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.

Being Woke, Disrespectful And Stupid Is No Way To Go Through “West Side Story,” Spielberg!

West Side story

Gee, I’m getting a lot of opportunities to write, “I told you so!” lately. But I won’t…

In 2019 Ethics Alarms noted,

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.

I am so glad that, based partially on this, I turned down an invitation to do a lecture right about now for the Smithsonian on the evolution of “West Side Story” through the years. For here comes the news that Stephen Spielberg, who has never directed a musical in his life on stage or screen, has completed his “improved” version with this considerate feature:

[T]o lend the movie an extra touch of authenticity, Spielberg, and screenwriter Tony Kushner, made the choice not to subtitle any of the Spanish dialogue that’s regularly heard throughout the film. Instead, multiple scenes in West Side Story take place entirely in Spanish — or with a pronounced mixture of English and Spanish — and there’s no onscreen text to fill in the gaps for non-Spanish speaking viewers.

“Extra touch of authenticity”?!! Characters are singing their feelings in the film! I assume that, as in the first film version, they are also doing ballet in the streets. Musicals have no “authenticity.” But aside from that asinine statement from Yahoo! reporter Ethan Alter, the decision to frustrate non-Spanish speaking audience members by making dialogue from the book incomprehensible cannot be defended logically or artistically. What is the objection to sub-titles? It is not only beneficial to the movie to make certain all of the audience knows what’s being said, it is basic courtesy to the original author of the book (Arthur Laurents). What is the objective of this choice?

Divisiveness and to stick it to English-speaking Americans, it seems.

Here’s one contemptuous tweeter: “Steven Spielberg a king for not including subtitles in the Spanish dialogue for his West Side Story…very bold and non-compromising. Make these losers try and decipher what the boricuas are saying along with the rest of the Latinx.” Here’s another: “”Much to love about the new West Side Story, but Steven Spielberg’s deliberate choice not to subtitle any Spanish dialogue was his most brilliant decision. Cops and Jets gang members screaming, “speak English!” The real-world parallels to the American experience of today run deep.”

One choose not to speak English, or not to learn to speak it intelligibly. And then has chosen not to be hired for any job requiring clear and effective communication with the majority of Americans. “Speak English”? Damn right. If the new film’s objective is to discredit that basic obligation of citizenship, it doesn’t just deserve to fail, it deserves to be condemned.

Yet another tweet: “Also I like there are not subtitles when they spoke Spanish. The back and fourth between English and Spanish was so familiar ( in my house Portuguese) but you get the idea. That’s how it should be.”

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Comment Of The Day: “Casting Ethics: ‘Anne Boleyn’ And Discriminatory Double Standards”

Oh, I just love this Comment of the Day by Curmie, who was AWOL from the ethics comment wars for far too long, and whose return recently has made my heart soar like a hawk. I love it for many reasons, including, of course, the fact that it is well written and enlightening, far more so than my post that prompted it, which focused narrowly on the double standard of applauding the having a performer of one race portray another, but only when it’s the “right” races involved.

As with my posts about ethics issues in another lifetime passion, baseball, I know that many readers nod off when the framework is theater. But the conceit of Ethics Alarms is that the ethics issues and process of analysis are often universal regardless of where the dilemmas and conflicts pop up. As it happens, baseball and theater happen to be two realms that I know a lot about.

But not as much as Curmie, at least as far as theater is concerned. I had hoped that he would weigh in on the casting of a black actress as Anne Boleyn, and he did.

Here is Curmie’s Comment of the Day on the post, Casting Ethics: “Anne Boleyn” And Discriminatory Double Standards.

***

Literally two minutes after reading this post, I saw that Katori Hall had been awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for her play The Hot Wing King. I don’t know the play—its Off-Broadway run was cut short by COVID, and as far as I can tell it hasn’t been published.

I do, however, recognize her name as the playwright of The Mountaintop, in which the two characters are Martin Luther King, Jr. and an employee of the Memphis hotel in which he is spending what he doesn’t know is his last night on earth. (Spoiler alert: she’s really an angel preparing him for what is to come.) It is a good, borderline great, play: by turns moving, humorous, and incisive. But what comes immediately to mind is the production by a student group at Kent State University, in which a white actor was cast as King. The director, of course, claimed the casting decision wasn’t a gimmick. (Newsflash: it was a gimmick.)

The original idea was to alternate the role between a white and a black actor to be, in the director’s words, “a true exploration of King’s wish that we all be judged by the content of our character and not the color of our skin.” The black actor had to drop out of the production, and the white one played the role throughout the run.

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Casting Ethics: “Anne Boleyn” And Discriminatory Double Standards

Ann Boleyn series

That’s Anne Boleyn on the photo above. No, really, it is. Well, okay, it’s really British actress Jodie Turner-Smith portraying King Henry the VIII’s doomed second wife, whom most people don’t realize was black. That is, of course, because she wasn’t black, just like Martin Luther King wasn’t Chinese and Genghis Kahn wasn’t a Hassidic Jew. However, a new TV mini-series, which premiered last week in Great Britain, cast Turner-Smith because no white actresses were available to play the role. No, that can’t be right. No white British actress were qualified to play an English historical figure? That can’t be true either. What’s going on here?

