor that trumps everything, as Ben implied. For example, if a director wants to cast Johnny Depp as Sweeney Todd because he likes working with Johnny Depp and thinks he is marvelous in everything, that’s a good enough reason to cast him as Sweeney Todd, even though he’s too small and can’t sing.

                • I precast an entire cast for a stage show (small cast). One of the actors asked me during our initial conversation if I saw his personal character as the same as lead character I was wanting to cast him in and my reply was emphatically, “No I don’t, but I know your skills and you will sell the role to any audience that is put in front of you and that is exactly what I need for this role.” He took the part; he was absolutely superb; my knowledge of his skills was right on target.

                  • I was once cast as Bob Ewell in ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’. I’d like to think that I am not the misogynistic, abusive and incestuous moron he was. I am, however, big and have a classic scowl.

                    • dragin_dragon said, “I was once cast as Bob Ewell in ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’. I’d like to think that I am not the misogynistic, abusive and incestuous moron he was.”

                      Okay, so you weren’t type cast in the role; that’s a good thing. 🙂

              • No and/or Maybe.

                Determining discrimination is purely based on evaluating how you REJECT particular people based on characteristics *unrelated* to the job at hand.

                If the white actor is rejected *because he is white* and for no other reason, that IS discrimination. If the white actor *ends up rejected* as a result of a director selecting another actor who’s “hispanicity” better suits him to the role, then I’d say, no, discrimination hasn’t occurred.

                Acting, certainly, creates a situation which is not wholly analogous to other industries. In a perfect world, a white guy and a hispanic guy, being completely EQUAL in all respects, we’ll even say they BOTH speak english and spanish equally fluently, hiring ought be a simple coin flip. But in acting, where a hispanic role might be the job, *physical appearance* then does become a job “skill”.

                But, as we know, there is no such thing as perfectly equal candidates, and the director must then OPTIMIZE the talents individual possible actors bring to the table.

                Juan Shlubnuckles may be the worst actor since Winona Ryder, but his “hispanicity” ought not trump Joe Thespian, a white guy who garners nothing but acting awards all day long, for a hispanic part.

                Optimization is key here. You are looking at this way too narrowly.

              • Chris said, “So if a director believes a Hispanic actor would, by nature of his ethnicity, be a more authentic choice than a white actor, is that discrimination?”

                I think that depends on who and how the character is written into the script and exactly who “auditions” for the part in question, what if the script calls for a stereotypical Hispanic for some particular reason; in general I think the answer to your question is no.

              • For the role of Pancho Villa, a distinctly darker skinned Mexican, would you prefer an excellent white actor, who happens to have enough melanin from some native american ancestry, that his tan passes him off as a more tanned Mexican, or would you insist on an excellent native-born Mexican actor, though he be of almost 100% Catalan (and therefore WHITE) ancestry who can’t tan and only burns to save his life?

                • “For the role of Pancho Villa, a distinctly darker skinned Mexican, would you prefer an excellent white actor, who happens to have enough melanin from some native american ancestry, that his tan passes him off as a more tanned Mexican, or would you insist on an excellent native-born Mexican actor, though he be of almost 100% Catalan (and therefore WHITE) ancestry who can’t tan and only burns to save his life?”

                  I think it would be unlikely that those would be my only two options; I’d hold out for an actor who was tan, Hispanic and talented.

                  Look, I’m not saying it’s *always* wrong to cast white actors as PoC. I’m saying that the *trend* is wrong. But since the trend is so obvious and so clearly discriminatory toward non-white actors, certain examples will draw more scrutiny.

                  Johnny Depp was brought up as unqualified for Sweeney Todd–I agree. Now let’s look at his role as Tonto, a character already pretty well steeped in Native American stereotypes. Having a white guy play that character was way too reminiscent of minstrel shows for my liking. I haven’t seen the new Pan, but casting Rooney Mara as Tiger Lilly–another character rooted in stereotypes–was also clearly a mistake. Then there was the live action Last Airbender, which took characters that were clearly Asian in the cartoon and made them all white.

                  This has a real world effect on minority actors and minority kids thinking of becoming actors. If a Native American sees no Native American actors, and sees that even Native American parts are played by white actors, that can be extremely discouraging. It sounds like cliche SJW speak, but representation actually DOES matter.

                  As for PoC playing white roles, that’s very unlikely to discourage white actors from seeking work, since there are plenty of roles for whites out there. No one saw “Hamilton” and thought a white guy would never get to play a founding father in anything again. There are already limited roles for PoC, to an extent that is not at all proportionate to their percentage of the population. It is materially different.

  2. Thank you Obama for implementing the “change” you promised and you and your supporters were so instrumental in spreading into the mindset of the common person across the USA; that change of course is race baiting and everything is about making anti-white racism politically correct.

    Obama and his supporters are well aware of the fact that words have consequences and once words are said, they cannot be unsaid.

  3. Actually “Touch of Evil” was a classic B movie: Probably the best ever made. It’s a shame that Gosset would stoop to this PC smirkyness. I can’t see that anybody has a problem with Hispanic women who played Geogia Belles and other parts during the golden age of cinema.

  4. Andy Garcia also played sharp-shooting George Stone/Giuseppi Petri in The Untouchables. The movie never actually said, but Sean Connery at one time called the Stone character a “wop”, so I’m guessing the character was Italian-American. ‘Course, Stone also called the Connery character an “Irish pig”. Not a nice thing to call a Scotsman.

  5. Audra McDonald was cast as Lizzy Curry in the revival of 110 In The Shade. McDonald is Black and the role of Lizzy one would expect White, but it didn’t make a damn bit of differance to the audience. Talent is talent.

  6. Jack said, “…cast R. Lee Ermey as the drill sergeant from Hell in “Full Metal Jacket.”

    Small but not insignificant side point to store back in the back forty of the memory; the Marines call them Drill Instructors and the Army calls them Drill Sergeants; however, they are all Sergeants – “usually” between E5’s and E7’s.

      • Yup; I’ve known a couple; that’s exactly why I stated and intentionally emphasized the word “usually”.

        “Usually” when you have a Drill qualified Corporals it’s because they are just short of their full time in grade (TIG) to receive their E5, it’s been my experience (Army) that it’s usually very short term as a Corporal. My son had a Corporal as a DI in San Diego MCRD for about 3 weeks before he was promoted to SGT.

        I got my Infantry School Instructor qualifications as a Corporal about 2 months before I had TIG for Sergeant.

        • The Corps started having a lot of Corporals as DI’s after we invaded Afghanistan, they wanted to utilize the combat experience of the Corporals, but I just read on line now that the Corps made it a requirement that you have the rank of Sgt to go to DI school or been selected for Sgt and will be promoted before you graduate.

  7. Political correctness aside, Ben Mankiewicz lost a lot of credibility with me when TCM recently showed “The Virginian,” and Mankiewicz referred (three times) to the author of the original book as Owen “Wistler” rather than his true name Wister. It was one of those “Even I knew that!” moments. Not a hard fact to get right if you have any respect for the material you are presenting and about which you are alluding to posses some expertise.

  8. Simple solution. Write into the contracts that the actor will identify as the race/gender/religion/hair color/height/food preferences of the character for the duration of the film. That way, they’ll have a documentable paper trail proving that they were the important race at the time of performance. Nothing else to complain about.

  9. The funny thing is that Gossett’s role in An Officer and A Gentleman was written as a white redneck good ol boy but he nailed the audition and got the part. If they had stuck to their preconceived notions of what the character was instead of seeing what Gossett brought to it he would have never played the role.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.