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.