Having gone to great lengths to make comedy impossible, the political correctness police are now working to make drama impossible as well. Yesterday Ethics Alarms again visited this issue as it considered the brain-meltingly idiotic demands by progressives and group identity activists that only autistic performers should be cast as autistic characters. This is a subset of the disingenuous, contradictory and pragmatically impossible demand by the Army of the Woke that only performers with the same physical, gender, racial and ethnic characteristics should be cast in movies, plays and TV productions as characters with those traits….although minority actors should be cast as characters written as or traditionally played by whites whenever possible.
This nonsense has received new gusts of wind beneath its wings in The Great Stupid, which descended upon out culture hand-in-hand with the George Floyd Ethics Train Wreck. It is old nonsense, though. The white cartoon voice actors who announced this year that they wouldn’t give voice to cartoon characters of color hailed from the same progressive nut house as those who criticized the “Lord of the Rings” movies (and others) for using special effects to allow actors of normal height portray fantasy dwarves, or who chased Dwayne Johnson away from his planned “John Henry” film because he’s not black enough.
Critics of film remake of “The Witches” have even bigger and more stupid metaphorical fish to fry, it seems. Now the attack is focused on the tendencies of human beings to be frightened or wary of those who look or act different from what they are used to, and, by extension, artists’ exploitation of that hard-wired human reaction to move, entertain, and communicate with audiences.
In its article giving disability rights advocates more respect on this topic than they deserve, the New York Times writes,
“For as long as there have been stages and screens, disability and disfigurement have been used as visual shorthand for evildoing — a nod to the audience that a character was a baddie to be feared. But disability rights advocates say this amounts not just to lazy storytelling but stereotyping, further marginalizing an already stigmatized community that is rarely represented onscreen.”
It is tempting to just dismiss this with a curt, “OK, well let’s see the disability rights advocates make their own action movies and horror movies and see how those do at the box office. They want to make “Frankenstein” with a monster that looks like a male model? Good luck to them, and the backers who provide millions of dollars for the production. If they can remake “Phantom of the Opera” and explain why he wears a mask if he doesn’t look like this…
The Times solemn article about the “Witches” “cat hands” controversy is titled, “‘Scary is how you act, not look,’ disability advocates tell film-makers.” If the Times wasn’t virtue signaling, it would have followed this with “‘And what the hell do you know about it?,'” film-makers reply.
The problem with “The Witches” is that it depicted Ann Hathaway’s villainous head-witch “with hands that were wizened and disfigured, with two fingers and a thumb on each,” as the original story described them. They were intended to evoke cat claws, but disability activists saw them as a slur on ectrodactyly, a deformity that afflicts approximately 1 in every 90,000 Americans, or .001%.
I wonder how many Americans suffer from “Phantom Face”?
Intones the Times,
For as long as there have been stages and screens, disability and disfigurement have been used as visual shorthand for evildoing — a nod to the audience that a character was a baddie to be feared. But disability rights advocates say this amounts not just to lazy storytelling but stereotyping, further marginalizing an already stigmatized community that is rarely represented onscreen….
“Playgrounds are where kids are sometimes the cruelest, and kids absorb what they learn, be it through stories we tell or what they learn from their parents,” said Penny Loker, a Canadian visible difference advocate and writer. “They have carte blanche to be cruel to people. I was called a monster, and I was called whatever the name of the monster was from the movie that was popular at that time.”
That’s a shame, and the solution is to teach children about kindness, empathy and the Golden Rule, not to eliminate crucial tools of story-telling and drama, which include the use of stereotypes, one hopes creatively. The “Thing From Another World” was played by 6’7″ James Arness and not Mickey Rooney because big people are more menacing than small people. (This is also why the T-Rex in “Jurassic Park” wasn’t played by the GEICO gecko.) The big moment in “Phantom of the Opera” is when the heroine rips off her strange mentor’s mask, and the audience just wasn’t going to scream if he looked like this…
Disability activists can complain and demand, and Canute can try to stop the tide from coming in, but human nature is a reality, and artists must deal with their audiences as they are, not as the Woke would like them to be, indeed are prepared to force them to be.
More from the article:
“Using disability or disfigurement as shorthand for evil goes back centuries in Western culture, said Angela Smith, director of disability studies at the University of Utah. In both lore and real life, physical differences have been read as warnings of danger, symbols of evil, or evidence of sinning or witchcraft….It’s also a long standing trope in fairy tales and fantasy and horror stories. Monsters are given characteristics — the way they talk, behave, look or move — that are meant to seem threatening or grotesque, Smith noted. This carries onscreen, where physical differences are often revealed dramatically as visual shorthand for evilness or immorality: think of Freddy Krueger’s brutally burned face in the “Nightmare on Elm Street” films. All of which, Smith said, subtly shapes perceptions about an already marginalized community…”
Summary: “Life can be unfair.”
It is the delusion of the Left that all unfairness can be eradicated by fiat, shaming and declarations of indignation. “Obviously, we don’t want a culture where everyone’s outraged about everything,” the article quotes Ashley Eakin, a writer and director, as saying. Really? I see a large contingent of society seeking exactly that, because with offense comes power. Hathaway immediately grovelled an apology. The studio that made “The Witches,” Warner Bros. humina-humina-ed that it worked with the film’s artists to create what author Roald Dahl described as “thin curvy claws, like a cat,” and didn’t intend for viewers to feel represented by the “fantastical, nonhuman creatures” onscreen. Well, there is always going to be .001% of any group that objects to something. Give that group the power to veto what entertains everyone else, and you homogenize the arts into pablum.
Of course, there is an agenda behind the outrage.
Disability rights advocates said the whole matter could have been avoided if more disabled people were in the entertainment industry, be it in front of the camera or behind the scenes. “If there were writers, directors or other crew members with disabilities, they, might have seen it and said ‘Huh, maybe this is an issue,’” said Lauren Appelbaum, vice president of communications for RespectAbility, a nonprofit organization fighting the stigmatization of people with disabilities.
Ah, yes, that’s the solution! Affirmative action in the arts for the disabled! It all makes sense now. One of the disabled performers interviewed by the Times explains that it’s okay for a villain to be disabled or disfigured if a disabled actor is playing the character, “so long as the disfigurement is not what makes them evil” or when the evil person being portrayed is a person who has a disability in real life, but only if a disabled actor is cast.
Oh, great. Rules for what is acceptable art.
There is nothing unethical, wrong or unjust about artists using the natural human instinct to regard that which is strange, unusual or ugly as unsettling in the construction of entertainment. It is unethical, wrong and unjust to try to constrain art of any kind for narrow interests or political agendas.