When The Anti-Liberty Mobs Attack, Courage And Character Are Paramount, Part II: “Slav”

Betty Bonifassi in “Slav”

Fortunately, not every artist has the jelly-spine of Scarlett Johansson when the political correctness, anti-liberty mobs attack.

In Montreal,the Montreal International Jazz Festival immediately did its best imitation of the artist bowing out of her planned role as a transgender male when it cancelled  the show “Slav,” by the acclaimed Quebec theater director Robert Lepage. The production called itself a a “theatrical odyssey” inspired by “traditional African-American slave and work songs,” but–oh-oh!–it also features a nearly all-white cast performing “black” music. Silly me, I never realized music was colored.  Lepage, is white, as is “Slav’s” star Betty Bonifassi.  Only two of the seven cast members are black.

The show was immediately attacked for its “cultural appropriation” and by black activists for “stealing” “their” songs.

The jazz festival , emulating most organizations that ironically tend to have even fewer spinal columns than individual people, canceled the show after only two performances, even though the production had sold more than 8,000 tickets for its scheduled for 16 performances. The craven festival organizers said it had been “shaken” by the criticism, and grovelled, saying.in a statement, “We would like to apologize to those who were hurt. It was not our intention at all.”

Yecchhh.

As I wrote in the Part I, as Johansson essentially killed a film project because she didn’t have the wit or the guts to stand up to unethical bullying by transgender activists, “What is desperately needed when groups misbehave this way and abuse their influence and power is for their target to say no. Unfortunately, doing so requires unusual levels of principal, character, responsibility, intelligence and courage.”

Scarlett obviously doesn’t have them. Roger Lepage, however, does, especially after several leading theater directors in Quebec rallied behind Lepage this week, pointing out that closing the production could have a chilling effect on artistic expression in Canada. At least four theaters are now proceeding with productions of “Slav,” and preparing to metaphorically spit in the protesters’ eyes. Continue reading

When The Anti-Liberty Mobs Attack, Courage And Character Are Paramount, Part I: The “Rub & Tug” Fiasco

As I explained in the initial post about the “Rug and Tug” controversy, the protests against Scarlett Johansson being cast as a biological female who led her life as a transsexual male  (that’s “Tex” on the left) made no sense. The arguments put forth by the transgender cyber-mob and others  undermined the movement for non-traditional casting that would provide minorities, like trans actors, more opportunities in their chosen field.  Their position was a double standard and  internally inconsistent, asserting that biological males who had transitioned to female were a more logical choice to play a real life character who was born female, than a female actress who would be playing a female identifying as a male…when as a female actress, that’s what she would be doing in reality. The controversy was unfair to Johansson (again) and was contrary to the whole concept of acting. Never mind! Transsexuals are currently the darling victim group of the Left, and don’t have to make sense, be consistent, or even advocate causes that avoid undermining other progressive causes and constituencies. What they say is just right, because they say so, that’s all, and anyone who disagrees is a bigot, and that’s that. They want what they want, and because they have been discriminated against in the past, they don’t have to be logical or consistent.

Thus, in episodes like this they can become monsters, using bullying and  social media to demand their desires regardless of whether it is an ethical position or not. Make no mistake: in this case, their position was not an ethical one. What is desperately needed when groups misbehave this way and abuse their influence and power is for their target to say no. Unfortunately, doing so requires unusual levels of principal, character, responsibility, intelligence and courage.

