Comment Of The Day: “Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 2/7/2018: Something In This Post Is Guaranteed To Send You Screaming Into The Streets” [Item #3]

Curmie is one of my favorite bloggers, and also a fellow stage director, a teacher, and a learned man with a keen understanding of ethics. As soon as I encountered the jaw-dropping story about the high school that cancelled its scheduled musical after a protest was mounted because a white student was cast in the role of the show’s Romani heroine, I knew it was in Curmie’s wheelhouse.

Here us Curmie’s Comment of the Day on the third topic in the post, Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 2/7/2018: Something In This Post Is Guaranteed To Send You Screaming Into The Streets:

Re #3: I’d seen this story a few days ago, but luckily for my sanity I had too many other things on my mind to contemplate too deeply what was going on in my old stomping grounds (I went to high school a little over a half hour from Ithaca, and spent four years in grad school at Cornell).

I’m not sure I agree with you that the school is supporting “per se racism,” but I do think the decision was equal parts stupid, repressive, and cowardly. Even if we discount your entire argument, Jack (and I don’t), we still left with this: the character is Romani. The fact that a POC actor played the role in the biggest production of this particular iteration of the story doesn’t change the fact that many Romani are indeed white. What they definitely aren’t is black, although one suspects that casting such as actor in the role would have been at least condoned if not applauded. And if I’m identifying the complaining student correctly, she is far from the body type one would associate with the role.
But does body type really matter? Sometimes. Does race? Sometimes. Does gender? Sometimes. This director apparently cast the actor who, taking everything into account (as you say, Jack) promised to help the show the most. I’m currently working on a production of Max Frisch’s Biedermann and the Firebugs. For one role I cast a big muscular guy because that’s what the role requires: someone who can be physically intimidating. A fair number of 5’8″, 145-pound men auditioned; none were even considered for that particular role. For another part, I cast an African-American woman in a role obviously originally played by a white man. Why? Because what I really need is a singer, and she was the best one available. That’s the way it works. Directors cast the actor they believe to be best for the role. Might there be racist directors who base decisions on inappropriate criteria? Of course. Is there any evidence that’s what happened here? Nope.

Season selection and casting have indeed favored whites and men to far too great a degree for far too long, and the profession needs to address that issue more vigorously than it has. This does not mean, however, that casting a white actor in a role that can perfectly plausibly be played by a white actor is wrong, much less inherently so.

Want to get cast, or cast in a better role? Be better. Actors often thank me for casting them. I tell them I did so entirely out of self-interest: I cast the most talented actors, the ones who’ll work the hardest, the ones who show a particular affinity for a particular role… in short, the ones who will make me (and my work) look the best. I do love it when ethics and self-interest converge.

22 thoughts on “Comment Of The Day: “Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 2/7/2018: Something In This Post Is Guaranteed To Send You Screaming Into The Streets” [Item #3]

  1. ”she was the best one available.”

    Choosing a best ”fit” for a project without genuflecting, nay cowering, before the altar of Diversity?

    THAT commie bullshit NEEDS to be stopped!

    Any Pink “Romani” Hat protests in the offing?

  2. I do think race frequently matters when it comes to casting, but I am hard pressed to get my dander up over this one.

    Full disclosure though: family lore is that the German side of my family were all gypsies. I have no idea if this is true or not, but if it is, I am about as white as it gets.

  3. The progressive argument on this topic requires a certain amount of dishonesty.

    Even though Romani started their migrations from around the Indian subcontinent, and were originally brown, their travels almost certainly lightened them through family connections made with Europeans, and because they steered clear of the Africa (Possibly due to how Muslims had even less patience for them than Christians did. Diversity was never their strength, I’m just saying.), while I don’t discount the possibility of a black Romani, such a person would be the exception to the rule.

    So we’re really talking about the outrage of a lack of blackwashing of a browney-white character, ranking right up there with the whitewashing of Danny Rand (where a rich white guy played a rich white guy), or of The Ancient One (where a white woman played a male Alien that looked faintly Asian. #integalacticlivesmatter). The fact of the matter is that progressives aren’t actually worried about cultural appropriation or that the race of characters accurately portray cannon as a general principle. No, those are the lies they tell us, the tools they use to push for their real goal… Which a particularly self aware and honest SJW might say is “diversity”. But see, “Diversity” in that context doesn’t REALLY mean diversity (I’m thinking about that “Amazingly Diverse” picture of about a dozen black women.), it means “Not white”, “Not male”, “Not straight” or “Not cis (tysrl*)”.

    No, see, SJW’s want more minorities and women, but are unable to define their terms (Real conversation I had once: “How much more?” “I don’t know, more more.” “You mean like… Their proportional representation in the general population?” “That’d be a good start.” “Where’s that end?” “More.”); They aren’t worried about actual Diversity, they aren’t worried about appropriating cultures, they aren’t worried about canonical representation of characters, they’re a lobby group that uses the language of human rights to cudgel their way into spaces. Black Panther (a movie I intend to see and enjoy) is exactly as “Diverse” as that “Amazingly Diverse” picture of a dozen black women, but you’ll never hear them complain about it, no… This is an amazing movie. And the thing is, it very well might be… But you don’t get to simultaneously say that you hold values, while propping up examples contrary to your message. SJWs are to minorities what the NRA is to guns, and I will never pretend differently.

    *thank you squiggly red line for, as always, pointing out that progressives make up stupid words.

    • So Stunning, So brave, So diverse.

