Common Sense Doesn’t Matter Either: The “Woke” Acting Profession Is Betraying Audiences And Dooming Itself (Part I: “The Simpsons”)

Item: Fox’s apparently immortal animated series The Simpsons  released a statement last month regarding casting for non-white characters, including  black characters like  Dr. Julius Hibbert: “Moving forward, ‘The Simpsons’ will no longer have white actors voice non-white characters.”

This, stupid as it is, follows the non-logic of recent white actresses who dropped their gigs as the voices of grayish-brown inked “mixed-race” cartoon characters. How will that “only people of the same race can play roles of characters of that race” be reconciled with the objective of  non-traditional casting, which was devised in part (many decades ago) to open up more opportunities for black and minority actors, allowing them to take on roles written as white?

It can’t. It’s as simple as that. The two approaches eventually clash, and are mutually exclusive. “The Simpsons” policy is wrong and destructive in every conceivable way, and its ethical values, as in competent, fair or responsible, are non-existent.

  • If white actors can only play white characters, then white characters cannot be played (or voiced) by black performers. Oh, I’m sure that while in the grip of fear during the George Floyd Freakout and overwhelmed with the desire to signal virtue to one’s peers, white performers will tolerate such an obviously unfair and absurd double standard for a while, but show business is a brutal and competitive field, and the vast majority of actors of any color have scant financial resources and no job security. The arrangement being pushed by black performers and activists as they sense a window of opportunity created by the Freak-out and the concomitant intimidation of decision-makers will eventually engender resentment and conflict. If the BLM lackeys in the entertainment field really think that this double-standard “solution” to “systemic racism”—which means installing a new system of systemic anti-white racism—will prevail, they are deluded.
  • Moreover, the idea is anti-art, as is the “non-traditional casting as affirmative action” fallacy. If the performing arts aren’t a meritocracy driven by the market—does the performance entertain, or doesn’t it?—then they are doomed. Even with all the brainwashing and bullying to come, the public will never have enough people who will like a show (or a novel, or a painting, or a song)—or pay money to see it— based on its demographics and diversity rather than the quality of the performances
  • To “The Simpsons” and similar products, if the authentically black voice of Dr. Hibbert isn’t as funny, well-timed and deft as white Harry Shearer’s performance, the character won’t be as effective.

I look at all productions this way: a perfect show has 1000 points. Everything that isn’t perfect loses points for that production—a bad accent here, an ill-fitting costume there, missed lines–they all count.  One flaw that loses a few points won’t kill the show; it might not even be noticed. But all of those lost points add up, and when the points sink below a certain level, the production is no longer viable.

“The Simpsons” is voluntarily giving up points, which is simply bad show business and terrible art. If Harry Shearer is the best voice for the Simpsons’ family doctor, then it can’t matter what color he is. The audience doesn’t care.  Every show loses points no matter how perfect it tries to be; giving them up intentionally is unethical, because the artist’s duty is to present the best, most popular and most profitable  work possible, not to meet EEOC quotas.

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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