Johansson is a talented actress and a major star, but she does not, we now know, have what it takes. Noticing that no significant voices in Hollywood rallied to her defense, the actress quit the project and resigned from the role, issuing standard Hollywood political correctness blather:

“In light of recent ethical questions raised surrounding my casting as Dante Tex Gill, I have decided to respectfully withdraw my participation in the project. Our cultural understanding of transgender people continues to advance, and I’ve learned a lot from the community since making my first statement about my casting and realize it was insensitive. I have great admiration and love for the trans community and am grateful that the conversation regarding inclusivity in Hollywood continues. According to GLAAD, LGBTQ+ characters dropped 40% in 2017 from the previous year, with no representation of trans characters in any major studio release. While I would have loved the opportunity to bring Dante’s story and transition to life, I understand why many feel he should be portrayed by a transgender person, and I am thankful that this casting debate, albeit controversial, has sparked a larger conversation about diversity and representation in film. I believe that all artists should be considered equally and fairly. My production company, These Pictures, actively pursues projects that both entertain and push boundaries. We look forward to working with every community to bring these most poignant and important stories to audiences worldwide.”

This is Authentic Frontier Gibberish, self-contradictory and easily translated as “Hey, whatever the anointed  in-group says is right is right with me! I’m certainly not going to buck conventional wisdom if it means losing fans, roles, and money! You tell me what to think, and I’ll think it. Tell me to jump, and I’ll say “How high?” I welcome my Political Correctness Masters, and will do their bidding.” Continue reading

Phony Casting Ethics Controversies Reach A New Low: Scarlett Johansson and “Rub & Tug”

“Tex” Gill and Scarlett

 

I have to congratulate the political correctness bullies and hypocritical casting ethics scolds, I really do. I thought that their absurd  caterwauling over the casting of Scarlett Johansson to star in “Ghost in the Machine”  was as ridiculous and contrived as casting ethics complaining could get. Not only have they topped themselves with their attacks on “Rub & Tug,” they are unfairly targeting Johansson again. Impressive.

You may recall that the previous casting controversy involving Johansson occurred last year when she was cast as the lead in “Ghost in the Shell,” an adaptation of a Japanese anime tale. Then, her crime was supposedly “white-washing”: since the character was originally Japanese, it was somehow wrong to cast the white actress to play her. This, of course, is an outrageous double standard, because minority actors have been calling for Hollywood to be open to casting them in roles traditionally played by whites for decades. As I wrote in the post about “Ghost in the Shell,”

“…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 Eurasian 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.” 

Do you sense a bit of pique on my part? Correctomundo, and that was a year ago. I’m far more disgusted now, perhaps because I just spoke at the Smithsonian about the manufactured controversy over the supposedly “racist” Gilbert & Sullivan masterpiece, “The Mikado.”  The latest attack on a Johansson role, however, takes the cake. Continue reading

Ethics Warm-Up, Memorial Day, 5/28/18: Things That Don’t Mix

1. Let’s start with some non-traditional casting hypocrisy.

  • Example A: In “The Gentleman Caller,” an Off-Broadway drama by Phillip Dawkins, an imagined romantic interlude between famously gay Fifties playwrights Tennessee Williams and William Inge has been cast with a Hispanic, and Hispanic-looking, actor as the very un-Hispanic Williams, and an Asian-American actor as the quite Caucasian Inge. This is self-indulgent grandstanding by the director that doesn’t serve the play—that’s the director’s duty, to serve the play—and the playwright was a fool to allow it. If the drama was just about two gay playwrights, it wouldn’t matter who was cast to portray them, or what the actors looked like. The identity of the writers is important to this  drama, however. You don’t cast a short, bald man as Abraham Lincoln, and you don’t cast a fat, flat-chested woman as Marilyn Monroe unless you are actively trying to sabotage the play. The New York Times critic didn’t have the integrity to point out the reverse-whitewashing casting-–mustn’t criticize fellow social justice warriors, you know!—but the stunt is both incompetent and discriminatory.

If a director cast an Irish-American and an Italian-American as James Baldwin and Richard Wright in a similar play, he would be excoriated, and rightly so.

  • Example B. Jim Parsons, best known as aging nerd Sheldon in “Big Bang Theory” and now starring on Broadway in the ensemble revival of “The Boys in the Band,” told the New York Times in an interview that the producer insisted that everyone in the cast be gay. Nice. Gay actors have been insisting forever that their sexuality was no bar to their playing straight characters—this is true, if they are any good as actors—but apparently reverse discrimination is fine.  It’s not fine. It’s bigotry.

