Casting Ethics Incoherence

It will be interesting to see if the movie and theater industries, both reeling from declining audiences for management, artistic, financial and cultural reasons, will continue to ride the runaway political correctness train off the metaphorical bridge and into the river. “Go woke, get broke” is not just a partisan taunt: there is a lot of evidence that it is very frequently true.

I had started a new file just this week on the now totally incoherent casting “rules” being inflicted on productions and audiences in the U.S., determined to post on them when the file was sufficiently thick. First into the fresh file—the older ones were stuffed and substantially covered in prior EA commentray–was this post, a paean to the recently deceased comic Louis Anderson for his portrayal of Christine Baskets, “the doting but demanding mother of Zach Galifianakis’s depressive clown in the brilliant, bone-dry comedy “Baskets,” which ran on FX from 2016-19.”

Huh? We have been told that actresses have been robbed of the opportunity to play rich and serious roles in films and television. We have watched iconic characters undergo gender change so women could have more opportunities. Meanwhile, Scarlett Johansson was forced to withdraw from the lead role in “Rub & Tug,” about a transsexual male because she wasn’t a transsexual male. As a result, the movie never got made. But the Times, which along with most of the media has cheered on these bonkers and restrictive new “rules” (Maybe my favorite was rule the that Dwayne Johnson, a Samoan-Black Nova Scotian- American, wasn’t black enough to play the fictional “steel-driving” John Henry), celebrates a white, middle-aged comedian’s portrayal of a mother.

Explain, please. No, never mind: I get it: this is Calvinball, run by the corrupt and manipulative tribes and groups who benefit from it.

Next came Peter Dinklage, apparently feeling his oats now that his star turn on “Game of Thrones” has made him the entertainment industry’s biggest “little person.” Dinklage, who is 4’5″, is preparing to play Cyrano in a musical adaptation of Cyrano de Bergerac. I love that casting idea; that’s non-traditional casting at its best, assuming Dinklage can sing. Substituting a height disadvantage for Cyrano’s freakish nose should work wonderfully. However, having found that he can now get performing jobs that were once closed to him because of his height, he has decided to object to Disney making an un-animated version of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” complaining on a podcast,

They were very, very proud to cast a Latino actress as Snow White, but you’re still telling the story of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” You’re progressive in one way … but you’re still making that … backward story about seven dwarfs living in a cave. What … are you doing, man?

What are you talking about, man? They didn’t live in a cave: has Dinklage even seen the original movie? They lived in a nice cottage in the forest, and worked in a mine. And what’s “progressive” about casting a Latino actress as “Snow White” when you are trying to evoke the original film, and wouldn’t dare cast a white actress to play “Snow Brown”? Disney, which has become so “woke” that it is ridiculous, instantly groveled to Dinklage’s ignorant complaint, saying, incomprehensibly,

To avoid reinforcing stereotypes from the original animated film, we are taking a different approach with these seven characters and have been consulting with members of the dwarfism community. We look forward to sharing more as the film heads into production after a lengthy development period.

That’s “Huh?” #2. Is it a “stereotype” for dwarfs to be small, like Dinklage? Is it the term “dwarf” that he’s bitching about? The story is hundreds of years old: is Disney supposed to call it “Snow White and the Seven Little People”? It already has a movie in the vault called “Darby O’Gill and the Little People,” but those little people are leprechauns. In fact, at last report, Dinklage is going to star in the American comedy “O Lucky Day” playing a con-man who pretends to be a leprechaun. I assume he’ll be saying things like “Begosh and begorrah!” and “I see ye’ve come to steal me gold! Catch me if you can!” No stereotypes there!

Or will Disney really cave, and call the thing “Snow White and the Seven Variably-Sized Miners”?

Maybe the problem is that the characters in the original film had names like Dopey, Sleepy, and Grumpy and personalities to match. I’m sure the “dwarfism community’ wants them renamed Empathy, Smarty, Healthy, Lively, Friendly, Bravely and Doc, with at least three female dwarfs, two dwarfs of color, a transsexual dwarf, and one with hooks or diverticulitis or something. Sounds terrific: another success like “West Side Story.

