A group of students, advocacy groups and a primarily black and Hispanic California school district filed suit against the University of California last week, alleging that the SAT and ACT college admission tests discriminate against black and Hispanic students and demanding that the school stop using standardized test scores in its admissions process.
The theory that the tests are biased against poor and mainly black and Hispanic students concludes that the system illegally discriminates against applicants on the basis of their race, wealth or disabilities, thus denying them equal protection under the California Constitution. This battle has been fought before, of course. There was a time, decades ago, when foes of standardized testing could point to test questions referring to yachting and Western philosophers, baking in a bias that handicapped students fromracial and ethnic sub-cultures in America. Those prejudicial questions have been purged, but the long-time disparity between the test scores of white and Asian applicants on one side and black and Hispanic students on the other continues. Continue reading →
I’m sure it wasn’t intentional, but on October 25, in a thread in response to this post, the estimable and usually reliable commenter Still Spartan stated as fact, in no uncertain terms,
My point is simply that speech about race has changed dramatically over the last 20 years. When is the last time you’ve heard the word Oriental? Heck, we don’t even say Hispanic anymore. But we did 20 years ago….Most people now use the term Latina or Latino, and even that is being replaced with Latinx.
Once again, a Hollywood film has political correctness furies attacking its casting. This time, it’s the sci-fi “Ghost in the Shell,” starring Scarlett Johansson.
The sad fact is, movie makers can’t win. If a black actor isn’t cast to play a white character in the source material, Hollywood is engaging in bias by eschewing “non-traditional casting,” which is necessary to remedy de facto segregation and prejudice in movies. If Charlton Heston is cast as a Mexican, as in “Touch of Evil,” it’s “whitewashing”—prejudicial and racist casting of whites to play non-whites. Of course, when Morgan Freeman, an African American, is cast to play a dark skinned Semitic character in “Ben Hur,” nobody calls that “blackwashing,” for there is no such thing as blackwashing. Casting Denzel Washington as a white character from “The Pelican Brief”: great! Who doesn’t like Denzel? Casting Denzel as the white hero of “The Magnificent Seven” in the remake, when the white hero was non-traditionally cast with the sort-of Eurasian Yul Brenner in the original, was also great, because—who doesn’t like Denzel? Casting Andy Garcia, a Cuban-American, as member of the Italian Corleone family in “Godfather III” was also fine and dandy, but not the casting of sort-of Eurasion Brenner as the King of Siam in “The King and I,” (even though he won the Tony and the Academy Award for an iconic performance)—, especially with all those great Thai musical comedy stars available. So that was–what, “sort-of-whitewashing”?
All right: how about a musical conceived with the novel conceit of having the Founding Fathers played by young black and Hispanic performers? Is that non-traditional casting? Minority-washing? Is it racist to stay with the original (brilliant) concept and tell white actors they can’t audition to be Hamilton, Jefferson, and Aaron Burr? Of course it’s not racist. After all, those actors are white. Screw ’em.
Are you seeing a theme here? Neither am I. What matters in casting a play, film or writing an adaptation is whether the final result works: How well do the actors play their roles? Is it entertaining? Does it make money?
Now the casting of Johansson as an originally Japanese character in a Japanese manga comic and animated film is being attacked as racist. Whitewashing, you know. No, in fact the words applicable here are “adaptations,” “movies,” “cultural cross-pollination” and “commerce.” In this case, not always, but in this case, the accusation of “whitewashing” is pure race-baiting.
More than forty years ago, the real life German prison camp escape engineered by captured WWII British fliers was made into the film “The Great Escape.” Brits were annoyed as production got underway, however, by the presence of heroic American prisoners in the cast, the characters played by U.S. stars James Garner and Steve McQueen. This was, British critics and veterans said, an outrage: Americans had nothing to do with the real escape. The answer by the producers contained three segments:
1. We own the film rights, and can do whatever we think will make the best movie.
2. The film is fictionalized, and makes no representations to the contrary.
3. Garner and McQueen will ensure that the film makes a profit in the U.S, plus they are both great and entertaining young stars.
Good justifications all. “The Great Escape,” as we now know, is a classic, still honored the real event, and made lots of money. Somehow, British self-esteem recovered.
The Brits also didn’t complain when Japan’s great film auteur director, Akira Kurasawa, made an all-Japanese cast adaptation of “King Lear,” which is about a Celtic king. Wasn’t this–what, “yellow-washing”? Don’t be silly: all good stories can be told in myriad ways, in many cultural contexts. “Ghost in the Shell” is a science fiction fantasy. It is not about real people, and the characters were Japanese because the author and intended audience were Japanese—you know, like the original “King Lear” was in Elizabethan English.
