“Ghost In The Shell” And “Whitewashing”

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?

I’m waiting…

Writes Matt Golberg in a laugh riot called “Ghost in the Shell is Racist In Surprising Ways””  (another whitewashing screed, equally lame, is here): Continue reading

The New “Ben-Hur” And The Casting Ethics Double Standard

Thank-you, O producers of the new “Ben-Hur,” for so quickly after my post ridiculing the new politically correct casting ethics in Hollywood—according to Turner Movie Classics, it’s just soooo wrong to cast an Anglo Saxon like Charlton Heston as a Mexican, for example—-coming out with the official trailer proving that the new, enlightened casting ethics really only applies when it means it takes jobs away from white actors. Okay, just American white actors. Or something….actually, this casting ethics rules are  kind of made up as things shake out.

Which was what I thought all along.

In the 1959 Ben-Hur (starring, ironically, White Guy Charlton Heston as Judah Ben-Hur ), the plum part of Shiek Iderim was played by brilliant Welsh character actor Hugh Griffith, whose performance rightly won him an Academy Award. Yes, he wore dark make-up, because actors wear make-up. Ah, but these are enlightened days, and now we know, because it has been decreed by Ben Mankiewicz and the rest of the heralds of politically correct casting, that the casting of a master comic actor of unique gifts who was an audience favorite to play the sheik was insensitive and essentially racist, not to mention unfair to all of those unemployed but equally adept Arab actors qualified to play the part. So who plays the sheik in the new, improved, enlightened “Ben-Hur’?

Morgan Freeman.

Who looks as much like an Arab as Bruce Lee. Continue reading

Yet More Casting Ethics: “Hamilton’s” ‘No Whites Need Apply’ Open Casting Call

_hamilton

[ I am back from a speaking engagement that required over eight hours of driving, being in a supposedly “luxury resort” hotel room that had no Wi-Fi for most of my stay and no functioning TV for any of it,  and various other distractions and misadventures that prevented me from posting so far today. I apologize, though it is really the famous Omni Homestead in Hot Springs, VA. that should apologize. The good news is that my seminar was well-received, and that the disappointing trip–this time I was paid only with the supposedly sumptuous two-day  Homestead experience for myself and my long-suffering spouse, including outdoor activities that were impossible due to constant rain and a room with more things in poor repair than a Motel 6—is over.]

 

Broadway’s biggest hit, the Tony-winning  “Hamilton,” is under attack for, of all things, racism.

An open casting announcement on the show’s website read…

“Hamilton” is “seeking NON-WHITE men and women, ages 20s to 30s, for Broadway and upcoming Tours.”

Whaaaat? This joyous musical celebration of America’s founding and its Founders’ inspiration…engaging in racial discrimination? How could this be? Sniffed Actors Equity spokeswoman Maria Somma “The language … is inconsistent with Equity’s policy.”

Yes, this would be because Actor’s Equity has a lot of dumb policies, and like all unions, doesn’t really care about keeping the industry its members work in healthy, productive and profitable, only  making sure as many members as possible have jobs or at least shots at them. There is nothing whatsoever racist or discriminatory about a show that relies on the concept of non-white actors playing the very white Founding Fathers announcing that only actors who can fulfill that conceptual requirement will be considered for roles.

Civil rights attorney Ron Kuby, in an interview with the NY Daily News,  agreed the advertisement might technically violate the city’s human rights law, but that this is because casting is an anomaly. “It’s almost always illegal to advertise on the basis of race, but when you’re casting … it can be a bona fide occupational requirement,” he said. Continue reading

The Zoe Saldana-Nina Simone Controversy

I have been following this story for some time with a mixture of amusement and horror; satisfaction too, I suppose, as it is nice to see that black grievance-mongers are equally irrational when the imagined offender is black rather than white. There is integrity in this, after the irrationality of it all.

Nina Simone’s tribute website calls her a “classically trained pianist who evolved into a chart-topping chanteuse and committed civil rights activist.” As a white kid growing up in the Sixties, I missed Simone almost entirely: she wasn’t a regular guest on TV variety shows.  In college, I encountered aficionados who referred to her as brilliant, and I tried to appreciate her song stylings. She was one of those singers that  I could understand why she was famous and exceptional without wanting to listen to her for pleasure. At the time I regarded Simone as a cult singer, but that was unfair; she was obviously more important than that. I was also unaware of her considerable significance in the civil rights

Three years ago, Zoe Saldana was cast as Nina Simone in “Nina”, a major Hollywood film about the singer’s life, replacing singer Mary J. Blige, who was originally cast but dropped out. Immediately, the choice of Saldana, a rising black actress of Dominican and Puerto Rican parents best known for her work as Uhura on the “Star Trek” reboots, “Avatar,” and “Guardians of the Galaxy”, was attacked. She wasn’t a singer, isn’t a “true” African-American and doesn’t resemble Simone sufficiently, the critics said.

