Even white actors, as long as they are willing to be treated as if they aren’t wanted…
“Backstage,” a popular industry website for actors and technicians, recently posted a casting call for an ensemble production Off-Off Broadway in New York City. The post included this…
It also offered this…
As soon as an enterprising journalist at the Daily Wire began querying the playwright about these discriminatory requirements—of course they are illegal, but he got statements from two Constitutional scholars to pass along—the Back Stage announcement was changed to reflect no racial disparities.
Fascinating. Continue reading
What do we make of this, released by actor Kevin Spacey lastweek almost at the same time as he was being indicted for sexual assault?
The much-acclaimed actor career collapsed in 2017 as more than 30 people claimed that Spacey had sexually assaulted them. Now he is speaking in the persona—with accent!— of his Netflix series villain, Frank Underwood, the central character of “House of Cards.” Or is he? Much of the speech seems to refer to Spacey’s own plight, and suggests that the actor is being unfairly convicted in the court of public opinion. By using the voice and character of an unequivocal miscreant however, for Frank is a liar, a cheat, a sociopath, indeed a murderer, such protests are automatically incredible.
Or is Spacey making a legitimate argument that an artist’s personal flaws should be irrelevant to the appreciation of his art, especially in a case like “House of Cards,” where the actor’s role can’t possibly be undermined by the actor’s own misdeeds: whatever one says or thinks about Spacey, he can’t be as bad as Frank Underwood. If you enjoyed watching Underwood destroy lives on his way to power, why should Spacey’s conduct, even if it was criminal, make you give up the pleasure of observing his vivid and diverting fictional creation? This isn’t like Bill Cosby, serially drugging and raping women while playing a wise, moral and funny father-figure. Spacey seems to be arguing that there should be no cognitive dissonance between him and Underwood at all. Who better to play a cur like Frank than an actor who shares his some of his darkness? Continue reading
Portrait of the blogger as a young director…
It has been pushed from the front pages by other matters, but the Harvey Weinstein Ethics Train Wreck is still picking up passengers and crushing powerful and famous men. It has hardly been a shock that a plurality of the figures exposed have come from the world of show business, with prominent directors taking a heavy hit. Another one became rail kill this week, when the board of trustees of the famed Long Wharf Theater fired its longtime artistic director Gordon Edelstein over accusations of sexual misconduct, one day after The New York Times published an article detailing the allegations by multiple women, four of whom accused Edelstein of groping or worse.
Like Weinstein himself, Louis C.K., Dustin Hoffman, Roman Polanski, Woody Allen and many other men on the list, Edelstein is a less than stunning male who may have never learned normal ways to interact with women, because he entered the warped and unique culture of the performing arts before he was an adult, and never learned the manners of civilized society. Directors are especially at risk for this effect: expect many more to be accused and fired.
This is one way to increase the ranks of female directors, I guess.
Here is the typical progression. A young heterosexual man whose talents and interests do not run to sports and who is not particularly successful socially joins a theatrical group or club in high school. It is a revelation. Females vastly outnumber males, and many of the males that are involved are gay. He finds it far easier to form relationships with girls in this environment, particularly during the hyper-intense, exciting period approaching production and the performances themselves. All the classic features of a crisis-sparked romance are present, and they are especially enthralling the first time around in a theater setting. The girls are similarly stimulated. Flirting is epidemic, easy, and successful. If you have never experienced it, the environment is hard to imagine, but it is addictive, and it is sexy. Continue reading
[Continuing the reflections on the accusation against Kevin Spacey and its aftermath…Part One is here.]
I have always assumed that Spacey had endured some kind of serious trauma that explained his aversion to confirming that he was gay, since, really, it was so, so obvious. Many actors become actors because of familial abuse and self-loathing: if you think about it, it makes sense. They don’t like who they are and what real life has been, so they seek the fantasy life of being someone else on stage, films and TV. Maybe Spacey’s long obsession with performer Bobby Darrin provided a clue. (Spacey eventually played Darrin in his own vanity film project. “Beyond the Sea.”) You have to be really unhappy with yourself to fantasize being in the shoes of Darrin, the talented, troubled heterosexual actor-singer who died before he turned 40. Thus I was not surprised when Spacey’s brother Randall Fowler, 62, a limo driver and professional Rod Stewart impersonator, described the home in which he, Kevin and their sister were raised as resembling the plot a horror movie.
- Fowler says he and his brother were both sexually abused by their father, Thomas Geoffrey Fowler (whom the children called “The Creature”), and that their mother knew about their treatment at his hands. Their older sister, Julie, was also abused before she fled home when she was 18. In a 2004 interview, Spacey’s brother described how their ultra-right-wing father was a member of the American Nazi Party. He was so enamored with Adolf Hitler, Fowler claimed, that he trimmed his mustache to resemble Der Fuehrer’s.
“I grew up in a living hell. There was so much darkness in our home it was beyond belief. It was absolutely miserable,” Spacey’s brother said then. “Years later, our mother actually wrote a letter to all three of us, trying to justify what had gone on by saying she was abused as a child and so was our father. Kevin tried to avoid what was going on by wrapping himself in an emotional bubble….He was so determined to try to avoid the whippings that he just minded his Ps and Qs until there was nothing inside. He had no feelings.”
Fowler described his younger brother was an “empty vessel” who had never been in a real relationship with anyone. “Neither of us had a chance growing up with two such damaged parents, ” he concluded.
No, I don’t know that what a Rod Stewart imitator and publicity-seeking sibling of a famous actor says is completely true, exaggerated, or a fabrication. But it fits. Spacey should be given the benefit of the doubt, and accorded some compassion. We all deserve that. Continue reading
The comments regarding yesterday’s ethics quiz have been varied and vigorous. As to the quiz question itself,
Is [Anthony] Rapp’s public accusation [against actor Kevin Spacey alleging that Spacey sexually assaulted him 30 years ago when Rapp was only 14] fair, responsible, and ethical?
I have arrived at my answer, and am abashed that I didn’t see it immediately.
No, the accusation was not fair, and it was unethical. It fails all ethical systems. It is a Golden Rule breach: What Rapp did to Spacey is not how he, or anyone would want to be treated. The fair and decent thing would have been to confront Spacey privately. Maybe Rapp has distorted the incident over time; maybe Spacey is as remorseful and embarrassed by the incident as Rapp has been traumatized by it. All of us would want at least a chance to explain or make amends before being exposed…in Buzzfeed(!?).
Other observations, as Spacey is being metaphorically disemboweled by an angry mob…
- Rapp also stomped on Kantian ethics, which forbids using human beings as a means to an end. Rapp says his goal was “to try to shine another light on the decades of behavior that have been allowed to continue because many people, including myself, being silent.” Wait: is there a shred of evidence that Spacey engaged in such conduct over “decades”? Is there any indication that Rapp is protecting future teens from his assaults? No, he’s just jumping on a train, joining a virtue-signalling mob engaged on what appears to be a scalp-hunting expedition. His late hit on Spacey didn’t stop a predator (as with Weinstein), didn’t report a crime to authorities (the statute of limitations is long past), didn’t accomplish anything postive and productive involing Spacey at all. I was just symbolic, and Kant, correctly, holds that it is unethical to destroy real human beings to make a political, social or culotural point, in this case the point being, “Don’t stay silent for 30 years if you have been abused, harassed or molested!”
This also fails any Millsian or Benthamist test of utilitarianism. The ends accomplished by Rapp’s accusation consist almost entirely of destroying Kevin Spacey. What else? I suppose its a warning too: anything you did that society will regard as worthy of making you a pariah can be revealed by an angry, vindictive or politically motivated alleged victim at any time, and you will have no recourse. Call it the Anita Hill Principle. That’s not enough of a “benefit” to society to destroy someone’s life. We have the Weinstein example, and the Bill Cosby saga. They were–are?—both serial offenders. Taking out Kevin Spacey based on one very old incident is not a means justified by any end.
- Upon examination, Spacey’s response was a mistake and an ethics botch on multiple levels. Here it is again:
First, here we have another example of why Twitter is dangerous. Spacey is a smart guy, yet he foolishly, in his rush to deal with this crisis, authored his own rapid response on social media. In the old days, as my late friend Bob McElwaine, Hollywood publicist for Danny Kaye, Dean Martin, Robert Mitchum and many other stars, told me, he job was to make sure nothing attributed to his Hollywood clients was authored by them. Continue reading
This latest boxcar on the Harvey Weinstein Ethics Train Wreck contains an ethics quiz because I have such mixed feelings about it.
Yesterday, actor and former child performer Anthony Rapp told Buzzfeed that in 1986, when Kevin Spacey was 26, Rapp was 14, and both were appearing in Broadway plays, Spacey invited Rapp over to his apartment for a party. At the end of the evening, Rapp says, Spacey picked Rapp up, put him on his bed, and climbed on top of him. Rapp says he managed to squirm away and locked himself in the bathroom. Eventually he left Spacey’s residence, and never had any further contact with him.
Rapp is now 46. He says that before talking to Buzzfeed, he never told anyone about the traumatic experience. However, Spacey’s success in his career constantly reminded Rapp of the incident. “My stomach churns,” Rapp said. “I still to this day can’t wrap my head around so many aspects of it. It’s just deeply confusing to me.”
Rapp said he felt obligated to finally tell his story in the wake of the new awareness of the sexual harassment and sexual abuse culture in the entertainment industry, sparked by Harvey Weinstein’s fall.
“And not to simply air a grievance, but to try to shine another light on the decades of behavior that have been allowed to continue because many people, including myself, being silent. … I’m feeling really awake to the moment that we’re living in, and I’m hopeful that this can make a difference.”
