That’s a photo from the popular Canadian TV series “Slasher: Ripper,” which just began its 5th season. The actor is Gabriel Darku who, as you can see, is a black performer, but for some reason is playing a rising Toronto police detective in an integrated police department in the late 19th Century. There were no rising black police detectives in the late 19th Century, and certainly not with that hair-style. Even more remarkable is another character in the series, a black, female surgeon and medical examiner.
Of course, the race issue never comes up in conversation: race doesn’t exist, apparently. The show, like so many others, is set in a universe where racial bias, caste systems and discrimination doesn’t exist. I’m only picking on “Slasher: Ripper” because I happened upon it last night (the show also has a “non-binary” female in male garb character whom everyone treats as no different from anyone else). There are a lot of period shows that engage in this fantasy. Another is Netflix’s “Enola Holmes.”
Let me say without hesitation: I don’t care. I know this is all part of the effort to make more acting opportunities for minority actors (and fewer for white actors) in pursuit of fairness, diversity, and inclusion, yada yada. OK: as always, my position as a a critic, director and ethicist is that as long as such non-traditional casting works, and doesn’t diminish the entertainment value or become a distraction to most audience members, go crazy, man! I don’t find Darku so extraordinary an actor that his ahistorical casting seems justifiable in artistic terms—I find him rather wooden and boring—but that’s just me. However…
A few weeks ago, we were talking about how Disney’s “Song of the South” had become taboo because it portrayed slaves happily singing in the cotton fields. This historic misrepresentation is now allegedly intolerable. Yet representing minority groups in other settings being accepted completely as equals in 19th century communities in the U.S., Canada and Great Britain is seen as benign, for reasons having more to do with 21st Century social justice agendas than fealty to historical accuracy.
This is seeking to eat one’s victim status cake and have it too. How are rising generations going to understand what abuse and discrimination blacks were subjected to in the Jim Crow era and before if popular culture, in an effort to employ more 21st century minority actors, pretends that such unpleasant periods never happened? How is showing blacks holding positions of trust, power and responsibility in profoundly racist cultures different from portraying slaves as being happy and well-cared for?
It isn’t. This is one of many double standards and shifting objectives that now typify the machinations of Woke World and the Great Stupid. If we deliberately hide the ugly aspects of history (by tearing down statues of questionable heroes, for example), how can the same alleged victims of that history make a persuasive cases that they require present day restitution?
Popular culture isn’t history, but it is increasingly a primary source of how our young acquire their perceptions of history. An occasional fantasy version of the past can be enjoyable, but it is ultimately healthier in the long run to understand the actual attitudes of the past, their impact, and how they changed and evolved. We really have made progress, ethically and culturally. To measure that progress and appreciate it, we need a clear view of where we started.
15 thoughts on “Pretending History Didn’t Happen Because You Wish It Had Been Different”
This is my objection to sanitizing, just for example, Agatha Cristie. Works like hers are not merely works of fiction, they are in every respect, historical documents. For God’s sake, leave them alone and let them speak for themselves. How does their continued un-woke existence “harm” anyone living today? Leaving them as they are shows how much better things have become over the intervening years. But, I guess we can’t have that, can we?
I still flash back to my theater company’s production of Uncle Tom’s Cabin about ten years ago. The epithet “nigger” appears within five minutes, and probably occurs nearly a hundred times in the script. My board thought we would be picketed (I was hoping for it!) Many black families came to the show, and I asked several teens about what they thought of the language. “Well, that’s what they called us then, right?” was the answer I kept getting.
What the hell happened since then>
The guy in the photo looks like Johny Depp playing Johhny Depp.
My problem with this sort of casting is I don’t think it’s artistically beneficial to have anyone watching the show to guffaw when they see these ridiculous casting decisions. As with current television commercials, I can no longer see what’s being advertised when I see everyone in every commercial is black or in a mixed-race family. Sorry, it’s just preposterous. Please don’t expect me to consume your product when you’re insulting my intelligence.
Yeah, such casting often takes me out of the story and destroys the suspension of disbelief. I was watching an old episode of the new Hawaii 5-O, and it featured a black mayor of Honolulu. I found that instantly incredible, and indeed there has never been one, or even a candidate. Hawaii has less than 4% blacks; it is also one of the most race-conscious cultures in the US. is it really wise to distort reality like that?
Oh (Jack) Lord!
He DOES look like him!
“ As with current television commercials, I can no longer see what’s being advertised when I see everyone in every commercial is black or in a mixed-race family.”
This isn’t true, though. Not everyone in every commercial is black or in a mixed-race family.
If you’re so overwhelmed by the number of commercials where this is the case that you can’t see what’s being advertised, I would suggest that is a problem with your own biases.
Not that it makes any difference, but SotS was set in the post-war reconstruction era, so field hands wouldn’t have technically been slaves.
Is that a still from the series? If so, their anachronism machine must be on a setting even higher than you supposed. Neither the tie style nor the hat would be suitable for that period. Both would be more 1920’s. The Fedora existed in the 1880’s, but was women’s attire until the 20’s. Maybe the character was also an early feminist.
Could be wrong about the neckwear. Looks like a more modern tie style to me but pic not good enough to be sure. Some late Victorian scarves/cravats could look similar.
It is from the series, and if you’re going to have hair like that, why worry about the tie?
Yeah, I know—but the “happy darkies” in SOTS still pinged the same imagery. And Walt was specifically warned to avoid it.
“ How are rising generations going to understand what abuse and discrimination blacks were subjected to in the Jim Crow era and before if popular culture, in an effort to employ more 21st century minority actors, pretends that such unpleasant periods never happened?”
I’d wager that there are more period pieces featuring black actors that acknowledge historical racism than those that ignore or overwrite it, a la Hamilton. I suppose when the former starts to outnumber the latter, that might be a problem. But I just don’t see any evidence that is the case. No one who is watching these shows is unaware that they’re portraying an idealized fantasy of the past, not an accurate portrayal of it.
I have the same problem with leftists who argue that Brooklyn 99 is “copaganda.” Again, it is very clear that it’s an idealized portrayal of what cops should be. In fact, the times the show did try to acknowledge real problems with the police, it took me out of the show because it was so tonally jarring. Kind of like the few references to slavery in Hamilton.
“How is showing blacks holding positions of trust, power and responsibility in profoundly racist cultures different from portraying slaves as being happy and well-cared for?”
The former seems to be implicitly arguing that slavery shouldn’t have happened, and the latter seems to be implicitly arguing that it wasn’t that bad. That seems to be the major difference to me.
According to those who define who Canada is “The Black population now accounts for 3.5%………”
According to Jack’s relaying of the quality of acting, it seems like either they (1) are forcing of a rebranding of perception of black people and other even smaller minorities or (2) and such a small budget that this is who they could afford or (3) both make woke shows with less money bcs people will want to watch something.
“The former seems to be implicitly arguing that slavery shouldn’t have happened…”
Would that have been deduced from penumbras or emanations?
Having just now looked up both those words, I still don’t know.