The New “Ben-Hur” And The Casting Ethics Double Standard

Thank-you, O producers of the new “Ben-Hur,” for so quickly after my post ridiculing the new politically correct casting ethics in Hollywood—according to Turner Movie Classics, it’s just soooo wrong to cast an Anglo Saxon like Charlton Heston as a Mexican, for example—-coming out with the official trailer proving that the new, enlightened casting ethics really only applies when it means it takes jobs away from white actors. Okay, just American white actors. Or something….actually, this casting ethics rules are  kind of made up as things shake out.

Which was what I thought all along.

In the 1959 Ben-Hur (starring, ironically, White Guy Charlton Heston as Judah Ben-Hur ), the plum part of Shiek Iderim was played by brilliant Welsh character actor Hugh Griffith, whose performance rightly won him an Academy Award. Yes, he wore dark make-up, because actors wear make-up. Ah, but these are enlightened days, and now we know, because it has been decreed by Ben Mankiewicz and the rest of the heralds of politically correct casting, that the casting of a master comic actor of unique gifts who was an audience favorite to play the sheik was insensitive and essentially racist, not to mention unfair to all of those unemployed but equally adept Arab actors qualified to play the part. So who plays the sheik in the new, improved, enlightened “Ben-Hur’?

Morgan Freeman.

Who looks as much like an Arab as Bruce Lee.

How strange it is that I haven’t heard a peep about this from the critics like Mankiewicz, and those who decry “whitewashing” in casting, which is when a white or sort-of-white actor is cast to play a character of an ethnicity where the people tend to be darker, and no matter how good a job that actor does, it is a crime against diversity and fairness. Well, it’s not strange, because the rules of political correctness indignation are hypocritical and indecipherable, and their enforcers make them the hell up as they go along.

As I noted in my latest post of many on this topic, nobody squawked when Andy Garcia, a Cuban-American, played a member of the Corleone family in “Godfather III” (though to be fair, maybe they were too busy squawking about the rest of the movie). What are these “rules”? A Hispanic-American can play an Italian American, but an Anglo-American can’t play a Mexican—okay, I’ve got that. Actually, I don’t, since the rule apparently includes these special, custom-made provisions:

(a) A famous African American actor who never plays anything but black men (well, and God) can play an Arab, no matter how many under-employed Semitic actors there are who are equally qualified by skills and far, far more appropriate in appearance, and

(b) Morgan Freeman is appropriately cast as anything—blacks, whites, deities, Arabs, women, children, farm animals or lawn ornaments.

“Now, now, Jack, ” Ben would explain, if he read Ethics Alarms and wasn’t too busy watching old Jack Carson comedies and Betty Hutton musicals at TCM, “African-American actors have traditionally been underutilized in Hollywood, so this is in the special casting category of “non-traditional casting,” which is like affirmative action. ”

Thanks, Ben…now I under..WHAT? This is Morgan Freeman, not some unknown, undiscovered, underemployed black genius! Morgan Freeman is 79 years old (too old for the shiek, too), and had been working regularly in film and TV 1980. “Ben-Hur” will be his fifth film in 2016 alone. He is also richer than the sheik. How exactly does casting him accomplish affirmative action? If that’s the idea, and younger, talented Arab actors don’t qualify (and where would you find younger, talented Jewish actors in Hollywood?), why didn’t one of those underemployed black actors get te role, if the production was so determined to cast someone who was manifestly unbelievable as an Arab?

“Now, now, Jack, ” Ben would say again, patiently, putting his arm around my shoulders. “This is Hollywood! Movies have to attract audiences. Morgan is a star.” Of course, Ben…what’s wrong with me? That makes perfect—wait, that was the reason they cast Charlton Heston as a Mexican district attorney!

By the way, the actor who plays Jesus in the new “Ben-Hur” is Rodrigo Santoro, who is Brazilian.

Just shut up, Ben. I don’t want to hear about “whitewashing” any more. Just cast actors who can do a good job with the roles they play, with or without make-up. You and the champions of politically correct casting make no sense, have no integrity, and are just plain silly. I am no longer taking you seriously, unless you and everyone else complains at least as much about an African-American playing an Arab in “Ben-Hur” as they did about an African-American playing a not-quite-as-dark African American in the Nina Simone biopic.