When my late, lamented theater company revived that play almost 20 years ago, the director, John Moran, himself gay, insisted that the sexual orientation of the actors who auditioned would play no part in his casting decisions, and it did not. I think most of the all-male cast was not gay, but all of them were (and are) excellent.

One of my favorite Clarence Darrow quotes is, “I’m for the underdog. He needs friends a damn sight more than the other fellow. The best fun in life is to fight for the underdog…If the underdog got on top he would probably be just as rotten as the upper dog, but in the meantime I am for him.”

Things that don’t mix: Anti-discrimination rhetoric and discrimination

2. Another “good illegal immigrant” story. Guatemalan woman Gomez Gonzalez was shot to death in a border incident as she tried to enter the U.S. illegally. The episode is under investigation, and the facts are murky: the border patrol claims that she was in a crowd of people trying to cross the border illegally that became threatening and violent.  Here is how CNN begins its account of the controversy:

“Claudia Patricia Gomez Gonzalez traveled 1,500 miles to the United States, hoping to find a job and a better future. Shortly after she set foot in Texas, a Border Patrol agent shot and killed her.”

No bias there! It is absolutely irrelevant to the legal and ethical issues here why Gonzalez was entering the country illegally. She did not deserve to be shot under any circumstances, and she was no more justified in violating our immigration laws whether her objective was to find a “better future” or to open a meth lab. The news media insists on sentimentalizing what is a black and white issue of sovereignty, law-breaking and enforcement, with the intent of confusing the public and demonizing opponents of illegal immigration.

Things that don’t mix: Lawbreaking and status as a virtuous martyr

Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 5/2/18: Dictators, Wizards, Liars and Abusers [Updated]

Good morning!

1 Housekeeping matters. For some reason, I know not what, there was an outbreak of contentious discussion regarding Ethics Alarms administration in a couple of threads yesterday. I think everything covered or complained about is covered in the Comment Policies above, but just for the record:

  • I handle the moderation here. Only me.
  • Though it might appear otherwise to some, I do not spend my day glued to Ethics Alarms. Thus on days like yesterday, when I had an early morning CLE session to teach in D.C., followed by one  law firm client emergency after another, I did not see any comments at all from 1am to 6 pm. Thus the hysterical and indignant “Why did you delete my comment?” outbursts and the “How dare you allow that rude comment to stay on the site?” and the ultimata springing therefrom were especially silly, unfair, and ill-informed.
  • I am not your Moderation Monkey. Don’t command me on how to police my own site. Thank you.
  • As I have written many times, occasionally a comment from an approved participant gets spammed for no good reason. Sometimes WordPress, for no apparent provocation, starts spamming the comments of visitors here who have been commenting for years. Sometimes such commenters have had to change their screen names as a result. None of this has anything to do with me: I can’t control it, or predict it. The calm, reasonable commenters faced with this crisis generally e-mail me, then I search the spam archives, find the lost post, send it to moderation, and approve it.
  • I do not delete posts from approved commenters. The exception is when I ban a commenter permanently, or give one a time out, which is a temporary ban or suspension, in which case the commenter is always warned in advance.
  • I expect discourse here to be civil, but will excuse momentary and periodic lapses and outbursts from veteran commenters (and me, of course), in direct proportion to their time here, level of participation and constructive value to the mission. Individual quirks will also be taken into consideration.

