More Casting Ethics Madness: “Colorism” And Will Smith

Perusing the Ethics Alarms essays on casting ethics (there are a lot of them), I think I finally understand the rules. It’s wrong to cast a black actor to play a black character when the original character was white, but if the black character is playing a white character as white, that’s OK. Casting an African-American actor to play a fictional Arab sheik in “Ben-Hur” is fine, but casting a black Samoan-American as fictional black icon John Henry is unacceptable. It’s wrong to cast an abled actor to play a disabled character, wrong to cast a cis actress to play a real life woman who pretended to be a man, wrong to cast that same actress to play an animated heroine who was originally drawn as Japanese, but brilliant to cast black and Puerto Rican actors to play Alexander Hamilton and the Founders. Oh! I nearly forgot! It’s wrong to cast a white actor to replace a black actor who replaced a white actor playing the role of a white character.

Clear?

Now we have a casting ethics controversy that has raised its empty head before: Will Smith is on the verge of being cast to play Serena and Venus Williams’ father Richard in a film, and critics and social justice warriors are calling it “colorism,” because Smith isn’t as dark and the tennis stars’ dad.  Black sports writer Clarence Hill Jr tweeted, “Colorism matters..love will Smith but there are other black actors for this role..” Another indignant political correctness warrior  (in Great Britain) wrote, “Why are they whitewashing the dad with Will Smith? Colourism is constantly subconsciously fed to us and we just eat it up…”

“Colorism” is unethical because, the BBC tells us, because

“It can lead to a lack of representation in film, TV and fashion, particularly in Hollywood and Bollywood, as well as discrimination at work or on dating sites, and even to serious health problems from skin bleaching creams.”

Except, you know, casting Smith as Williams isn’t colorism. It is “casting a prominent actor for the role who will put fannies in the seats-ism.” Who cares how dark or light Richard Williams is? What does his skin shade have to do with the reason he’s worthy of a film portrayal? Would Venus and Serena be better or worse athletes if he were the shade of Will Smith?

The “colorism” argument has come-up before, in the controversy over The Rock playing John Henry, and when not-sufficiantly black actress Zoe Saldana was cast to play singer Nina Simone, and wore dark make-up to resemble her.

I’m pretty sure that I’ve finally figured out what’s going on. Just as rape isn’t about sex but about asserting power, so the progressive complaints about casting aren’t truly about race, or color, or fairness, or white-washing, or any of the supposed justifications for manufactured outrage. They virtually always for the purpose of asserting and cementing the power to bend others to their will, to establish the precedent that whatever they demand, even when it is the opposite of what they may have demanded in the day before, even if it is obvious that they are making up the rules as they go along, must be accepted. It is the equivalent of an abusive boss ordering a subordinate to strip, get down on all fours, and bark like a dog.  They do it because they can.

The only way to end this nonsense is to defy it, but as we have seen in most of the casting controversies, since actors are generally too shallow and too cowardly to articulate ethical principles much less take a stand in favor of them, the actor who is the target of the complaint usually grovels an apology and withdraws. I’m hoping that Smith is made of sterner stuff, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

 

The Hypocrisy Of Politically Correct Casting Mandates: Spielberg’s “West Side Story” Virtue-Signaling Debunked

There has to be a one word summary for this. “Ha!” “Duh”? “Yecchh!” “Wha?”

There is going to be a new film version of “West Side Story,” apparently to have one that doesn’t involve casting Russian-Americans (Natalie Wood) and Greek-Americans (George Chakiris) as Puerto Ricans. Of course, it’s OK for a white character to undergo a gender and nationality change because shut-up. This is, I believe, a doomed project, much as the remakes of “Ben-Hur” and “The Ten Commandments” were doomed. Remaking a film that won ten Oscars is a fool’s errand. So is making any movie musical in an era when the genre is seen as silly and nerdy by a large proportion of the movie-going audience, especially one that requires watching ballet-dancing street gangs without giggling. Steven Spielberg, who accepted this challenge, must have lost his mind.

Ah, but apparently wokeness, not art or profit, is the main goal.

“When we began this process a year ago, we announced that we would cast the roles of Maria, Anita, Bernardo, Chino and the Sharks with Latina and Latino actors. I’m so happy that we’ve assembled a cast that reflects the astonishing depth of talent in America’s multifaceted Hispanic community,” said Spielberg. “I am in awe of the sheer force of the talent of these young performers, and I believe they’ll bring a new and electrifying energy to a magnificent musical that’s more relevant than ever.”

Maria will be played by 17-year old New Jersey High School student Rachel Zegler,  making her film debut opposite Ansel Elgort as Tony. The Sharks will be played by Ariana DeBose as Anita, David Alvarez as Bernardo, and Josh Andrés Rivera has been cast as Chino. The 1962 film’s Anita, Rita Moreno, is now playing what was the white, non-Hispanic, male role of Doc, now renamed and re-sexed.