All of these accusations are ridiculous on their face. Most biopics about famous singers, though not all, star actors rather than vocalists: all singing is dubbed in after the film anyway. When, in the history of drama, has there been a rule that the performer’s ethnicity had to match the role he or she was playing? I wrote about the foolishness of this issue most recently here. What matters isn’t that Yul Brenner wasn’t really a Thai, what matters is that he was fantastic at playing the King of Siam. Continue reading

Ethics Quiz: The Anti-Washington Redskins Activist’s Bob Marley Costume

The Native American in the middle is dressed as a famous Jamaican. Would it have been offensive if he dressed as Sitting Bull?

The Native American in the middle is dressed as a famous Jamaican. Would it have been offensive if he dressed as Sitting Bull?

Terry Rambler, chief of the San Carlos Apache Tribe in Arizona, has  been at the forefront of the effort to force The Washington Redskins, a privately owned NFL sports franchise, to change its name and logo of long-standing because both are allegedly racist. [ As I have made clear many times, the team’s name is not racist, as neither its origins nor current use suggest or imply racist intent, purpose or impact, and the team’s owner has a First Amendment right to call his team whatever he wants. The decades long political correctness stunt has gained more traction under the Obama administration, because the Obama Administration and Senate Democrats do not respect the Constitution or follow it when it gets in the way of its agenda. (See: drones, Obamacare, immigration, NSA domestic spying, harassment of reporters, IRS partisan activities, recess appointments, Libya bombing, selective prosecution,  putting government pressure on the Redskins to change its name, etc )

But I digress.

This year, Rambler’s Halloween costume was Jamaican musician Bob Marley, complete with dreadlocks, wig, and rasta beanie. He also wore appropriate make-up to look like Marley.

Here is what the chief looks like most days:

Terry

Here he is on Halloween as the Reggae icon…

Halloween Marley

The costume is making  Rambler the target of criticism from both sides of the controversy: Redskins defenders who view his make-up as “blackface” and thus hypocritical, and his own Team Political Correctness, which sees Rambler as engaging in the same kind of insensitive conduct they claim the Washington Redskins embody.

To make things worse for Rambler, there was another recent Bob Marley controversy in  Gaston County, (North Carolina), where a sheriff’s captain  apologized  for wearing dark make-up as part of her own Marley Halloween costume after her in-costume photo appeared online.

And thus your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day is…

Was the Native American activist’s Bob Marley make-up unethical or hypocritical?

Continue reading

Othello Ethics: When Political Correctness Is Unethical

OtelloposterI don’t know how I missed the fact that opera producers and directors had stopped playing Shakespeare’s Othello in Verdi’s “Otello” as a black man, but I’m glad I did for this long—it allowed me a few more fleeting days of ignorant happiness without dreading the collapse of civilization as we know it. Apparently, however, that is the trend, and now the Metropolitan Opera is caving to the nonsense as well.

It makes perfect sense that most theater companies stopped using dark makeup on light actors for their “Othellos”, because there is seldom a valid reason to cast a white actor in the role: there are plenty of African Americans up to the task. Now, if a great white actor should want to play the role as a black man—like Laurence Olivier did in the 1960s—why not? Judith Anderson played Hamlet (“Hamlet lost” announced one critic); this is why it’s called “acting.” Still, I appreciate the position that the one black tragic hero in Shakespeare’s canon should not be casually distributed to an actor who can easily be cast in any of the other great roles, while black actors have far too few opportunities to star in the classics.

Opera, however, poses a different problem: Otello is a prime tenor role and there are not great black tenors in abundance. Moreover, it is one of the great tenor role: if you are a great tenor, it doesn’t matter if you are green—people want to hear you sing the role. Thus the Met’s new production of Verdi’s “Otello” that will open its season next month will star a white tenor, but not in black makeup. Continue reading

Unethical Quote of the Week: Ampersand on “Alas! A Blog”

Into the Woods

There is no reason in the world, other than Hollywood’s endless racism and lack of imagination, for this movie (or the original play, alas) to have an all-white cast. Why do movies feel like they’d rather die than show us a diverse cast? (And please don’t say “they cast the best people for the roles.” I thought the whole cast was good, but Streep was the only one who turned in a performance so unique that you couldn’t imagine anyone else doing the role.)