      It actually hit me here how Hollywood is basically setting up an unofficial form of affirmative action, allowing sufficiently ethnic people to skip the line and punch above their pay grade because Hollywood et al is looking for “More”, with all the inherent defenses and criticisms of affirmative action applying… But I didn’t think it fit into the comment as a whole.

      It also hit me how hungry and juvenile “More” is, in this context. I envision it as being similar to the mewling of a child wanting desperately to chew himself into a diabetic coma with their Halloween candy.

      • I think there’s an analog to the “more” strategy adopted by Social Justice Warriors. It may even be laid out in the organizer’s handbook or whatever Saul Alinsky penned. It involves harping on the notion that minorities are not only deserving of equal rights, they are in fact deserving of deference because they are, by virtue of their minorityness or something, superior. During the gay marriage campaign, the drumbeat was incessant: gays were cuter and sweeter and more wonderful than heterosexuals. I found it really annoying and I’m glad the campaign is over and was successful so all the happy talk could be wound down and gay people could just be mere mortals rather than perfection personified.

          • Rules for Radicals? You know, I’ve never read it, and I really should.

            Warning: do not take with food. Side effects can include nausea, sour taste in the mouth, hives, and hair loss. May induce exploding craniums. You may feel the need to take multiple showers after reading: contact your host if this becomes bothersome. Avoid wholesome activity after reading. Do not drive or operate heavy machinery until you know how you react to this treatment. Abandon hope, all ye who enter here

  4. I agree with Curmie and Jack that canceling the production was a terrible idea. The production was canceled by a cowardly school district administration that caved to social justice pressure. Apparently, casting Ciara Renée, an African-American stage and television actress, as Esmeralda in 2014 has sealed the role for actresses of color (please ignore the castings of Denise Becker, Maureen O’Hara, Salma Hayek, and Hélène Ségara in the role). This is why we can’t have nice things anymore.

    The back story on the show’s cancellation, however, is even more pernicious. Here is a link to the story:

    The article is truly disturbing. The article introduces us to “high school senior Annabella Mead-VanCort’s and her mother, Eliza VanCort (Eliza is the head of VAnCort Consulting, which encourages communication skills, and its website’s motto is “stand up. speak out” (sic). They were thrilled about “thrilled that a musical with a leading role of a female of color would be performed on the school’s stage. They would be keeping an eye on this production, Eliza wrote in the letter in late November.” Mother and daughter were thrilled that a musical with a leading role of a female of color would be performed on the school’s stage. They would be keeping an eye on this production, Eliza wrote in the letter in late November.

    And then, the casting controversy erupted and they wrote letters. See, the casting director decided to cast a white woman in the role of “Esmeralda”. The article tells us that “Maddi Carroll, a 17-year-old senior at Ithaca High School and member of Students United Ithaca, was cast in the ensemble and quit in November due to the casting of Esmeralda. ‘It shows you that theater wasn’t made for you,’ said Maddi, who is African-American. ‘And it shows you that, if you can’t get the parts that are written for you, what parts are you going to get?’” This prompted Annabella, along with members of Student United Ithaca, to write letters and craft a list of demands to encourage a more inclusive production. (Students United Ithaca, is composed of five Ithaca High School students. Five high school students.) Their facebook page is here:

    which sets forth their list of 10 demands, including the firing of Robert Winans as Director of the Boynton Middle School and High School Musical. Mr. Winans “has not listened nor has he said publicly he wants to learn from his mistakes and do things differently. Mr. Brown and Dr Brown… Times Up.” Mistakes as determined by five high school students, who obviously know better than the school administration. They want to hire “Joey Steinhagen as Director of the next musical. Joey has a concrete plan and has said he is confident he can mount an inclusive and wonderful show. Joey is the hero we need now to unit our community. Please let him!”

    They also state, “STOP ignoring and denying that you have created a white centered program run by white adults for the benefit of white children,” the list of demands states. “White children should also be educated about interrupting these practices of White supremacy. Hollow lip service about equality is shameful and the eyes of our concerned community are now focused on you.”

    The article concludes with this: “Students United Ithaca plan to meet with the administration of the Ithaca City School district Tuesday to discuss plans for the future.

    “One step towards creating a musical that is inclusive to all students, Maddi suggested, is active recruitment. She included herself as about five to 10 people of color in “The Hunchback of Notre Dame’s” cast of about 40.

    “‘I believe they [shows] have to come from a place of careful consideration and in an educational setting, not simply, “this would be a good show,” but, “what does this show mean right now in this community at this time in American history?” Sherman said. ‘And how do we make it a part of an educational experience that will speak not only to the students in the show but the other students in the school?’”

    So, the take away is this: failure to comply with social justice issues will result in immediate action against you. The musical is canceled. The opportunity to watch high school students perform in much-loved story about prejudice and villainy will be missed. All because of a casting decision that did not result in the proper person of color in the leading role. Great work, kids. And, you parents that supported your kids’ boneheaded ideas, you should be ashamed of yourself.


  5. Allow me to amend my initial comment by adding this:
    I think the students whose protests led to the cancellation of the show were wrong, but the real problem is with the craven administration and school board. Teenagers can’t be expected to be the adults in the room. And however wrong I think those students are, they should not be subject to the racial slurs and death threats (!) I’ve seen reported.

    • It’s simple, d_d: anyone not WHITE, or who is called by anything else is, by default, “BLACK” which, if you remember your basic art class, is the absorption of all colors of light. Now does it make sense? (well, of course it doesn’t, but that doesn’t stop it from being the new rule!)

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