As for the Morgan, I hope he shines, because I like Morgan, thoughg he’s pretty much the same in every role, and if he’s half as much fun to watch as Hugh Griffith, I’ll eat my foot.

I also hope the 2016 “Ben-Hur” is good, though based on the trailer, I’m afraid it will be one more movie where my brain keeps whispering “CGI, CGI” all the way through. One of the things that makes the 1959 version’s immortal chariot race so thrilling every time I watch it is that those were real chariots and real horses, and the stunts were done by real human beings who risked their necks in the process. (Is there a more thrilling moment in any movie than when Charlton’s magnificent team of four white horses leap over a wrecked chariot, pulling his chariot, airborne, over the obstacle?) Computer wizardry just isn’t as convincing, at least not yet.

Here’s that moment from  chariot race from the 1959 “Ben-Hur”:

 

Hmmm. When they can create a realistic digital Arab to play Shiek Iderim in the next re-make of “Ben-Hur,” should they?

80 thoughts on “The New “Ben-Hur” And The Casting Ethics Double Standard

  1. Just two quick things:

    1. There are plenty of black Arabs around, including in the Saudi royal family, so I’m not sure about the nature of this complaint in this post.

    2. Zoe Saldana, as she herself has taken great care to distinguish, is not African-American, but Latina, specifically Dominican. Just a small correction.

    • They are dark skinned Arabs. They are not blacks, or members of the Negro race. Just ask them. This is the stupid, and it is stupid, “Cleopatra was black” nonsense. I don’t suddenly become an African-American if I get a deep tan, and let me tell you, as a Greek, I can tan about as dark as Morgan Freeman. Race isn’t just a construct, it has a biological basis.Sure, there are black Arabs, but the character was described by author Lew Wallace in his 19th century novel, and he was a stereotypical Arab Sheik.

      Either ethnicity and race matters most in casting, or it doesn’t. It can’t matter and not matter, according to whose political agenda you are supporting. When I see Morgan Freeman in dreadlocks, I don’t think, “Wow, there’s a sheik!” I think, “Wow, it’s Morgan Freeman taking a paycheck away from someone who would be a more believable choice, but what the hell, he’s usually good, so its the director’s call.”

      And not, “He’s black, so it’s all good!”

      • They are dark skinned Arabs. They are not blacks, or members of the Negro race. Just ask them. This is the stupid, and it is stupid, “Cleopatra was black” nonsense. I don’t suddenly become an African-American if I get a deep tan, and let me tell you, as a Greek, I can tan about as dark as Morgan Freeman. Race isn’t just a construct, it has a biological basis.Sure, there are black Arabs, but the character was described by author Lew Wallace in his 19th century novel, and he was a stereotypical Arab Sheik.

        “Negro race”?!! …ok.

        They are black, as in of African descent. Google Afro-Iraqis, of Afro-Saudis, or any other nationality in the Arab peninsula. They are black, and have been there for thousands of years. We aren’t talking about “swarthy”, we are talking about black, as in of noticeable African descent. The casting of Morgan Freeman is only unbelievable to you because apparently, you are unaware of the large population of black Arabs, which is a problem in and of itself, and hopefully one that casting Morgan Freeman can correct. Representation matters.

        If you ask many dark-skinned, coily-headed Dominicans, Cubans, Brazilians, or Colombians whether they are black, though they would certainly be considered so here in America, they would tell you that they are not black. The American classification of race is far from universal.

        • “Negro race”?!! …ok.

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Negroid

          Clumsy phrasing, perhaps… But are we admitting then that the argument is semantic and not substantive?

          As to the substance…

          First off: I think this is the first step of something I’m going to call “focus creep”. Once the main grievances of interest groups get recognised, even if not addressed, the group (and people who deign to speak on it’s behalf) will tend to add more disparate and progressively sillier grievances to the repertoire. When Ben was talking about how a Mexican DA couldn’t be played by a Scotch English man, I have exceptional doubts that he would have been placated by a “White Hispanic”. No, let’s be honest, he was looking for someone like Cheech Marin, and you know it.

          Second… You have to decide whether you care about racial casting or not, and then be consistent. This knee-jerk progressive support is Pavlovian, and it’s dragging you down. We can’t address racism by institutionalising it.

      • Jack,
        The Negro race? Really? That was the best you could do?

        The idea that race is biological has SOME basis, but there are any number of biologists who would nonetheless argue that the term as it’s presently used is an aberration.

  2. Morgan Freeman played Robin Hood’s Saracen buddy in ‘Prince of Thieves’. ‘Course, that also starred Kevin Costner as Robin Hood.

    Cut your heart out with a spoon…seriously? Alan Rickman’s line not MF’s

    • He also played Red in The Shawshank Redemption, where the character was changed from an Irish red-head in the book…to Morgan Freeman.

      • deery:
        That’s a slightly different issue. The race and physical appearance of characters is regularly changed when adapting books to film. Morgan Freeman wasn’t playing an Irishman; he played a black man whose character was based on an Irishman.

        I do not suggest this changes any of Jack’s points, but for the sake of being precise, there it is.

          • And no one really cared, because it was Morgan Freeman and he’s awesome in everything he does, the character wasn’t well known, so no one really knew about the switch, and back in 1994 we didn’t have all this racial lunacy dividing us.

            But could you imagine the reverse happening? A franchise that isn’t mainstream, an actor who is awesome, but a minority role going to a white person. Oh wait, that happened. Ghost in Shell’s Asian lead is going to be played by Scarlett Johansson. And Oh The Humanity! This shit that’s been raised. Just wait until the trailer comes out.

            • Or Angelina Jolie in A Mighty Heart. Or Tilda Swinson in Dr. Strange. Or all the white actors switched in for the Asian good guy roles in The Last Airbender (the bad guy roles they left Asian). It literally happens all the time the other way around.

              • What are you even talking about? Tilda Swinson is playing the role of an old white man, Aang was played by Noah Ringer (who is Asian American), and Zuko was played by Dev Patel (who is not the kind of Asian Zuko was). I’m sure there are examples to come by, but could you actually take the time to find them?

                • Before Marvel dropped the first teaser trailer for Doctor Strange, the film was praised not only for the casting of Benedict Cumberbatch as the titular neurosurgeon, but also for the re-characterization of the Ancient One, the powerful sorcerer who takes the superhero under his wing to teach him the mystic arts.

                  In fact, that male character would be played by a woman — Tilda Swinton.

                  However, the Ancient One is originally a Tibetan-born male and appears to be another instance of Hollywood’s cultural appropriation of Asian characters.

                  http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/heat-vision/doctor-strange-asian-whitewashing-controversy-886762

                  • What the hell is “cultural appropriation” of Asian Characters? The Ancient One was created by Marvel Comics writers, and is thus a United States character. Is Superman a “Krytonian character”? What nonsense.

                    • I think cultural appropriation was the wrong word there, and is a term that is often misused; what it is is an example of whitewashing.

                    • I object to turning ethnic characters into white characters. I wrote about that in the post about “The Impossible.” That is distinct from casting Peter Sellers as a Charlie Chan parody in “Murder By Death” because he was the greatest comic actor alive.

                    • I’m not sure that is meant to be a refutation. Google images of the Ancient One as drawn in the comics. Given the way that he’s drawn, and his Tibetan heritage, I think someone would have a very hard time arguing that the character is not supposed to be Asian. I guess that doesn’t stop someone from trying. *shrugs*

                    • In addition to being completely wrong about the Ancient One, Humble Talent, you’re also completely wrong about Noah Ringer, who is not Asian American, though I can see why he could be mistaken as such.

                      You’ve been completely, factually wrong about issues regarding comic book characters and ethnicity before, such as in this thread:

                      https://ethicsalarms.com/2016/02/01/a-law-student-creates-a-dishonest-list-called-100-times-a-white-actor-played-someone-who-wasnt-white-and-begins-another-list-called-times-the-washington-post-published-a-race-baiting-pi/

                      Which is fine, but what’s not fine is the sneering tone of condescension and arrogance you use, such as telling Deery he should have taken the time to research “real” examples, when It was you who didn’t take the time to see if you were correct.

                    • It’s GREAT that you brought that old conversation up! I recommend everyone read it back, because aside from Morales (which I’ll admit now that I’ve caught up I was off base on) everything I said stands up. Especially:

                      “In online discussions with people I have the feeling aren’t going to change their mind, I like to flex my ideas a little, and most importantly, do it assuming an audience… Using that person as my Watson, at the risk of them using me as theirs. At this point… I’m just about done. I feel that anyone who happens across this series of posts can read them and make up their minds for themselves.”

                      Please, everyone go read what we wrote. I stand by everything except the “killing” of Peter Parker.

                      In the meantime, I thought Ringer was Asian because he looks Asian, and that was a bad assumption, he’s apparently part American Aboriginal. Does that make this better or worse? Do natives make the bar for the kind of affirmative action that allows a back person to play an Arab to cheers? I can’t keep track of these rules.

                      And as for the ancient one…. From Tibet, 500 years old… But he looks like Charles Xavier with a spoony beard. I always assumed he was white because he looks white, and I can’t actually find a resource that says he isn’t. Maybe that’s because Marvel put less stock in race than people like you. I could be wrong, but it’s a bad… bad example.

                    • Humble Talent, the entire thrust of your argument was wrong, characterized by lines such as this:

                      “But why does that require replacing white role-models and icons with minority ones?”

                      And this:

                      “And does simply coloring a white person black really accomplish what you set out to do”

                      If you actually read Marvel comics (you know, which you criticized SJWs for not doing), you’d know that no one has been “replaced.” There is currently both a black Captain America and traditionally white Steve Rogers Cap; a black/Hispanic Spider-Man and traditionally white Peter Parker Spider-Man; a female Thor and traditionally male Thor; and an Arab Muslim Ms. Marvel and traditionally white Carol Danvers as Captain Marvel (in which she has been more popular and well received than she ever was before). There will soon be a black female Iron Man alongside a white male Iron Man (this time, Victor Von Doom; not sure what’s happening to Tony Stark yet, but it would be naive to assume either of these are permanent replacements.)

                      Your rhetoric about “replacement” was simply uninformed fear-mongering, and echoes uglier and more disturbing talk among some that the white race is going to be “replaced” by minorities in society. It’s zero-sum thinking, it’s divisive, and it’s a complete misrepresentation of what Marvel has actually been doing. No one is being “replaced.” Amazingly, we can have white male icons AND minority and female icons.

                      The notion that the new characters are simply “white characters colored black” is equally ignorant and offensive. Each of the characters I described (with the possible exception of the black female Iron Man, since I don’t know her very well yet) is unique and very different from the original in a lot more than skin tone.

                      You said multiple times in that conversation that you had a problem with SJWs who complained about comic books without reading them or knowing anything about them. Yet your own comments revealed that you yourself were guilty of exactly that.

                      Why is it wrong for SJWs who may not be totally informed on comics to complain about them, while it is *not* wrong for you–someone who is *at least* as uninformed about comics as your average SJW–to do the same?

                    • You have this awful habit of attributing the argument of the other person. I have a hard time talking to you because I feel like you aren’t engaging with me, you’re engaging with a caricature you very much want me to be.

                      The Morales thing is a great example. I didn’t bring him up. There are 15,000 Marvel comics in print, nevermind DC or the hundreds of other publishers. I haven’t read them all. When you brought him up, I did some cursory Google searches and tried to engage. I got a fact pattern wrong.

                      That fact pattern was inconsequential to the rest of the conversation, which is why it’s so interesting you’re hanging on to it for dear life. It’s like you think you can say “Well, nothing he says is true because he was wrong once.” and walk away happy. Well… If that’s how you think, go hard. I still think the average person reading these will understand what’s gone on.

                    • I can’t even parse what that response is supposed to mean, HT; you’re still talking about the Morales thing as if that’s the only thing you got wrong, when I just showed you that the entire thrust of your argument–“SJWs are ruining comics, which they don’t even read, by calling for diversity”–was not only wrong, but hypocritical given that you were more ignorant of comics than they are.

                      I’m responding to your actual arguments, not a “caricature;” you’re the one making things up, like saying I am “hanging on to [the Morales] argument for dear life” when I barely mentioned him, along with several other examples of why you were wrong about diversity in comics, in my last comment.

                      My argument is not “you were wrong once, so you’ll always be wrong,” it’s that you come across as rude, arrogant and a know-it-all while at the same time being wrong. You call other people uninformed while at the same time revealing you don’t know what you’re talking about. Stop doing that.

              • Airbender was a really weird case; the Fire Nation was originally the light-skinned Imperial-Japan/Tang-China analog faction of the bunch, and then Shymalan decided to turn them Indian (with one theory being that he thought they were the cool faction, despite being the baddies, and wanted Indian representation there).

            • It would be a slightly amusing (if maybe not wholly in-character) casting gag to change Makoto’s actress/race for each new live-action version of Ghost in the Shell, because, well, she is a goddamn cyborg.

  3. Even though I agree that the portrayal of some of his characters are usually quite similar, almost character type casting, I love Morgan Freeman in many of the roles he’s played. At least they didn’t cast Nicholas Cage in the role who, in my opinion, is nothing more and nothing less than Nicholas Cage in every role he plays.

    Yes Hollywood has a hypocrisy and pandering problem and your argument is reasonably sound; however, I think you might be blowing this casting decision a “little” out of proportion.

    Jack said, “Just cast actors who can do a good job with the roles they play, with or without make-up.”

    I agree 100%! Since you and I weren’t a fly on the wall during the casting discussions, we don’t know what happened; what you said above might be exactly what they did.

    • Read the post again. I have no problem at all with casting Morgan. I have a problem with casting him if you citicize Orsson Welles for casting Charlton heston as a Mexican, and a problem with someone giving Freeman a pass when they call casting Eli Wallach as a Mexican in “The Magnificent 7” “whitewashing.”

      In case you couldn’t tell, casting political correctness really pisses me off.

      • Oops, I’ll obviously got something that wasn’t there. Sorry.

        Jack Marshall said, “In case you couldn’t tell, casting political correctness really pisses me off.”

        Yup that point has been quite clear and I agree with it 100%.

      • I agree with you mostly about casting by race, if its ok to ignore it to ignore it to cast Morgan its ok to ignore it to cast Heston, but I want to point out that Welles didn’t cast Heston. Welles was already involved as an actor when the studio approached Heston about being in it, he saw that Welles was involved and thought Welles was directing so he signed on.

  4. This is not about taking roles away from white actors, this is about an actor getting the Sean Connery pass, which Freeman richly deserves.

    Need a British James Bond? Call Sean Connery — he does a great Scottish accent! Need a Russian? (He’s played a Russian more than once.) Need an American? How about an Irish coal miner? How about a classic Robin Hood? King Richard? An Arab diplomat? A futuristic space cop? (Scotland has an AMAZING space program.) Sean Connery is definitely your guy. Of course, he will be Scottish in all these roles — but you won’t care, because yay, Sean Connery!

    People see movies with Morgan Freeman in them because we love Morgan Freeman, even if he isn’t ideal for the role.

    In any event, I have to admit that I am confused by your post. There are plenty of black Arabs.

    • There are plenty of light Mexicans. See, you don’t understand either.

      Your argument, of course, is pure rationalization, and could be made in favor of literally anyone, including Charlton Heston. It definitely could be used for many of the entries on the “whitewashing” list, including the one which was a terrible idea even when it was done, the casting of all-American John Wayne as Genghis Khan.

      And anyone who loves a miscast actor in a role is an idiot, just like anyone who objects to an actor who gives a good performance but isn’t the “right” ethnicity.

      • Sean Connery made a GREAT Russian submarine commander, even though he kept his Scottish accent.

        Sometimes casting decisions are made as to who will draw the biggest audience. So, if you’re looking for pure “artistry” then I agree with your statement about miscast actors. If you’re looking at this as a business decision, then you should cast Freeman and Connery in everything.

        • It’s not about whether Sean Connery is great or not, it’s not about Morgan Freeman being great or not… I have every faith that Morgan Freeman will be the best thing about Ben-Hur 2017, it’s about ideological consistency.