—–Ampersand, a.k.a. Barry Deutsch, opining on the assets and deficits of Rob Marshall’s film adaptation of “Into the Woods” on his blog

I hate to pick on Barry—OK, that’s not true, I enjoy it immensely—but this statement could stand as the distillation of knee-jerk liberal thinking on race, and it is wrong in so many ways that I hesitate to start counting. The sentiment, however, poses a nice counterpoint to the discussion here about the black James Bond controversy, so I can’t resist taking aim at it.

1. So casting a mega-million dollar film—-in a dicey genre (Have you heard? Big budget Hollywood musicals died in the Sixties…) and a limited audience—with actors who comport with that audience’s expectations of the musical the film is based on is racist, eh? More unfair words and inexcusable race-baiting were seldom uttered in word or written in ink. If a director had a vision that supported casting African American actors in traditional Grimms’ fairy tale roles and could make it work, I would salute him, but Rob Marshall had other priorities. He knew that every cut would be scrutinized and attacked by the Sondheim fanatics (which, by the way, are as white as a dove convention in a blizzard); he knew that the show itself was seriously flawed; he knew that every single adaptation of a Sondheim musical (“West Side Story” doesn’t count) has been a critical and box office bomb. He had every reason to keep his casting choices as close to the traditional images of the characters and the way they were portrayed on Broadway, and none of those reasons were racism.

2. It’s impressive how casually a race-obsessed progressive will accuse a professional of racism as a first response. Irresponsible, unfair, disrespectful, and in this case, ignorant of both commerce and art. Continue reading

Black James Bond Ethics

Fleming's Bond (l) and Bond-in-Waiting Idris Elba

Fleming’s Bond (l) and Bond-in-Waiting Idris Elba

There’s really no denying it: some conservatives have persistent hang-ups about race, and it undermines their more rational, perceptive views on other matters. A relatively trivial but revealing example occurred in the aftermath of the Sony computer hack by North Korea (or Hacker X). One of the revelations was that Sony, which owns the James Bond franchise, was seriously considering re-booting the character, currently played by the estimable, but aging, Daniel Craig, with a black  British actor (be sure to mock anyone who calls him an “African-American), Idris Elba.

If you are unfamiliar with Elba, you should watch the British series “Luther” on Netflix. He’s terrific: athletic, sexy, charismatic and passionate, not to mention his  aura of cold-bloodedness and danger—in short, perfect for James Bond. But Rush Limbaugh, apparently seeking to retroactively validate the title of Al Franken’s book, “Rush Limbaugh Is A Big Fat Idiot,” decided to use the threat of non-traditional casting to make liberal heads explode, his mission in life:

“That’s NOT who James Bond is, and I know it’s racist to probably even point this out: We had 50 years of white Bonds because Bond is white. Bond was never black. Ian Fleming never created a black Brit to play James Bond. The character was always white. He was always Scottish.”

It is hard to pack so much idiocy into five sentences, but Rush is up to the task. James Bond is a British secret agent: race doesn’t factor into the stories at all. We’ve had 50 years of white Bonds because that’s the conventional way of portraying the character, that’s all. Rush’s argument here is just “Everybody does it.” So what? James Bond movies are entertainment, and if an entertaining James Bond film can be made with Elba as Bond, and there is no reason in the world why not, then James Bond can be black. Continue reading

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

What Is An Ethical Tiger Lily?

Believe it or not, this is Disney's version of an Indian chief.

Disney’s version of an Indian chief.

I recently watched the Disney “Peter Pan,” long my favorite of the classic animated films, which I had not seen from beginning to end in decades. I was genuinely shocked at the portrayal of the Indians, which would make the average movie Western seem politically correct and the Washington Redskins seem like a compliment. I know the story is a fantasy; I know that these are not supposed to represent real Native Americans, but a Victorian child’s visualization of the villains of their games. Nevertheless, it is hard to imagine the effect of such a film on a Native American child as being anything but devastating. The Neverland Indians, and their heroine, Tiger Lily, have been a human relations problem since at least the civil rights era, and the provocation is legitimate: did you recall (I had forgotten) that Tiger Lily belonged to the “Piccaninny tribe”? That James Barrie was a funny guy. Continue reading