Bravo to George Mason law prof. David Bernstein, for this deft take-down: Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 1/15/2019: I Am Cleopatra!

Good morning, Ethics Lovers!

1. Coming attractions. Rep. Steve King is now officially a human ethics train wreck, but boy, it would be nice if we could trust the news media. I will be writing a full post on this matter soon, but in the meantime, if someone can find me the full text of the alleged “interview” with the Times that generated King’s infamous “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?” statement, I would be very happy. The link used by all sources reporting on the interview and its aftermath, including the link used by the Times, goes to Before Trump, Steve King Set the Agenda for the Wall and Anti-Immigrant Politics.”

But that’s not an interview! It’s an anti-King hit piece. I wanted to see the context of King’s remark, like, say, the question that evoked it. Is that too much to ask? All we get, however, is this:

Mr. King, in the interview, said he was not a racist. He pointed to his Twitter timeline showing him greeting Iowans of all races and religions in his Washington office. (The same office once displayed a Confederate flag on his desk.)

At the same time, he said, he supports immigrants who enter the country legally and fully assimilate because what matters more than race is “the culture of America” based on values brought to the United States by whites from Europe.

“White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?” Mr. King said. “Why did I sit in classes teaching me about the merits of our history and our civilization?”

That’s telling us about the interview, not the interview itself, and doing so while poisoning the well. More later. However, the fact that the Times won’t provide the unredacted interview itself is troubling.

2. Trump Tweets. Finally I can compliment a good one. This morning the President said, in the climax of a tweet, “They got caught spying on my campaign and then called it an investigation.” I’m critical of Trump’s communications skills, but you can’t do better than that. I also strongly suspect that he is correct. Continue reading

The Dumbest Casting Ethics Controversy Yet

Sometimes the line between confused ethics and plain old stupidity is razor thin. This controversy is one of those times.

Actor Bryan Cranston, best known for “Breaking Bad,”  is being criticized for playing a a quadriplegic billionaire in “The Upside,” his new film  released Friday, because he is not actually handicapped.

He’s also not a billionaire, but that doesn’t seem to be an issue for some reason.

Jay Ruderman of the Ruderman Family Foundation complained, “While we don’t know the auditioning history of ‘The Upside,” casting a non-disabled actor to play a character with a disability is highly problematic and deprives performers with disabilities the chance to work and gain exposure.”

No, Jay, it isn’t problematic, because the primary objective of the performing arts is not, and has never been, to provide “the chance to work and gain exposure.” This is the affirmative action mentality that as it gets stretched further and further from reality and common sense by the woke and the wokeness-addled, increasingly ensures that society eventually  rejects the whole tortured concept. The objective of the performing arts is to entertain, engage and enlighten the audience. That requires casting the best actors available, and in film, frequently the best know actors, in the judgment of the director and the producer. Bryan Cranston is one of the most skilled actors in the world. I am extremely confident that there isn’t a single quadriplegic actor that can equal him, if indeed there are any at all. Audrey Hepburn could also play a blind woman better than any of the few available blind actresses, when she starred in “Wait Until Dark.” Tom Hanks and cliff Roberrtson could play  mentally-challenged caharcters in “Forrest Gump” and “Charlie” better than any mentally-challenged actors.

I can’t believe we even have to have this conversation. Continue reading

Racist Political Correctness, Casting Ethics, Double Standards, And The Rock

Oh look, another racist “you’re not black enough” casting controversy!

(Here was a previous one…)

Dwayne Johnson, the action hero known as The Rock, announced last week that he’ll be producing and starring in the film “John Henry and the Statesmen” about the black folk hero who died after defeating a steam-driven machine that supposedly would lay track faster than human beings could. Johnson, one of the top drawing box-office stars in 2017 and 2016, said John Henry was one of his “childhood heroes” and that his father, former pro wrestler Rocky Johnson, used to sing “Big John” to him before he put him to sleep as a kid.

Well, I don’t understand the “Big John” reference at all. The Jimmy Dean hit (yes, the sausage guy) was about a mine worker who dies saving his colleagues in a cave-in, and there was nothing in the song suggesting he was black, just BIG, like Dwayne Johnson. Here’s the song…

But I digress…

Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 2/27/18: “Mrs. Miniver” Ethics, “Ick!,” And A Poll

Rugby in the morning

1 One of my favorite Hollywood ethics scenes. I watched “Mrs. Miniver” again last night, the 1942 WWII drama starring the magnificent Greer Garson. It has a wonderful ethics moment late in the film, when Lady Beldon, the wealthy town battleaxe (and the grandmother Mrs. Miniver’s recently minted daughter-in-law, soon to die tragically) presides over the English village’s annual flower show, in which she has won the coveted “Best Rose” prize every year. But beloved old stationmaster Mr. Ballard has developed a magnificent new rose (named after Garson’s character) and desperately wants to win as well. The Minivers tease their elderly relative about the near certainty that she will win as always regardless of the relative merits of her entry and “The Miniver” entered by Mr. Ballard, since the judges are terrified of her, and Lady Beldon has made it clear to all that she regards the annual prize as a virtual entitlement. After all, the prize is even called “The Beldon Challenge Cup.” Sure enough, the judges, who seemed to be having a harder time than usual concluding that Lady Beldon’s rose deserved the award, hand her a slip that places her rose in first place, and Mr. Ballard’s in second.