          IF you were one of the people who said the race of the actor was more important than their ability. IF you for instance called out a Mexican DA played by an English actor, then you SHOULD, ideologically, have a problem with this.

          And if you did, but you don’t, you’re a hypocrite.

          • Thanks. I don’t understand why you have to explain this.

            And, frankly, I even think THIS post is about something that will help elect Trump. Political correctness has floating rules, and is a means for progressives to intimidate, control conduct and speech, and enforce social standards they don’t have to abide by.

          • Humble Talent, you act as if racial politics are totally simple and not at all complex. There are valid reasons to be upset by the trend of white actors being cast as PoC, but not by minorities being cast as other minorities. There are also valid reasons to be OK with both of these things in some situations and not others. These reasons have been explained to you. Ignoring these and yelling “double standard!” and “hypocrite!” is not a convincing rebuttal, and makes it look like you won’t listen when an issue is more complex than you would like it to be.

            • I agree, Chris, but we’re not talking about politics, we’re talking about standards, and people being vilified or called insensitive or biased according to a set of floating standards. Phillip Zimbardo’s excellent “laws” to prevent cultural corruption inclde this, as the one of the last items:

              Rules are abstractions for controlling behavior and eliciting compliance and conformity – challenge them when necessary: ask, who made the rule? What purpose does it serve? Who maintains it? Does it make sense in this specific situation? What happens if you violate it? Insist that the rule be made explicit, so it cannot be modified and altered over time to suit the influence agent.

              “Insist that the rule be made explicit, so it cannot be modified and altered over time to suit the influence agent.” “It’s complex” is a rationalization (in many cases) to avoid having to do this. I cannot tolerate a “standard” that applies to Charlton Heston and Johnny Depp but not Sean Connery or Morgan Freeman because, well, you know. And nobody should.

              • I’m not for people being “vilified” for casting white people as PoC either. I don’t really see the big deal about calling them insensitive or biased, though; isn’t everyone at some point or another?

                “I cannot tolerate a “standard” that applies to Charlton Heston and Johnny Depp but not Sean Connery or Morgan Freeman because, well, you know.”

                What standard are you referring to? If you’re saying the standard is “no one should ever be cast as someone of a different race,” sure, that’s a ridiculous standard. But I don’t think anyone actually believes in that standard, and objecting to, say, the prevalence of white guys playing Arabs and Native Americans doesn’t require one to believe in that standard.

                • Chris, that was exactly the standard TMC was promoting in the discussion with Lou Gossett, and it was talked about in a “of course, now nobody would ever think of doing that” manner, which was I found objectionable, like it was obvious and undisputed.

                    • There’s nothing *necessarily* wrong with that, but it *can be* wrong when taken in the context with the history of whitewashing parts written as minorities, and when done in an incredibly tone-deaf way, such as casting Johnny Depp as Tonto.

      • Are we talking about ethnicity, or the (American) idea of race in roles?

        Because usually we don’t have a problem cross-casting by ethnicity. Cate Blanchett, English actress, can play a Russian, an American, or an Australian, and no one blinks an eye. Catherine Zeta-Jones, Welsh, can play Spanish. LeVar Burton, African-American, can play Gambian. Idris Elba, British, has played African-American and Ghanian roles. Gina Torres, Cuban-American, often plays African-American roles. No one seems to really care all that much about cross-ethnic casting.

        Cross-racial casting seems to be a thornier problem. Many people have a problem with Mickey Rourke’s portrayal of an Asian man. Or Tilda Swinson’s casting in Dr. Strange. Idris Elba’s casting in Thor. And of course the long history of blackface in Hollywood. We have discussed in previous posts about the evolution of Latinx in America from being a ethnic category to a racial one. Since that it is complicated, it is a little involved and tangential to get into in this post.

        Morgan Freeman’s casting seems to be a clear case of cross-ethnic casting, which most don’t care or protest about. There are plenty of black Arabs. He looks about as Arab as millions of other people of Arabic descent in the region. I don’t see the hypocrisy in this particular case.

      • In the original script Hestons character was a white district attorney and it was set in a small California town. Welles switched both to being Mexican.