2. Remembering the David Manning Liar of the Month: A commenter who hails from the old Ethics Scoreboard days recently referenced the feature there called the David Manning Liar of the Month. A David Manning-style lie is a statement that the speaker or writer can’t possibly expect anyone to  believe, thus raising the question of whether it is a lie at all. (Sony spawned the award by excusing its use of a fake film reviewer it named David Manning to rave about terrible movies in ads,  claiming that nobody believed such excerpts anyway.) If Ethics Alarms had the same feature, President Trump would obviously dominate it, as I was reminded this morning. The President’s ex-physician, Dr. Harold Bornstein. bitter over his ejection from the Trump Court, revealed that Trump himself had dictated the absurd letter in which the doctor attested, Continue reading

Comment Of The Day: “Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 2/7/2018: Something In This Post Is Guaranteed To Send You Screaming Into The Streets” [Item #3]

Curmie is one of my favorite bloggers, and also a fellow stage director, a teacher, and a learned man with a keen understanding of ethics. As soon as I encountered the jaw-dropping story about the high school that cancelled its scheduled musical after a protest was mounted because a white student was cast in the role of the show’s Romani heroine, I knew it was in Curmie’s wheelhouse.

Here us Curmie’s Comment of the Day on the third topic in the post, Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 2/7/2018: Something In This Post Is Guaranteed To Send You Screaming Into The Streets:

Re #3: I’d seen this story a few days ago, but luckily for my sanity I had too many other things on my mind to contemplate too deeply what was going on in my old stomping grounds (I went to high school a little over a half hour from Ithaca, and spent four years in grad school at Cornell).

I’m not sure I agree with you that the school is supporting “per se racism,” but I do think the decision was equal parts stupid, repressive, and cowardly. Even if we discount your entire argument, Jack (and I don’t), we still left with this: the character is Romani. The fact that a POC actor played the role in the biggest production of this particular iteration of the story doesn’t change the fact that many Romani are indeed white. What they definitely aren’t is black, although one suspects that casting such as actor in the role would have been at least condoned if not applauded. And if I’m identifying the complaining student correctly, she is far from the body type one would associate with the role. Continue reading

Casting Ethics: A Black Joan Of Arc?

Sure, why not?

From Playbill:

Manhattan Theatre Club has announced a Broadway revival of “Saint Joan” by Nobel Prize and Oscar winner George Bernard Shaw with direction by Tony winner Daniel Sullivan. Heading the cast as the famous heroine will be Condola Rashad, fresh off her Tony-nominated performance in “A Doll’s House, Part 2.”

Superficially, at least, the casting of Rashad, an African American actress, as the famous “Maid of Orléans,” the French teenager who gained political and military power as a self-proclaimed messenger of God and who was burned at the stake, would seem like precisely the kind of stunt non-traditional casting that I have condemned by subjugating the intent and art of a playwright to affirmative action and virtue-signaling. However, this is not a legitimate objection to this casting choice, and in fact the upcoming Broadway production is as close to a perfect example of how creative casting can enliven a production and deepen its ability to make an audience think.

Joan of Arc, of course, was not black. Nor was she Swedish, though Ingrid Bergman played her memorably enough in the most famous Hollywood version of  Shaw’s play, She also didn’t speak English, and certainly not Shavian English. She spoke French. Ethnicity, race and color are not part of Shaw’s drama, however, nor are they relevant to what Joan of Arc did in life, and what she meant to her nation, its history and our shared Western culture.

How many public schools teach anything about Joan of Arc? How many U.S. students graduate completely ignorant of the historical Joan, not to mention Shaw’s version? Yet hers is one of the most remarkable stories in recorded history.

Joan of Arc was born around 1412, the daughter of a tenant farmer, Jacques d’Arc, from the village of Domrémy, in northeastern France. She was illiterate, as were most  of her class and gender, but also was indoctrinated into the teachings of the Catholic Church by her mother.  France was engaged in what we now call the Hundred Years’ War with England, and England had France by the throat.  A forced  treaty in 1420 disinherited  Charles, French crown prince, and England’s King Henry V—there’s a famous play about him, too– was made ruler of both England and France. Upon his father’s death, Henry VI succeeded him as king in 1422. At this point England occupied much of northern France, and many in Joan’s village, Domrémy, were forced to abandon their homes under threat of invasion.

Thirteen year-old  Joan began to hear voices in her head. Today we think the cause was tinnitus, but she was certain God was assigning her the mission of  saving France by defeating the English, and installing Charles as its the rightful king. Joan took a vow of chastity, as part of her bargain with God; this allowed her to reject a marriage her father arranged for her when she was 16.

Around this time, Joan traveled by herself to  Vaucouleurs, a nearby stronghold of those loyal to Charles. With her faith and her persuasive claim of being a holy messenger, she attracted a small band of followers who were convinced her sudden appearance was the the result of a popular prophecy coming true, and that she was destined to save France. Joan cut her hair short and dressed in men’s clothes to make an 11-day journey across enemy territory to Chinon, where the crown prince’s palace stood. She met with the young man, and convinced him that she was the Real McCoy (they didn’t use that phrase in France, of course)  by allegedly telling him things only God would know. She also  promised Charles that she would see him crowned king at Reims, the traditional site of French royal investiture, and asked him to give her an army to lead to Orléans, then under siege from the English.

Charles granted her request. Think about this for a bit. A strange teenage girl, dressed like a boy and claiming to hear voices, meets with the leader of a nation at war and convinces him to put her in charge of an army.

Amazing. Continue reading

Casting Ethics And “The Music Man”

A recently closed summer production of “The Music Man” at the Berkshires’ Sharon Playhouse illustrates many of the ethics landmines overly ambitious directors and non-traditional casting can trigger.

New York director Morgan Green was hired to direct Meredith Willson’s  1957 classic. Until “Hamilton” came along, only two Tony winning musicals had a book, lyrics and music all written by one person: “The Music Man” and “Oliver!” “The Music Man” isn’t my favorite musical, but a strong argument can be made that it is the Great American Musical, celebrating small town Americana with Sousa-style marches, barbershop quartets, and the best ending in musical theater history (stolen, with great success, by “School of Rock.”) There is no need to mess with it, since the show is pretty close to perfect. I was taught that a production should be equally satisfying for an audience member who is seeing a show for the first time and for one who is seeing it for the last time.  A version that takes the show out of 1912 and litters the landscape with anachronisms and forced 2017 social and political references isn’t fair to either of these. This was, I presume from based on Jesse Green’s review, a “Music Man” for people sick of “The Music Man” (like Jason Green.) You know what? If a director is sick of a show, she has an ethical obligation to let someone direct who isn’t sick of it.

Naturally, there was the obligatory stunt casting of women in some men’s roles (but never men in women’s roles, of course), and  the non-traditional casting of a black actress as Marion (the Librarian) Paroo, the romantic lead originally created by the recently departed Barbara Cook in the original production.

I see no problem in principle with casting Marion as black. It’s certainly ahistorical, and the hint of a trans-racial romance in 1912 Iowa is unimaginable, but “The Music Man” is, or should be, about kids, romance, parades, sentiment and fun, none of which is impeded by non-traditional casting.

There is a problem, though. One of Marion’s big solos, in which she sings about her ideal man (whom her mother believes is too ideal to be real), is called “My White Knight.”

Oh-oh. Continue reading

Bad Ethics Chess: The Insufficiently Diverse High School “Sound of Music”

The real mystery here is how the school administrators and teachers could not have seen this coming. Thus the ethical value at issue is, as it often seems to be with public education, competence, or rather the lack of it.

In April of 2016, Marshfield High (in Wisconsin) presented its annual musical.  The production involved a cast of 40 students with 30 more in the crew and orchestra. Students from two elementary schools were in the cast. The show? Rogers and Hammerstein’s “The Sound of Music,” based on the story of the Von Trapp singers and their escape from Austria when the Nazis took over.

In March 2016, a complaint was received from a parent alleging that  the musical’s casting violated the district’s non-discrimination policy.  The parent asked why the cast did not “represent the demographics of the school district” and why a deliberate effort was not made “to ensure diversity in the cast.” The parent further said that even if the organizers of the play did not intend to discriminate, they did so “in the most overt and egregious manner.” For more than a year, district officials tried to keep the complaint and the resulting investigation out of the news. Now the investigation is out, and it found that indeed the casting did violate the policy.

I didn’t have to read the whole article, or much of it at all, to guess what happened. All I needed to know was that a high school with a diverse student body had chosen “The Sound of Music” as its annual musical. Everyone has seen the movie, and knows that it is about the cutest Austrian family on Earth stocked with a group of brothers and sisters whose ascending ages and heights constitute the most vivid visual image of the play.  High schools seldom produce this musical, for exactly these reasons. A theater department barging ahead with this Rodger and Hammerstein classic will be instantly risk appearing to exclude anyone who isn’t so white that their brilliant gleam will blind the audience (and African-American Nazis are even more jarring than  Hispanic-American and Asian Austrians), or it must commit to the most show-undermining non-traditional casting imaginable. There isn’t even a true choice: if you produce this show in a public school, you have to be ready to cast a black Maria, brown Nazis, Asian Austrian nuns and a brood of Von Trapps that suggests that the Captain was rather naughty in his travels, if admirably open to amorous affections regardless of race, color or creed. Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up: 7/17/17 [UPDATED]

Good morning, everyone!

1. President Trump is upset about an ABC-Washington Post poll that among other things indicates that 70% of those polled believe that he has acted “un-Presidential” since being elected. Several analysts have suggested that pollsters have slanted their polling pools toward Democrats (remember the election?), but my question regarding this poll is, “What the hell is the matter with the other 30%?”

How in the world could anyone conscious argue that Trump is “Presidential,” other than on the rather technical basis that since he’s President, what he does is by definition Presidential? It would be mighty nice if an aide, a Cabinet member, a daughter, a White House chef or someone would explain this to him, but I’m convinced: he doesn’t get it, he won’t get it, and what weve  seen is what we’ll continue to get.

2. ALERT! The forgoing was written after I was fooled by a fake news site, aided and abetted by Instapundit, which either was also fooled or linked to the site as its own joke.  Thanks to reader Tom Adams for being  more alert than I was and quickly flagging this.

And by the way, screw them. I’m taking off the link, and I will probably give the site an Unethical Website designation. The only hint that the site is a hoax site is the other stories (“GOP Adopts Christie’s Sad, Bewildered Face As New Party Mascot”), but I read dozens of stories every day, and if i stopped to check all the other boxed and highlighted pieces I would never have time to do my job. There is nothing on the home page designating the site as satirical. Unethical.

I apologize to anyone I led astray. Somebody alert Instapundit. I’m not speaking to it.  Here was the original post…

That said and mournfully accepted, he won, he’s President, and the fevered efforts to somehow turn back time (I would not be surprised to see a new Bon Jovi Direct TV ad on the subject)  by “the resistance,” the Democrats and the news media are profoundly anti-democratic. This is what Jake Tapper was alluding last week with his tongue stuck so firmly in his cheek that it almost broke through his face. “The conspiracy goes much deeper than anyone expected,” Jake Tapper said on his news segment “The Lead.” “We’re talking tens of millions of people involved in this secret plot to make sure Hillary didn’t make it into the White House and to prop up Donald Trump as the winner….It’s far more sinister than we thought.”

Yes, some conservative websites and others took Tapper’s pointed gag seriously. This tells us…

…how little trust CNN has left with many Americans..

…how dumb a lot of conservatives are…

…why broadcast news hosts and reporters, even fair and clever ones like Tapper, should avoid sarcasm, satire, or facetious statements, and stick to the facts.

…Jake Tapper should get away from CNN before its toxic culture ruins his reputation. Continue reading