“It is the first time a Black actress has portrayed the Tudor queen onscreen,” the New York Times helpfully informs us. Really! The factoids we get from the Times! Why not, I wonder? Wait, wait, don’t tell me: has a man ever played Anne Boleyn in a serious historical drama? How about an octogenarian? An actress in a wheelchair? A dwarf? How about a moose? A block of cheese?

“We wanted to find someone who could really inhabit her but also be surprising to an audience,” Faye Ward, one of the show’s executive producers, said in an interview. Surprising, or confusing? Surprising is a piece of cake, as another doomed queen, but from France, would have said. Casting Woody Allen as Anne would be surprising. What’s the objective here?

The Times feature rapidly descends into a hybrid of Authentic Frontier Gibberish crossed with Wokish.

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No, Pete Davidson Is NOT Starring As George Bailey In A Remake Of “It’s A Wonderful Life”

toy train derailment

Here we have a fine example of that annoying American pop culture phenomenon, the teensie-weensie ethics train wreck. From beginning to end, everything about this episode evinces some lack of ethical values, but in the final analysis, the consequences are negligible.

Let’s examine the trivial Pete Davidson Casting Ethics Train Wreck:

1. Clickbait. Numerous friends and Ethics Alarms readers emailed me with the horrifying news that Pete Davidson, the slimy, possibly mentally-ill Saturday Night Live  cast member and stand-up comic, would be playing George Bailey in a “remake” of the beloved Frank Capra classic, “It’s a Wonderful Life.” The reason for their alarm were headlines like this one, from Tucker Carlson’s Daily Caller: “Pete Davidson To Take On Role Of George Bailey In ‘It’s A Wonderful Life.’” The conclusion reached by those who contacted me was completely reasonable, but the headline was deliberately misleading.

2. Casting a creep like Davidson as George Bailey in any version of that movie including a Cub Scouts skit  is a slur on the film, the beloved character, James Stewart, the holidays, Capra, what the film stands for to many Americans, oh, pretty much everything. Davidson infamously mocked Rep. Dan Crenshaw’s eye-patch when he was running for Congress in 2018, and has generally proven himself to be a smug, shallow jerk of the sort that has flourished during the Trump years. Crenshaw lost his eye in combat, and Davidson has made it clear, despite various insincere mea culpas, that this warrants no respect in his world view.  For Davidson to stand in the shoes of James Stewart, a World War II veteran and hero, is nauseating, and an insult to all veterans. Continue reading

Distracted Ethics Warm-Up, 11/24/2020: “A Website, Two Governors And An Actress Walk Into A Bar…”

distracted

I’m writing this while simultaneously watching an Ethics Rock Extreme Zoom replay and answering typed-in questions from participants. Boy, I hate watching and listening to myself….

1. Unethical website? www.everylegalvote.com is labeled by the New York Times as “promoting claims of fraud, built on fantasy.” I’d call the big map showing Biden with 214 Electoral votes and the President with 232 misleading. I also find the Times’ constant refrain in headlines and stories that the President is “trying to subvert a free and fair election with false claims of fraud” an outright lie.” The 2020 election was not “fair” because of biased and manipulated reporting by the Times and most of the media, and there is no question that many of the allegations of fraud are accurate, with legitimate reasons to suspect broader corruption.

The site is also serving valid purpose since the news media isn’t reporting the current controversies objectively.

2. And this is why most celebrities and actors should shut up, because they make people stupid. Here is actress Kristen Stewart’s response to a interviewers question on how she feels about gay activists demanding that only gay actors should be allowed to play gay characters (Stewart decided she was gay mid-career. Whether she stays gay —think Ann Heche—is an open question. It’s all about branding…) :

I would never want to tell a story that really should be told by somebody who’s lived that experience. Having said that, it’s a slippery slope conversation because that means I could never play another straight character if I’m going to hold everyone to the letter of this particular law. I think it’s such a gray area. There are ways for men to tell women’s stories, or ways for women to tell men’s stories. But we need to have our finger on the pulse and actually have to care. You kind of know where you’re allowed. I mean, if you’re telling a story about a community and they’re not welcoming to you, then fuck off. But if they are, and you’re becoming an ally and a part of it and there’s something that drove you there in the first place that makes you uniquely endowed with a perspective that might be worthwhile, there’s nothing wrong with learning about each other. And therefore helping each other tell stories. So I don’t have a sure-shot answer for that….Sometimes, artfully speaking, you’re just drawn to a certain group of people. I could defend that, but I’m sure that somebody with a different perspective could make me feel bad about that — and then make me renege on everything I’ve just said. I acknowledge the world that we live in. And I absolutely would never want to traipse on someone else’s opportunity to do that — I would feel terrible about that. So my answer is fucking think about what you’re doing! And don’t be an asshole.

Thanks for that clarification, Kristen..

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Cat Hands Ethics

witches hands

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.