  5. Frankly, I don’t care if they cast Morgan Freeman as an Arab Shiek as I probably won’t see the movie anyway: Why remake a classic? Hollywood usually messes these things up anyway. I did have a chance to meet Heston once at a talk/book signing at UCLA. He was a gracious man and quite friendly with the folks that came to see him.

      • I stand corrected. I’m sure there must have been a Ben-Hur silent film made by C D Mille or some other director. The problem is that only a few film geeks would care about the older film.

        • Actually, the silent version ( 1925) it is a bona fide classic starring Francis X Bushman and Ramon Navarro. It is black and white, but just as spectacular as the Wyler version, and Wyler copied the silent version shot for shot in some places. It was the most expensive silent movie ever made.

          The reason for the first remake was the same as the reason for the latest one: new technology. Then it was wide screen, sound and color, now it’s digital technology and 3-D.

          Wikipedia says that among the extras in the chariot race were…

          Reginald Barker
          John Barrymore
          Lionel Barrymore
          Clarence Brown
          Joan Crawford
          Marion Davies
          Douglas Fairbanks
          George Fitzmaurice
          Sidney Franklin
          John Gilbert
          Dorothy Gish
          Lillian Gish
          Samuel Goldwyn
          Sid Grauman
          Rupert Julian
          Henry King
          Harold Lloyd
          Colleen Moore
          Mary Pickford

          Look at this!

          • Well, I must admit it’s interesting. However, film making has came a long ways and Charton Heston will always be Ben-Hur for me.

            • Absolute agreement. I was born 20 years too late for the silent version, so Charlton Heston is my Ben-Hur. Here’s an interesting bit of historical trivia for you. Lew Wallace wrote Ben-Hur while he was commanding a cavalry post which bought the horses that the Lincoln County wars were fought over, and which hurled Billy The Kid into national prominence.

        • He is mine too, Heston is an amazing actor and the people who put him down only do so because of his politics.

          They made a version in 1907, 1925, 1959, 2003 (Animated with Heston doing the voice work as Ben Hur.) , 2010 (A Miniseries.) and now two different versions coming out this year. lol

          • He had the John Wayne problem. He was such a strong personality and had such movie star presence that people ignored that fact that he was always believable in his roles, always took the screen, always was interesting and right. Jack Huston, the new Ben-Hur, seems so insubstantial by comparison, no matter how good an actor he may be.

            • All true and that he was such a good actor that it didn’t look like he was doing anything so he must not be acting.

              • Luckily, he made a couple of classics that ensure that he will be remembered. If you don’t, no matter how great you were, within a few decades nobody remembers. Drives me nuts. Most of the greats managed one movie that will last, but not all. Cary Grant, Bette Davis, Irene Dunne, Paul Muni, Bob Hope, David Niven…even actors like Burt Lancaster and Anthony Quinn: what movies of theirs are commonly run now? At least Kirk Douglas has “Spartacus.”

                Heston and especially the Duke get the last laughs by that measure.

  6. There are no “rules,” Jack, and you’re overthinking this. There is a general principle that casting should be more diverse, and it’s good to adhere to as a general principle, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen even the most rabid SJW say there shouldn’t be exceptions, or that every single example of someone being cast as a different race than what they are is racist.

    I’d prefer they cast Arab actors to play Arabs as much as possible, so the Morgan Freeman casting does puzzle me. Who’s the rest of the cast? If it’s mostly whites, that would bother me, because that’s part of a huge trend of casting whites as Arabs; if the casting directors at least tried to cast a couple Arab actors in main roles, but also cast whites and blacks, then that’s progress, and I wouldn’t complain.

    The problem is not any one particular movie that casts white actors as Arabs, but you always make it out to sound like we think each individual movie is the problem. The *trend* is the problem. If there were more movies which cast Arabic actors as Arabs, I doubt people would complain when whites were occasionally cast as Arabic; but as it stands now, there is a huge imbalance of whites getting cast as Arabs while qualified Arabic actors get passed over. Pointing this out isn’t asking for affirmative action, it’s simply addressing *existing racism.*

    I’m also curious as to your scientific basis that race is not just a social construct. What scientists or works are you basing this conclusion on?