Today came the trigger for the post: a review of the new Off-Broadway production of Eugene O’Neill’s “Long Day’s Journey Into Night,” generally regarded as America’s greatest playwright’s greatest play. (I vote “The Iceman Cometh” myself). I won’t get into the issue of the “reimagined” version of the four-act drama being cut to less than two, except to say that such a production is no more O’Neill than the Cliff Notes “Moby-Dick” is Melville. However, this is a family drama; indeed an autobiographical family drama, indeed THE autobiographical family drama of the American stage repertoire. There’s the “family” above.

The two white actors, representing O’Neill’s parents, have two black sons, and the Times reviewer thinks this is just swell, it’s “colorblind casting.” Yet he would not—trust me on this—celebrate colorblind casting in Lorraine Hansberry’s black family drama “Raisin in the Sun,” which would 1) be absurd and 2) would steal acting jobs from black actors. Colorblind casting is destructive in dramas that are about the dynamics of a family, because the audience cannot suspend its disbelief, even if critics with an agenda pretend they can.

I suppose one defense for this production would be that since it’s not even half of what O’Neill wrote and littered with such distractions as pandemic face masks, it might as well pander to “Inclusivity and Diversity.” (Hey! Those could be dwarf names!)

OK. I think I’ll wait for the real thing before I shell out any of my increasingly hard earned cash, though.

4 thoughts on “Casting Ethics Incoherence

  1. Ice Man Cometh; ok, can buy that one. Of course, Edward Albee called Our Town “the greatest American play ever written”. We have deep family connections to that play, so would hasten to agree…confirmation bias, of course. Did you include it in ACT (wonderful) performances? Hope so. Should have. And I should know the answer to that question. Here’s a blurb that will be in STC materials about its production. Had I known the answer to my question, would have probably mentioned that as well, given our fondness for ACT:

    Why did we decide to sponsor Our Town?
    Edward Albee called it “The greatest American play ever written,” but that’s only a small part of our motivation.
    It is being directed by Alan Paul, whom we consider to be an extraordinarily talented director; we have loved everything he has directed for STC. That, in itself, should be sufficient, but we also have deep family reasons that led to our decision. Several years ago, Maureen played Mrs. Webb and our son, Patrick, played Wally Webb in one of his first forays on stage. Patrick died in 2008. When Patrick was included in the “In Memoriam” portion of the Helen Hayes awards, the Award program deviated from its “normal” musical background as the pictures flashed on the screen and, instead, there was a reading from Our Town; we were deeply moved by the coincidence. Patrick’s connection to Our Town, directed by his high school classmate, Alan, is the driving force behind our decision. However, another connection “sealed the deal.” Peterborough, New Hampshire, was the model for Grover’s Corners.. Fletcher Dole, Patrick’s great-great uncle on Michael’s side of the family, a milkman in Peterborough, was the inspiration for Howie Newsome. When the play became available for amateur productions, the Peterborough Players mounted it with (according to reports) Fletcher Dole playing Howie Newsome.
    There you have it: family connections to this American classic, being directed by one of the most gifted young directors around.
    Thank you, STC!

    • And, by the way, the Narrator for the production 10 year old Patrick was in was female, and one of the main characters (forget which one) was black. Not exactly Peterborough NH of the era. I do agree with you, totally, about the bizarre casting “rules” that could very well deprive us of great performances.

    • No, we never did “Our Town,” for one reason: it’s not neglected. It’s still firmly in the routine American theater rep; it’s done at all levels, professional and amateur, as regularly as ever, as far as I can see. A new Broadway production, the fifth revival since 1938, is soon opening: Dustin Hoffman will be the Stage Manager.

      Our Town, incidentally, is a perfect play for colorblind casting; I would argue that it should always be cast that way. The town is Everytown, the characters are humanity. Is it the greatest American play? Well, its last act may be the greatest ending of any American play. It’s a strong candidate.

      • Did not know it was returning to Broadway. My great uncle, Fletcher Dole, was invited to opening … but said he never actually met Wilder but “he certainly knew me.” We did not believe Patrick could sit still in the “cemetery” as he could never sit still more than a very few minutes. The director: “If you don’t think he can do it, you don’t really know him as an actor. Trust me, he can.” Alan Paul, Maureen, and I would love to see STC stage G&S but there is reluctance about it drawing an audience. I think any professional theater that would stage G&S would be surprised at the positive response.

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