The Political Correctness Casting Standards In The Age Of ‘The Great Stupid’ Are So Incoherent They Are Actually Funny

…if you can keep from weeping, that is.

Quick, now: what classic Shakespearean drama is the scene pictured above from? Hint 1: the show is being produced by Shakespeare in the Park. Hint 2: it’s one of the Histories.

Give up? Boy, are you illiterate! That’s a scene from “Richard III” of course! That’s King Richard—you know, the hunchback?–on the right.This is a critically  praised woke production, with all sorts of boxes checked including several characters played by deaf actors who deliver their lines in sign language. Hey, if it works, it works, and since I haven’t seen it, I can’t say it doesn’t work. However, if, as I suspect, the effectiveness of the play has been compromised by the felt need to signal “diversity, equity and inclusion” at the sacrifice of dramatic coherence and power, that’s unethical. But again, sometimes a director’s audacious choices open up a well-known and well–worn work to new discoveries and revelations. I’ve done it as a director myself.

However, at the same time this is going on in Manhattan, the Daily Mail reported that American soprano Angel Blue, who is black, scheduled to sing in Verdi’s opera “La Traviata” in Verona, Italy on July 22 and 30, has left the production because in a production of “Aida” scheduled to be performed  at the same festival, the lead role of the Ethiopian princess is to be played by white singer, Anna Netrebko, who will wear Ethiopian makeup make-up in the role.  Blue released a statement saying in part,

“[The use of blackface makeup] is offensive, humiliating, and outright racist. I was so looking forward to making my house debut at Arena di Verona singing one of my favorite operas, but I cannot in good conscience associate myself with an institution that continues this practice.”

The role Blue was supposed to play in “La Traviata” is the Parisian courtesan Violetta, a white character.

Observations:

  • Most of this, remember, is because a black lifetime hood, over-dosing on fentanyl and other drugs, resisted arrest and because he was huge, found himself under the knee of an atypically brutal cop, who ignored the fact that fact that his charge showed obvious signs of distress, resulting in said hood’s death in Minneapolis. And this has affected opera casting in Manhattan and Verona.
  • It’s the Butterfly Effect!
  • Wearing dark make-up to play an Ethiopian heroine in an opera is not “blackface.” It is make-up.
  • Having again made the point that got Ethics Alarms banned from Facebook, I must also say that there is no good reason for a white performer to have to wear dark makeup to play an opera role if it is going to case a political distraction, even an unjustified one.
  • The Catch-22 is that if a white actress plays a black character without dark make-up, then the accusation will be that the character has been “whitewashed,” which is also characterized as “racist.”
  • If Blue believes that black performers like her can play white characters but white performers cannot play characters “of color,” that’s indefensibly hypocritical. Based on her resignation statement, I don’t know that. But this is the consensus position in the dramatic arts now. The result is a one-way only acceptance of non-traditional casting, and it deliberately discriminates against white artists.
  • White artists, meanwhile, have so far accepted their second-class status. It is similar to feminist female athletes accepting the unfair competition of biological males in their sporting events.
  • The core problem is that most of those involved in theater, films and TV (and sports as well) are not deep or nuanced thinkers, are not well-read or educated, and their political and social views are primarily driven by peer group beliefs, emotions, and shallow analysis.

It has ever been thus.

_________________________

Pointer and Facts: The Manhattan Contrarian

13 thoughts on “The Political Correctness Casting Standards In The Age Of ‘The Great Stupid’ Are So Incoherent They Are Actually Funny

  1. With apologies to James Carville: “Blue. It’s the voice, stupid.” Nobody cares how operatic performers LOOK. It’s how they SOUND. In some number of years, Anna Netrebko will look like, and be, a babushka. No one will care as long as her voice holds out.

  2. Shouldn’t that Richard at least have been a cross dresser and been decked out in a mens’ outfit? Or wait, maybe the production is saying Richard was a cross dresser? And he wore black face? And a fat suit? The British royals are actually of color? And they colonized the entire world and millions of people of color for centuries? This is remarkable stuff.

  3. I’m not sure how many white performers are simply accepting it – although with the liberal and young tilt in performing arts, I wouldn’t be surprised if most do. The older actors I know pipe up once in a while about how dumb it all is, but if you really wanted to make a difference, it’s up to the directors. An actor can’t just shoehorn himself into any role he likes, you can only audition for so many roles at once, and if you aren’t cast, you aren’t cast.

    I do make a point these days of avoiding auditions that specific anything along the lines of “we are dedicated to diversity” or “we are looking for non-traditional casting.” There was a company that just did an all black version of Cinderella which did well, contrasted to the protested “Peter pan” which went down in flames when they cast a tiger lily with red hair. Folks are still complaining about that one. You must be lainto in order to ever get in the door for “in the heights,” though. Right there in the announcement. I don’t know that any of them will beat “must be male-presenting and Jewish” in order to play Herr Schultz in Cabaret, though.

      • Because anachronism can be fun. The show Dickenson on Apple TV did a similar thing to great effect. A more Gen X example would be A Knight’s Tale, which included modern music in medieval times. The most recent Great Gatsby movie did the same thing. And everyone loves Hamilton even though the Founding Fathers didn’t rap.

        The dialogue in Persuasion seems a bit cringey, and I’m not familiar with the source material and how it may or may not respect it. But the basic idea of juxtaposing modernity with traditional elements isn’t fatally flawed, as all of the popular and critically well-received examples above show.

        • And many others—even “The Lion in Winter,’ though its cutesy deliberate anachronisms spoiled the show for me, but apparently few others. But I agree with you completely…again, anything goes, if it works. “A Knight’s Tale,’ though I’m not a fan, is a great example.

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