Sunday, July 21, 2013

Arthur Answers Roger, Part 4 – Can they?

This post concludes this series of “Ask Arthur” answers, and the fourth and final post answering questions from Roger Green. Today’s questions are loosely grouped into the theme of, “Can they?”

Roger asked:

“How do you feel about casting folks who aren't the category they portray? I was thinking about Johnny Depp as Tonto, but there are tons of other examples. Should only a gay man play a gay man, e.g. Related question: how do you feel about casting a character that had been traditionally white differently? I'm thinking about making Kingpin, the white villain in the Daredevil comic books as a black man, or the black Asgardian in the Thor movie that made parts of fandom apoplectic.”

In general, I’m pretty relaxed about such things, as long as the actor is good and it’s not exploitive in some way. Having said that, there are certain things that are out of bounds for me, and that involves real people: A white guy playing Martin Luther King or Nelson Mandela are examples of being out of bounds. And yet, I accept heterosexual men portraying real gay men—from Harvey Milk to Liberace—so as basic as this sounds, I think that for me, part of it has to do with visuals: It just “doesn’t look right” for white people to be playing real Black people (or vice versa).

I don’t generally feel the same way about fictional characters. I’m not familiar with the specific ones Roger mentioned, so I missed those controversies. However, I did raise an eyebrow when I heard that Depp was playing Tonto. It struck me as bordering on the offensive, and not because Depp may or may not have native American ancestry (he once said he “guesses” he does), but rather because I thought he may have played the role as something of a clown (to me, many of Depp’s portrayals are basically interchangeable, and I was afraid that Depp’s Tonto might be Captain Jack on horseback).

I think an actor playing a character of another race or culture becomes problematic when the character is a villain, or the portrayal feeds into offensive stereotypes. Of course, the way in which minorities are portrayed is another topic altogether, but the point for this discussion is that the nature of the character is another factor in whether I, personally, can accept cross-race performances.

For example, I used to watch Charlie Chan movies on TV when I was growing up, and the lead role was played by non-Asian actors Warner Oland, Sidney Toler and Roland Winters (though “Number One Son” Lee Chan and “Number Two Son” Jimmy Chan were played by Chinese American actors, Keye Luke and Victor Sen Yung, respectively, the latter also playing Hop Sing on Bonanza). At the time, I’m not sure I was aware that the lead actors weren’t really Chinese, but I do remember that the “Charlies Chan” were dignified and intelligent portrayals, not clownish at all. I think that does matter.

So, in general I have an open mind about actors playing characters who are people they’re not (race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, whatever). But I do prefer authenticity and casting “a different sort of person” can make that harder to achieve.

Roger next asked:
“People in the public arenas are often in need of apologizing for some damn fool thing he did or she said. What does a decent apology look like, what does a lousy one look like, and what actions are unforgivable, regardless of the apology?”
For me, it’s not an apology unless the person takes personal responsibility for the transgression. It’s NOT an apology to say, “I’m sorry if anyone was offended,” but much more so to say, “I’m sorry I did/said this stupid thing. I was wrong and I apologise.” The point is, the person must acknowledge they did something wrong, not just express regret that OTHER people were offended. It helps if they can acknowledge any harm they’ve caused other people, too.

I believe that causing severe harm to others is what can be unforgiveable. Murder is unforgiveable as is harming a child in any way—though the criminal damn well better express remorse to prove they’re not monsters. Torture, even when given the imprimatur of a government or done on a direct order, is unforgivable, regardless of whether the torturer’s “side” has won a war.

But what about things that are unforgiveable, but for which one might, theoretically, atone? This is very murky—how much atoning is enough? What sort is acceptable? For example, what about those who tried to deny the human and civil rights of, say, African Americans or LGBT Americans? Clearly they can’t merely apologise for what they did, but can they atone for it?

This is why I put murder and harming children in the absolutely unforgiveable category: There is no amount of atonement that could ever be enough.

And finally for this series, Roger asked:
“Per Bobby Jindal's suggestion, are the Republicans any smarter? (Snort, giggle)”
Roger’s specific source of merriment is the fact that a Louisiana Republican wants to ban the flying of the Rainbow Flag on any public property because, you know, Teh Gays!

Every single day we see examples of why the Republican Party has a copyright on the term “The Party of Stupid”. As I discussed here and again here, nothing has changed in the Republican Party. I don’t think anything can change for them. So, the question isn't really ARE they any smarter, but can they ever BE any smarter? I'm convinced that the Republican Party must die for a new one to come along to represent centre-right voters, not merely those on the radical fringe.

So, no, the Republican Party is no smarter—but increasingly, voters have had enough with the Party of Stupid.

Thanks to everyone who took part in this edition of “Ask Arthur”! Please feel free to ask questions, whether in comments on posts or by email, any time you want—you don’t have to wait for a specific “Ask Arthur” invitation! Blogging is much more fun when there’s interaction, and I welcome questions and suggestions.

And finally, do drop by Roger’s blog, he’s one of my favourite bloggers—not just that, actually: He’s one of my favourite people I’ve never met!

The previous posts in this series:
Ask Arthur
Arthur answers: Māori, Gays and Expat Longing
Arthur Answers Roger, Part 1: Political Me
Arthur Answers Roger, Part 2: Political philosophy & friends
Arthur Answers Roger, Part 3: Boycotts

Related: Words and music


rogerogreen said...

Well, thank you for indulging me. I know Jaquandor asks for questions in August, and he will see some of these, plus your twist about buycott, about which I ought to write, maybe in September, especially if someone (hint, hint) asks me.

Arthur (AmeriNZ) said...

It was actually fun! And people have told me they enjoyed at least some of them, so all the better! Yep, I hope you DO take on that question and also the topic of atonement (as distinct from apology).