“Ghost in the Shell” director Rupert Sanders cast Johansson as the cyborg assassin named Motoko Kusanagi in the original and renamed the character “Mira Killian.” It is the “Who doesn’t like Denzel?” non-traditional casting principle, except the even more understandable “Who doesn’t like Scarlet, especially when she looks naked for much of the movie?” variation. The perambulations of critics trying to find something racist about the most obvious box office casting choice imaginable border on hilarious. At some point, actress Johansson decided it was more lucrative and fun being the next female action movie star than starring in solemn costume drama bombs like “The Girl With The Pearl Earring” and “The Other Boleyn Girl.” Since then, she has been rising as a bankable star in blockbusters like “The Avenger” films and “Lucy.” Quick: name another hot (I mean, of course, popular and bankable) female action star?
Pop Quiz: which is obviously unethical? Casting a Scotch-English actor as a Mexican, or casting a Cuban-American as a Sicilian-American?
I was watching Turner Movie Classics over the weekend, and guest Louis Gossett Jr, best known for playing the drill sergeant who makes An Officer And A Gentleman out of jerk Richard Gere, had chosen the Orson Welles cult film “Touch of Evil” for the evening’s viewing. Host Ben Mankiewicz noted that the film, which he agreed was a classic, now causes politically correct eyes—like his and Gossett’s— to roll because Charlton Heston had the role of a Mexican district attorney. Without saying why, both Ben and Lou tut-tutted and agreed that this would never be tolerated today, and the role would obviously be cast with someone like Antonio Bandaras. It was too obvious to decent viewers to explain, I guess.
We have gone over this issue before here, and more than once, but what was special and disturbing about this conversation was that it assumed a new cultural ethics standard as if everyone agrees with it; the previous standard, we now know in our wisdom, was wrong; and now it’s clear what is the right path going forward. This is how mass media, which is pervasive, powerful, and overwhelmingly controlled by none-too-bright and none-too-ethical knee-jerk leftists, accelerates the natural evolution of societal and cultural ethics. When the media sends a united message that an issue is decided, those of slug-like alertness and apathetic mind—and there are a lot of them— will simply absorb the edict without applying critical thought.
Oh…the right thing is to just let anyone who wants to come to this country jump the border. Got it. Oh…guns should be confiscated and banned by the government if it can save one life. Of course. Oh…the minimum wage should be a living wage. How true…
The fact that there is not and should not be cultural consensus on such conclusions because they make no sense logically or ethically will be buried by sheer repetition and certitude, unless sufficient numbers of people who are paying attention and do not surrender to false authority protest loudly and repeatedly. In a previous post on this topic, I wrote…
“Through the fog of such distortions, the idea of rigid ethnic casting doesn’t seem so crazy, though it is crazy indeed. I regard it my duty as someone who has both professional expertise in ethics and casting to slap down this rotten and indefensible idea every time it raises its repulsive head.”
Thus I am keeping my promise. The principle that Ben and Lou are assuming our society accepts is nonsense. It is also bad ethics. Continue reading →
What? “Star Trek” cast a Hispanic actor as Khan instead of a genetically engineered Mongolian actor?
One way really terrible ideas take hold and do damage to the culture is for rational people to ignore them while zealots, ideologues and wackos keep repeating them over and over until they no longer sound as wrong as they are. Allowing illegal immigration to continue undiscouraged was one of those ideas, manifestly ridiculous and destructive. Now look where we are.
Ethic Alarms has had several posts on another really bad idea lately that is being pushed on the culture by political correctness and affirmative action activists: the loopy assertion that ethnic roles in movies and TV should only be cast with actors whose ethnic origins match those of the characters, and that if a director casts someone else, racism and bigotry are at play. Not too long ago, such an assertion would be regarded as too silly to discuss, but we have been through an intense period—the period known as “The Obama Era”— where tribal spoils, grievance-mongering and group identification have been accorded higher priority than, for example, talent, competence, experience or proven success. Through the fog of such distortions, the idea of rigid ethnic casting doesn’t seem so crazy, though it is crazy indeed.
I regard it my duty as someone who has both professional expertise in ethics and casting to slap down this rotten and indefensible idea every time it raises its repulsive head. I recommend that you do the same.
Yesterday, Ana Valdez, the executive director of the Latino Donor Collaborative, wrote to the Washington Post to endorse film critic Ann Hornaday’s column complaining about white actors playing Middle Eastern roles (I managed to hold down my bile with that one), and added…
She failed to acknowledge perhaps the biggest whitewashing: the continual casting of white actors to play Latinos. This has been going on for decades, from Eli Wallach playing Calvera in “The Magnificent Seven” to Mark Ruffalo playing Michael Rezendes, a Boston Globe reporter, in “Spotlight.” Jennifer Connelly won an Oscar for her portrayal of Alicia Lardé Nash in “A Beautiful Mind,” and Ben Affleck played Tony Mendez in the Oscar-winning “Argo.” All of these characters are Latino. Ethan Hawke, Meryl Streep, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Jeremy Irons and Glenn Close all have played Latinos in motion pictures…. It does look like Hollywood is trying not to hire Latinos.
Uh-uh, Senator. You can’t have it both ways, not on Ethics Alarms. You can’t be gracious and forgiving and then turn around a couple days later and say what your red meat supporters want to hear. I call that an “Al Gore,” who gave a magnanimous and statesman-like speech conceding after the Supreme Court stopped the 2000 Florida recount, and then slammed the legitimacy of his defeat ever after.
