Woody Allen, James Shigata, And Diversity Casting Ethics

You have no idea who this is, do you? Well, it shouldn't have turned out  that way...

You have no idea who this is, do you? Well, it shouldn’t have turned out that way…

I’m sure you heard about James Garner’s recent death, but were you aware of James Shigata’s passing? Shigata, who died July 28 at the age of 85, was a contemporary of Garner’s, a superb actor, and like Garner, a leading man with leading man looks. James Shigata, however, was of Asian descent, though American through and through, and never escaped the perceived limitations of the shape of his eyes. Though he had a starring role in the hit film adaption of  the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical “Flower Drum Song” and routinely received critical acclaim for all of his film work, but though he got roles on television through the ’80s, he never was able to break through the typecasting straightjacket that deemed him only suitable for “Asian” roles. If you remember him as all, it is probably as the brave Japanese executive shot by Allan Rickman in “Die Hard.”

I thought about Shigata when I read a piece in Salon, noting that director Woody Allen didn’t cast African-Americans in his movies, and that his explanation why didn’t justify the neglect. Prachi Gupta writes, Continue reading

Concept Stealing Or Creative Evolution? “The Trip To Bountiful” Controversy And The Ownership Of Conceptual Innovation

"Pay up! Timothy Wilson owns that color!"

“Pay up! Timothy Wilson owns that color!”

The late playwright Horton Foote’s gentle drama (all of his dramas are gentle, come to think of it) “The Trip To Bountiful” is being revived on Broadway, and is stirring up the kind of nasty controversy he would have detested. (You probably know Foote better as the screenwriter who brilliantly adapted “To Kill A Mockingbird” into the classic movie it became.) The production has an all-black cast starring Cicely Tyson, and some are arguing that director Michael Wilson stole the idea of presenting Foote’s tale as the story of an African American family.They also claim that he owes Timothy Douglas, the professional director who first staged the play this way (in Cleveland, in 2011) public acknowledgment, and possibly compensation. Alisa Solomon lays out the theatrical ethics controversy here, and explores many related issues, including the murky distinction between colorblind casting and non-traditional casting.

As an ethicist and a professional stage director, I have a simple and direct answer for what Solomon seems to believe is a complex question: Baloney. Continue reading

Comment of the Day: “The Ice Child” and Staging Theft Ethics”

Arts blogger Jeremy Barker contributes a provocative counter-argument to my stance in the controversy over a D.C. based theater company that borrowed/adapted/stole an original production concept from a New York company without attribution or permission.  My position was (and is) that no rule, principle or law designed to discourage such conduct could avoid suffocating legitimate adaptations, mutations and new uses of  ideas devised by others, with devastating effects on creative expression. This is one of the great ethics controversies in the world of art, and I am glad to see it back in the ring.

Here is Jeremy’s Comment of the Day on my post, “The Ice Child” and Staging Theft Ethics.

“Jack–I just came across this piece and wanted to respond because I think, in quoting me, you ignore part of my argument, and I’m curious if you can clarify your perspective.

“Specifically, I feel like your caveated argument in favor of Factory 449 is based on the sense that it’s common practice to borrow such design or staging elements in text-based theater. I agree, it is. But if we were speaking of a specific author’s text, I think most commenters would have swung the other way. We tend to protect the playwright’s text in a different fashion than we do a design concept. A writer could be accused on plagiarism for either (a) imitating a distinctive plot, or (b) appropriating the same words. Yes, we can argue about what is an acceptable form of “referencing” (no one thinks Arthur Laurents wrote Romeo & Juliet, for instance) and what crosses the line. Often, this applies to how the text is used. But we understand and appreciate a playtext as a protected, distinctive thing.

“Indeed, I’d argue that this logic, which privileges the text, is the basis on which people in this thread are defending Factory 449′s appropriation. Since it wasn’t the same “play,” by which they mean “play text,” it’s not really the same thing, ergo, it’s not ripping someone off wholesale. Continue reading

“The Ice Child” and Staging Theft Ethics

Copy or inspiration?

Well-reviewed, received and attended, the Washington D.C. production of “The Ice Child,” an original horror play by members of the three-year-old ensemble Factory 449, has stirred controversy because of its staging and production design, which is not only strikingly similar to a New York production of another horror play, “Americana Kamikaze,” but the company candidly admits that its visual concept was inspired by the 2009 work. Factory 449 also maintains that the plays are different, and that their appropriation of the design elements of the Temporary Distortion production of “Americana Kamikaze” is within the realm of acceptable, and ethical, theater practice. In a statement responding to charges of theft of creative output, the company wrote: Continue reading

Oscar, Jean Luc-Godard, and the Ethics of Honoring Talented Creeps

The Academy of Motion Picture Sciences will be giving an honorary Oscar to French director Jean-Luc Godard, and nobody who knows anything about film can object to the award on the basis of merit. Godard is one of the most influential film makers who ever yelled “Cut!;”  there are dozens of film classes about his work in schools all over the country. He makes great movies, and has for decades. He deserves the honor.

Or does he? Mr. Godard, it seems, has also been resolutely anti-Jewish, at least in his sentiments, for almost as long as he has been making classic films. Some in the industry and without are questioning whether Hollywood should be honoring a likely Anti-Semite.

Excuse me…did I miss something? When did the rest of the Oscars get junked, leaving only the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award? Continue reading