Lady Beldon shows the slip to Mrs. Miniver with an air of triumph.

MINIVER: This is really important to you, isn’t it?

LADY BELDON: Yes. It’s stupid of me, but there it is. I’ve won that cup for as long as I can remember.

MINIVER: Mr. Ballard’s terribly keen too.

BELDON: Well, he’s had his chance. Hasn’t he? You have such a way of looking at people. What do you expect me to do? Reverse the judges’ decision?

MINIVER: I wouldn’t put it past you. If you happened to disagree with it.

“But I don’t!” she harrumphs. She keeps looking at the two competing roses, though, and also at old Mr. Ballard (played by Henry Traverse, later to portray Clarence the Wingless Angel”in “It’s a Wonderful Life.” His look of anticipation and hope approximately mirrors the expression of a six-year-old on Christmas morning. And when it comes time to announce the winner, Lady Ballard pauses, looks at the two roses again, ponders,  crumples up the judges’ slip, and announces that “The Miniver” wins the prize.

Dame May Witty, one of the best character actors England ever produced, shows us with her face that she realizes she did the right thing as soon as she sees Ballard’s reaction to winning. And the assembled crowd gives her an even louder ovation than they give the winner. They didn’t even have to see the slip like the Minivers: they know what she did. And she knows they know.

I had a Lady Beldon moment many years ago, before I had even seen the movie. Continue reading

Ethics Warm-Up, Valentines Day, 2018: Of Mummies, Mockingbirds, Hunchbacks, And Sperms….

Happy Valentines Day!

1 Jeremy gets a vacation! As some of you may know, philosopher Jeremy Bentham, John Stuart Mill’s mentor and the founder of utilitarianism, has been stuffed and kept in a glass case at the College of London since his death in 1832 as a condition of his will. I’m not kidding! (A photo has appeared periodically in the Ethics Alarms header from the blog’s first day.) Here he is…

That’s Jeremy’s real head on the floor: the one on top of the stuffed body around his skeleton is wax. Jeremy still attends all meetings of the school’s board, wearing his own clothes.  Now he’s visiting the U.S., something he always wanted to do when he was alive.

2. The message is increasingly clear: everything is racist. Got it, thanks! Working from her mummy, scientists from the University of Bristol reconstructed the face of 3,400-year-old queen Nefertiti, King Tut’s mother, using 3D imaging technology. The process required more than 500 hours. Nefertiti was Egypt’s queen alongside Pharaoh Akhenaten from 1353 to 1336 BC. Heeeeeeere’s  NEFI!

Now the project is under attack on social media because the reconstructed Nefertiti face isn’t dark enough, not that anyone has a clue regarding how dark or light anyone who lived over 3000 years ago was.

This is the kind of gratuitous race-baiting that causes well-deserved backlash.  It’s also redolent of an old whitewashing theme, dating back to the “Cleopatra was black” and “Jesus was black” claims of activists in the 1970s.

3. Segue Alert! And speaking of stupid whitewashing controversies, the cancellation of that high school production of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” because the student cast as the gypsy ingenue Esmeralda was “too white” provoked a backlash….from Nazis.

Naturally, this means that the race-based attack on the innocent student cast because she was the most qualified to play the part was justified, thanks to the trampoline effect when a bad idea is attacked by even worse extremists.  (Don’t make me put the cognitive dissonance scale up twice in one day.) The New York Times reports that the students who intimidated school administrators into cancelling the show “are now besieged by an online mob targeting them with threats and racial epithets after the incident was reported in right-wing publications like Breitbart News, then spread to the neo-Nazi site The Daily Stormer. Via Facebook, the students received pictures of themselves with swastikas plastered on their faces. One parent had what was thought to be her home address (it wasn’t) posted online with a comment seeming to encourage harassment: “Do your thing social media.” Another parent received a profane email, assailing her for embracing “anti-white racism,” adding: “I feel sorry for your brainwashed child.” The way this phenomenon works is that now, when someone legitimately objects to the unethical handling of this episode by the school, they can be portrayed as agreeing with white supremacists.

We saw this effect in full bloom in Charlottesville. Tearing down statues of Robert E. Lee is a form of historical airbrushing and censorship, and principled, objective critics (like me) condemned the statue-toppling mania. Then the alt-right and the white nationalists marched against the removal of a Lee statue, and suddenly if you objected to a memorial to a major figure in American history and a bona fide military hero whose life is a wealth of lessons for all of us, it meant you were siding with racists.  President Trump was effectively trapped by this Catch-22. Continue reading