Ethics Alarms gave the Republican rabblerouser an Ethics Hero designation for coming to pundit Mark Halperin’s defense when he was being pilloried all over the media for a demeaning interview of Cruz based on the assumption that he needed to prove that he was really Hispanic. After Halperin was battered into apologizing, Cruz said, in part,
“Mark Halperin is a serious and fair-minded journalist. Today he kindly issued an apology for some silly questions he asked me in an interview. The apology was unnecessary — no offense was taken, nor, I believe, intended — but is certainly appreciated.”
“Imagine if [Halperin] had asked Obama these same questions? He would have been run out of the industry.”
But no offense was taken, right, Ted?
Not cool, not kind, and definitely not consistent. The fact that he is absolutely correct about the double standard is beside the point. Cruz couldn’t help himself. He knew the right way to act (that is, his ethics alarms work and he can follow the Golden Rule), but he didn’t have the self-restraint or integrity to resist taking a shot at Halperin anyway. Now we know what he really thinks, and now we know that what he said initially was just a smart politician taking a high road that he didn’t want to be on.
[UPDATE: Sen Cruz’s Ethics Hero designation has been REVOKED by Ethics Alarms. Details here.]
One of the Republican party’s most demonized conservative politicians, Tea Party idol and Presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, just challenged his progressive critics to concede that he has the character of a President, at least.
Cruz stood by politely as familiar TV pundit Mark Halperin cross-examined him on Bloomberg TV as if the Cuban-American was suspected of being born in Kenya. The demeaning interview (to both Cruz and Halperin, who disgraced himself) consisted of Halperin pressing the Republican firebrand to prove his Hispanic bona fides with cringe-worthy questions about his favorite Cuban food and what his tastes in Hispanic music were. (A Hispanic journalist quipped that Halperin had Cruz confused with Ricky Ricardo.) It all came to a nauseating climax when Halperin said: “I want to give you the opportunity to directly welcome your colleague Sen. Sanders to the race, and I’d like you to do it, if you would, en español.”
The fiasco of an interview took a while to register (apparently nobody watches Bloomberg), but when it did, Halperin was excoriated left, right, and center, called a racist, called a fool, called biased against Cruz and determined to trap him into a “Gotcha!” Mostly he was called an inept and unprofessional interviewer, and Halperin, who is playing talking head somewhere that actually has viewers almost every day, had to issue an attempted career-salvaging apology.
Once again we confront a variation of the “Duck Dynasty” issue of entertainers losing their jobs over their expression of political, religious or other opinions that have nothing to do with their performances.
Actress María Conchita Alonso, who has been an outspoken advocate of conservative policies on occasion, was recruited by the camp of the Tea Party candidate for governor of California, Tim Donnelly, to appear in a campaign video. Donnelly is a hardliner on illegal immigration, or as supporters of open borders and stolen U.S. benefits of citizenship like to call it to blur the issues, “undocumented workers.” Following the ad’s debut, many Hispanic residents of San Francisco protested and threatened to boycott the Brava Theater Center’s production of a Spanish-language version of “The Vagina Monologues,” which was starred the actress.
As frequent readers of Ethics Alarms know, I fervently believe that history is important, and that we all have a duty to remember and honor the remarkable Americans who have gone before us, their exploits, triumphs, struggles and achievements, both for our sakes—for we can learn much from them—and theirs. I am constantly discouraged by the inspirational stories and fascinating historical figures who have nearly been forgotten. The schools don’t teach our children about them, and popular culture ignores them. This weakens the flavor and the power of our shared culture: it is wrong, that’s all.
Today, as I realized we were in the midst of National Hispanic Heritage Month ( September 15-October 15), I want to do my part to help keep alive the name and the story of a Mexican-American who may have faded from memory because the events of his life seem more fictional than real. Indeed, for most of my life, until a couple of years ago, I thought Elfago Baca was a creation of Walt Disney’s creative staff, who wrote a ten episode mini-series about him called “The Nine Lives of Elfago Baca” for the “Disneyland” show (“Now…from Frontierland!”) in 1958. I loved that series, but it never occurred to me that the series’ tales of a gunslinging, lawyer-sheriff in Old New Mexico could possibly have any connection to reality.
But they did. The real Elfago was, if anything, even more improbable than his fictionalized counterpart, portrayed by a very young and athletic Robert Loggia, who is best known as the toy magnate who plays “Chopsticks” on the giant keyboard with Tom Hanks in “Big.” Continue reading →
I don’t mean to pick on Still Spartan, but as there is so much angst these days about misinformation being spread on social media and the web, I certainly don’t want Ethics Alarms to be part of the problem. And, I confess that it annoys me when someone curtly declares here something to be true here that I am fairly certain is not.
SS also suggested in the comment above that “Latinx” was replacing :Hispanic.” I was dubious about this too. By happenstance, a recent poll on the topic, the results of which you see in the graphic, was introduced thusly on Medium: