Never in the 100-plus year history of Hollywood has artistic expression been more at risk.
Just as we saw during the McCarthy era, without due process artists are being blacklisted over #MeToo allegations. Just as we saw during the era of the Production Code, the fascism of political correctness controls content. Just as we saw in Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, the past is being purified. And now, almost as if to prove they can abuse their power, the PC Puritans are demanding that only disabled actors portray disabled people in the arts.
Case in point, director Gus Van Sant’s upcoming movie about John Callahan, a cartoonist who became a quadriplegic at 21 after a car accident. Joaquin Phoenix, who is not a quadriplegic, portrays Callahan and In a piece titled “Let’s Call Joaquin Phoenix’s New Role Exactly What It Is: Offensive,” Yahoo’s Karin Willison (who herself is disabled) sees this as a violation of CorrectThink:
Why in 2017 is it rightly considered offensive to cast a white person as a black character, but a person faking disability in a movie is still acceptable? In the disability community, this is known as “cripping up,” and most of us are tired of seeing it. We are frustrated and angered by watching people without disabilities stealing our characters and being rewarded with Oscars and vast wealth, while most entertainment professionals with disabilities languish in obscurity. We are tired of excuses like “there are no ‘big name’ disabled actors to cast” when we can all think of non-disabled actors who were virtually unknown before their breakout role in a hit film. We are tired of special effects departments giving “digital disabilities” to actors who don’t actually have them, instead of doing the reverse to cast a disabled actor whose character acquires a disability later in the movie.
I’m sure it’s probably too late for Gus Van Sant to cast an actor with a disability as John Callahan, instead of Joaquin Phoenix. But I wish he would.
Again, this is can only be a case of an extremist testing how far she can take her extremism, how much fascism and absurdity she can wield before someone in the entertainment community finally feels suffocated enough to stand up, point, throw their head back, and laugh…
To begin with, how is an actor who is physically disabled in real-life going to portray John Callahan during the early scenes when he is not disabled?
Secondly, this is the stupidest piece of crybabying anyone has ever dreamt up. There is no thinking behind this, no logic, no thought process. Game this out with me…
Do we just skip over the first half of Million Dollar Baby because we are now required to hire a quadriplegic instead of Hilary Swank? Or do we use CGI to give this disabled actor the ability to walk and box — at least until we are forced to use two different actors when the coalition for the able-bodied starts crybabying about using a disabled actor to portray a character who is not disabled.
Forrest Gump presents a whole host of problems. Obviously, we will need actors with actual learning disabilities to play Forrest and Bubba. Lieutenant Dan will need to be portrayed by someone who has actually lost his legs, which will make the first half of the movie a bit of a challenge. But who will play Elvis Presley? Real rock ‘n roll stars devoted to their mothers and addicted to amphetamines and peanut butter and banana sandwiches can be a little hard to come by.
What about Tom Hanks in Philadelphia, should a straight actor who is not afflicted with AIDS be allowed to portray a gay lawyer who is?
Hell, should an actor be allowed to portray a lawyer?
Should a straight actor be allowed to portray a homosexual?
Should a gay actor be allowed to play a straight character? There goes Jodie Foster’s legendary career. Let use CGI to purify Rock Hudson from all those Doris Day movies.
Certainly, if the portrayal is demeaning or disrespectful, people have every right to protest. I am thrilled that this is no longer okay. But as long as the portrayal does not make a mockery of or demean that specific identity, everyone needs to go back to respecting the right of artistic freedom.
The most famous Italian in movies is Don Vito Corleone, a character played by non-Italian Marlon Brando. Welsh actress Catherine Zeta-Jones brought nothing but dignity and bravado to her role as a Mexican in those two Zorro pictures. No one could have brought the Chinese peasants in The Good Earth to life better than Paul Muni and Luise Rainer. Moreover, one of the most popular shows on Broadway has non-European performers assuming the roles of our own Founding Fathers.
If Ms. Willison wishes to see more disabled actors given work, that is a just and noble cause. No argument here. But to restrict the artistic choices of a Gus Van Sant or Joaquin Phoenix using the velvet hammer of “sensitivity” is outrageous.
This whole idea of using the politics of identity to force choices on artists is as un-American as any other form of censorship.