Culture postsThursday November 12, 2015
When is it OK for an Actor to Play Someone of Another Race?
Crossing a line? On the one hand, without Depp's interest in playing Tonto, the movie wouldn't have been made; on the other hand, the movie wouldn't have been made.
In a recent New York Times piece called “On Acting, Race and Hollywood” actor-comedian Anziz Ansari (“Parks and Recreation”) recounts his first experience seeing an Indian actor on a movie screen; it had a profound effect on him. Years later, it had a more profound effect on him when he discovered the actor wasn't Indian. The movie was “Short Circuit 2,” and the actor was Fisher Stevens. So Ansari’s first movie encounter with his own kind was a fraud. It was a white guy in make-up using a funny accent.
That’s his initial complaint about acting, race and Hollywood, and it’s two-fold:
- How come we don't see more Indian characters on screen?
- When we do, how come they’re not played by Indian actors?
Then things gets trickier.
At one point, Ansari wonders why Max Minghella, “a half-Chinese, half-Italian British actor,” was chosen to play Indian-American Divya Narendra in “The Social Network.” If I were a struggling Indian actor I’d wonder that, too, but it raises a whole host of questions—the usual questions, to be honest—about acting and border crossings and what constitutes racial theft.
Essentially: When is it OK for an actor to stretch and when is he/she engaging in a modern minstrel show?
Here are a few follow-ups to try to narrow things down:
- Is it OK for Chinese to play Japanese, and vice-versa?
- Can Italians play Spaniards, and Spaniards Mexicans, and Mexicans Iranians?
- Was it cool for Robert De Niro, an Italian-American, to play a Jewish gangster in ”Ca$ino,“ or Javier Bardem, a straight Spaniard, to play a gay Cuban poet in ”Before Night Falls,” or Al Pacino, an Italian-American, to play a Cuban gangster in “Scarface”?
- What about all the white actors and opera singers who have played Othello over the years?
- How South do you have to be to play someone from the South? How Boston do you have to be to play someone from Southie?
I’d be curious where Ansari puts up his own artistic border guards. It’s a trickier topic than people admit.
Messaging of Cocktails, and Other Notes from the Culture's End
This afternoon I read Lizzie Widdicombe's piece on entrepreneur (I guess) Bethenny Frankel, who has parlayed a gig on “The Apprentice with Martha Stewart” into a regular turn on “The Real Housewives of New York,” on which she began to promote her Skinnygirl products: margaritas and other adult beverages, as well as chips and popcorn and salad dressing. It's not my thing—none of it—but it's a good window into the world that runs things now.
Here's Frankel with her assistant, Alexandra Cohen, blonde and 26, in a black SUV on the way to a promo appearance:
Frankel would be meeting a group of life-style bloggers who had been hired by [Jim] Beam to act as “influencers” for Skinnygirl Cocktails. “These are ten bloggers who are going to share with every single follower that they met you, and that you're inspirational,” Cohen said. She added, firmly, “It's important that you message the right things to these people. Because these people have a ton of followers.”
“O.K.,” Frankel said. “Why did they only pick ten, though?” She's active on Twitter, but the nuances of social media sometimes escape her. (An agency called DM2 manages most of her social-media accounts.)
“Because they're the most influential.”
“Influential of what?”
“Messaging of cocktails,” Cohen said.
Amid the awfulness, comedy.
The New Clod Worship Isn't New
I read this last night in Michael Medved's “Hollywood vs. America,” from 1992:
“Welcome to the new clod worship, a pop culture deification of the asinine,” writes Jan Stuart in a recent issue of FanFare. “Been to the movies or theater lately? The joint is jumpin' with blowhard anti-role models who combine Trump-size arrogance with the grace of Al Sharpton ... turning the ethos of the jerk inside out until jerkiness becomes a kind of heroism... By and large, that behavior takes as its ideal the iconoclasm and unformed moral code of adolescent boys.”
Meet the new clod worship; same as the old clod worship.
Here's Evan Osnos on Trump, the GOP frontrunner. (Great illustration, btw, by Christoph Niemann.)
Other Things Donald Trump Likes
- Fireman who didn't die on 9/11.
- Soldiers who didn't die or get wounded in Afghanistan, Iraq, et al. Also captured, of course.
- Yankee teams that didn't lose the World Series. Not like those 2001 bums. And just when the city needed them, too.
- “Rocky II,” “Rocky III” and “Rocky IV.” Go the distance, my ass.
- Kreese. None of this wax-on/wax-off shit. I pay people for that.
- Old men in the sea who know how to land a fucking fish.
From his comments yesterday about John McCain's war hero status: “I like people who weren't captured.” Feel free to add your own.
ADDENDUM: Jon Stewart, of course, did it better. On his show Monday night, he played the above clip, and said, as Trump, “And if I may ... fuck cancer survivors, too. Hey, let me just say this. I like people who don't get cancer.”
Why the Love for Bryan Cranston's 'Your Mom' Slam?
I do not understand all the love “Breaking Bad” star Bryan Cranston is getting for his “your mother” joke at the San Diego Comic-Con this past week.
Here's the video.
And here's the conversation:
Nervous teen: How was [Albuquerque]? Cuz it's ... my hometown, So I just want to know, how'd you like it? Did you have fun there?
Cranston: Yeah, I'd go and visit your mother once in a while!
The audience erupts in laughter and applause, and Cranston basks in it before feigning a mic-drop.
Is there a context I'm missing? Is it Bryan being Walt or Bryan being Cranston? More importantly: Why does the kid deserves this slam?
Since then, the applause has continued on most major (or at least ad-heavy) web sites. It's as if Cranston has just delivered an Oscar Wilde-ian bon mot instead of the most adolescent of comebacks. It's a line worth of apology, not a mic-drop.
This culture sometimes, I swear.