Spacey immediately tweeted an apology, and more:
Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day:
Is Rapp’s public accusation fair, responsible, and ethical?
Are you ready, panel?
Here we go…I read to you from Mediate:
As the controversy continues over the white-washed pool of actors nominated this year for the Oscar awards, gay British actor Sir Ian McKellen has stated that homophobia is just as prominent in the film industry as racism.
McKellen, perhaps most prominently known for his work in the Lord of the Rings and X-Men series, spoke with Sky News today about why he felt sympathetic to the minority actors who felt like they were being overlooked by the Academy. While McKellen said that the concerns had merit, he also stated that black people were not alone in feeling disenfranchised by Hollywood.
“It’s not only black people who’ve been disregarded by the film industry, it used to be women, it’s certainly gay people to this day,” McKellen said. “And these are all legitimate complaints and the Oscars are the focus of those complaints of course.”
In a separate interview with The Guardian, McKellen also said that actors have won Oscars for playing gay characters in the past, and yet despite being nominated himself, no openly homosexual actor has ever won.
Now, you need some background for this round, panel.
It is almost certain that a very large proportion of Hollywood is gay, and it has always been this way. The exact percentage is open to question, but those who have worked in other areas of show business encounter a large percentage of gay men, and also women, among designers, producers, directors, and actors, at all levels of the theater. In most college theater programs, there is a clear predominance of gays among both faculty and students. It would be strange indeed if the dominance of gays in the other aspects of show business was significantly different from the demographics in film. This suggests that there must be a strong contingent of closeted or privately gay men and women among the voting members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
So now your question, panel: Was Ian McKellen’s bold assertion…
“Ethical, Unethical, Stupid, Or Tongue-In-Cheek?”
You have…30 seconds!
[This is Paul Petersen’s second guest blogger appearance on Ethics Alarms. Based on his own experiences as a child actor on “The Donna Reed Show” and what he observed in the treatment of his less fortunate colleagues in the field, Paul created the profession of child performer advocate and activist, educating the public and assisting individual performers. (His Facebook friend list is a Who’s Who of former child actors.) Although Paul is officially retired, he continues to speak out about conditions, legal and otherwise, that place child performers in financial, physical, and social peril. The number of child stars, current or grown, who are indebted to him and his organization A Minor Consideration are beyond counting. A true Ethics Hero, his work and statements have been referenced here many times.–Jack]
Can we at least agree on this? Children are a special class of humankind. They are uniquely unformed, utterly dependent, and slaves to the adults who brought them into this world and the society into which they were born.
We all know how children are created, right? They did not ask for this. They are, in a word, innocent. Biologically mature adults are responsible. Of that there is no doubt. Children are a special charge. The rules, for kids, are different…or at least they used to be.
When did they become sexual objects? Since when are they merely background players, mere props? Who decreed that a child immersed in a working environment in which all the contributory adults are compensated for their labor, could somehow NOT be themselves working? Continue reading
Sarah and the Baron.
This remarkable letter is old—2005—but I just became aware of it, and it is an important document in the ongoing problem of the mistreatment of child performers.
I am a fan of film director (and Monty Python member) Terry Gilliam, and a great admirer of Canadian actress/director/political activist Sarah Polley. So naturally I love “The Adventures Baron Munchausen,” Gilliam’s epic fantasy that starred Polley when she was the tender age of 9, and gave one of the most impressive performances of any juvenile actress, ever. In 2005, Gilliam was filming another movie with a young star, and 17 years after working with him, Polley felt obligated to write this letter, which speaks for itself, and eloquently too:
Hi there, Terry.
“I was put into a system I didn’t know the nature of…. I’m a child of former slaves. I got into an economic paradigm and had that imposed on me. I sold 50 million units…Someone did the math, and it came to around $600 million. And I sit here before you trying to figure out how to pay a tax debt? If that’s not like enough to slavery, I don’t know what is.”
— Singer-songwriter, actress, rapper and hip-hop artist Lauryn Hill, complaining to the judge as she was sentenced to three months in prison and a $60,000 fine for failing to pay taxes on her earnings of approximately $1.8 million between 2005 and 2008.
Lauryn Hill’s parents. OK, not really. Metaphorically, perhaps. You better ask Lauryn.
Now let’s see…Hill’s statement is…
- An abdication of responsibility. Hill has been in the entertainment business, and wonderfully successful at it, since she was 18 and landed a continuing role on the soap opera, “As the World Turns.” Few “know the nature of” the strange world of stardom, agents, performing contracts and the rest that goes with the highest levels of American show business when they enter it, but most manage to learn the basics, and most also manage to pay their taxes. Hill has had plenty of time to learn “the system,” whichever one she was referring to. She is also a native-born natural citizen, and I’m sure the reality of income taxes didn’t escape her notice for all these years. Continue reading