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’?
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?