    • When there are no guidelines, principles or rules, then you get exactly this: people manipulating situations for political advantage. “It’s wrong when I say so.” The result is that people are more fearful and less creative, not less, and there is no equity. Special rules for privileged, popular or powerful individuals

      • But I said there *is* a principle, or guideline, if you will. There are no “rules” when it comes to casting, and there shouldn’t be, but there should be a general guideline of “let’s try and cast diverse people for diverse roles, instead of making Biblical times look like an Abercrombie and Fitch ad.”

        “It’s wrong when I say so” is just an opinion; where is your evidence that this has led to less creativity? When has a property been worse because it caved to demands for more diversity and less white-washing?

        Right now, “special rules for the privileged” means white actors get cast as anything, while minority actors (with notable exceptions like Freeman or Will Smith) are often passed over for white actors. This problem doesn’t concern you, because it’s the status quo and you think it’s normal, but when people start calling for more diversity you see that as the problem.

    • The problem here to your last question is “what the hell do we even mean when we say ‘race?'” There are definitely genetic differences between populations of different geographical origins thanks to the phenomena of reproductive isolation, enough that we’ve been able to use genetic evidence to back the linguistic evidence that the Roma of Europe have some relatively recent South Asian ancestry, take a reasonably educated guess that the modern Turks are largely descended from people who were living in and around Anatolia *before* the arrival of the original Central Asian Turks, and have even given us some insight about the patterns of prehistoric migration to Europe and the ethnogenesis of the Han Chinese. Of course, these genetic differences can’t necessarily be categorized the same way as races are in the popular imagination; heck, there seems to be more genetic diversity between various sub-Saharan African populations than between the region and the rest of the world (which makes sense considering it was a relatively small subset of Africans who left).

      The real sticking point, really, is that people worry that the public will take these genetic differences as meaning more than they probably do. On a personal level, I sometimes find myself leaning towards using the term “population” instead for genetic purposes, the scope of which can be increased or decreased depending on the scale of whatever is being studied.

  7. I have a related question.

    Victor Williams played Deacon Palmer on “King of Queens”. I perceive that he hasn’t had a major (or long-term continuing) role in anything else since. Is this because he is perceived as being “too white” to play a black man?

  8. Re the trailer: Is that Morgan Freeman playing Whoopie Goldberg? Forget the casting, who did the makeup work?

    Loved the Ben-Hur clip. Probably haven’t seen that since 1959 or when it was shown on prime time TV in the ’60s. I remembered the spinner hub cap and Heston grabbing the bad guy’s bull whip. Computer generated images are one of the main reason’s I’ve stopped going to movies. That and the fact the updated Ben-Hur will probably include saying things like, “Let’s do this.” Or, “not so much.”

  9. Matt Damon fighting monsters on the Great Wall of China? What an awful
    Idea!! I don’t know exactly when it was built but as I recall the purpose was to keep the Mongols out.

    • It depends one what Great Wall you’re talking about; the earliest one we recognize was in the Qin Dynasty in the late 3rd century (which itself was mostly a project connecting previously existing walls), and the Mongols didn’t really exist as a coherent people back then (instead, the main nomadic boogeymen with the Xiongnu, though they probably included the Mongols’ ancestors).

  10. As a general rule, I wish they wouldn’t remake movies that are basically perfect executions of their concept/story. It’s the Psycho (or for that matter, Ghostbusters) remake all over again. They’re setting themselves up for failure (creatively anyway, if they make money I guess they won’t care.)

    • The character is not an African in the book, or the other films. Thus this is “blackwashing,” the reverse of “whitewashing,” making ethnic or black character white in films. If one is a problem, so is the other. That’s all.

      • I totally agree with you dear Jack Marshall, I’m an Arab from North Africa (Algeria) and I was surprised to see Morgan Freeman (who is a talented actor) representing a Middle Eastern. Freeman could be cast to play a Sudanese, a Mauritanian , or a South Algerian, but other Arab nationalities are difficult or impossible in term of representation. Actually we live under the politically correct, and blackwashing seems more acceptable than whitewashing.

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