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High Noon Ethics Shoot-Out, 10/21/2020: Religious Bigotry Vs Anti-Gay Bigotry! “Whitewashing” Vs Anti-Semitism! Google Vs Trust!

As you may (and should) know, the classic Western “High Noon” was and is regarded by some conservatives as anti-American. I think it is, as excellent as it is. The ending, where the heroic law man (played by Gary Cooper in an Academy Award-winning performance) throws his star in the dirt in disgust (imitated by “Dirty Harry” for very different reasons in that conservative film years later), is widely seen as a rejection of American society as hypocritical. (The fact that the screenwriter, Carl Foreman, was a Communist doesn’t help.)

My favorite scene in the movie, where Cooper begs the church congregation to help, plays like a “Twilight Zone” episode, with the whole town rationalizing furiously to avoid helping the desperate law man minutes away from having to face, alone, vengeful thugs determined to kill him. (The whole scene is not on YouTube; I searched.) “Rio Bravo,” one of the best John Wayne Westerns and a personal favorite, was devised by director Howard Hawks as a direct rebuke of the selfish and craven America “High Noon” posits. In the Duke’s movie, the lawman, Wayne, constantly rejects the offers of help he receives, though he knows hired killers are massing to free his prisoner. Yet people go out of their way, at great personal risk, to help him anyway, time after time. “High Noon” is a better movie (maybe), but “Rio Bravo” is a fairer depiction of American values and history.

1. This is why I tell lawyers and government employees that it’s unethical to use Google for professional communication and client matters. Mac programmer Jeff Johnson has discovered that if you set Google Chrome to eliminate all website cookies and site data when you close the browser, the data remains un-erased for YouTube and Google itself.

What a coinkydink!

“Perhaps this is just a Google Chrome bug, not intentional behavior, but the question is why it only affects Google sites, not non-Google sites,” Johnson says. “I’ve tested using the latest Google Chrome version 86.0.4240.75 for macOS, but this behavior was also happening in the previous version of Chrome. I don’t know when it started.”

Bottom line: Don’t trust Google. Like I’ve been saying….

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Mid-Day Ethics Flashes, 10/16/2020: Casting Ethics, Celebrity Threats, Free Speech Suppression, And Conservative Clickbait

Flashes

1. The good brother. It’s not worth a full post, but Ron Howard deserves a call-out for being a good brother. Last night I finally watched “Frost/Nixon,” and wondered if, since it was directed by Ron Howard, Opie’s hideous younger brother Clint Howard would be in the cast. Sure enough, he was. Clint, like Ron, was a child star, most prominently in the TV series “Gentle Ben.” Unlike Ron, Clint was not treated well by the puberty fairy, and once his goofy looks stopped being cute, he had a face that was usable, if at all, in cheap horror flicks and in bit parts playing various creeps and thugs. Clint’s not a bad actor, he’s just not very versatile, and relentlessly hard on the eyes. He would probably not have an A movie to his credit were it not for the fact that his brother, the rich and famous star director, puts him in the cast whenever he can.

Well, good for Ron. Sure, it’s nepotism, but Clint is serviceable, and certainly capable of playing the parts he’s cast in, like one of the NASA guys in the control room in “Apollo 13,” or a referee in one of the less important Jim Braddock fights in “ Cinderella Man.” Getting such roles in Ron’s prestige films make Clint more attractive for the parts he’s up for in his usual vehicles, like the upcoming “Hell of the Screaming Undead.”

2. On a related casting issue, I watched the Netflix production “Enola Holmes.” It was fun, but the “anti-racism” casting was already in evidence: African Americans were scattered through Victorian London in odd and ahistorical places. It didn’t undermine the quality of the productions: all of the black actors and actresses were pros, but it did make the piece seem set in some fantasy land that never existed. If you know history, it is jarring; if you don’t, then it has no impact at all. I did find the non-traditional casting half-hearted: in virtually all cases, the actors “of color” were relegated to extremely minor roles a step above the extras. You know—like the parts Clint Howard plays in his brother’s movies.

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 7/15/2019: A Double-Talking Star, A Doxxing Law Prof, And…Grandstanding Paper Towels?

It’s a good day, a new week, and anything is possible…

Perry may be a good example of that. Supposedly he was told early on in life that he had a two-digit, sub-normal IQ and should seek a trade rather than anything too intellectually demanding. Como dutifully went to barber school, and was cutting hair when his singing talent made him a star. This story should make us doubt IQ tests more than we doubt the intelligence of “Mr. C”….

1 And today’s ridiculous virtue-signaling and pandering to political correctness goes to…Brawny paper towels!

Ugh.

Keep repeating falsities frequently enough, and people will begin to think they make sense. I guess that’s the theory, right? The truth is that one gender is stronger than the other in about 99.9% of the population, or to put it another way, the average male is much larger and stronger than the average female. This is why women who make themselves look like this…

…are regarded as unusual–because they are.  But Brawny’s lie is used to, for example, pretend that there is nothing unfair about allowing biological men transitioning to womanhood to compete in sporting events as women.

From now on, it’s Bounty for me!

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