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

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

Boycotting Dolce And Gabbana: Gays Becoming What They Once Hated Most

After centuries of oppression, Gays have finally achieved the right to openly be who they are as long as they don't piss of Elton John.

After centuries of oppression, Gays have finally achieved the right to openly be who they are as long as they don’t piss of Elton John.

Stefano Gabbana and Domenico Dolce are Italian fashion design superstars, meaning that I pay no attention to them whatsoever, and don’t understand the priorities of anyone who does. Nonetheless, they have a rich and famous international clientele.. The two men were once romantic partners, but no longer; how they are just business and artistic partners, and continue to thrive.

Their thriving, however, has suffered from a self-inflicted setback. In an interview with the Italian magazine Panorama, the pair declared their lack of support for same-sex families with children created by in vitro fertilization.  “I am not convinced by those I call children of chemicals, synthetic children,” Dolce told the magazine. “Rented uterus, semen chosen from a catalog.” Gabbana added, “The family is not a fad. In it there is a supernatural sense of belonging.”

The Horror: a non-conforming opinion from prominent gay fashion icons! Can’t have that! Lapsed pop superstar Elton John, who has two sons through in vitro fertilization with his husband, David Furnish, took the remarks as a personal attack and proclaimed a boycott of the Gabbana & Dolce label. “How dare you refer to my beautiful children as ‘synthetic,’ ” Mr. John wrote on social media. “Shame on you for wagging your judgmental little fingers at I.V.F. Your archaic thinking is out of step with the times, just like your fashions. I shall never wear Dolce & Gabbana ever again.” Thus was born the hashtag #BoycottDolceGabbana.”
Continue reading