Actor, anti-woke hero — and shameless Donald Trump fan — Laurence Fox has apologised for a remark he made about the casting of a Sikh soldier in the film 1917.
Fellow humans who are #Sikhs
I am as moved by the sacrifices your relatives made as I am by the loss of all those who die in war, whatever creed or colour.
Please accept my apology for being clumsy in the way I have expressed myself over this matter in recent days.
— LAURENCE FOX (@LozzaFox) January 23, 2020
I understand why. He’s a polite, nicely-brought-up, decent fellow who only wants to upset the right people — the Wokerati — not the wrong people (Sikhs, in this instance.)
But it’s still a mistake, not least because it has enabled the BBC to run a story headlined ‘Laurence Fox apologises to Sikhs over WW1 comments’. The natural inference of any casual reader would be that Fox’s apology was justified and necessary. In fact, it was neither.
I’ve been here myself; everyone on the right with a media profile has. What most of us have learned from bitter experience is that when the Social Justice witch hunt mob come after you, the very last thing you should ever offer them is the merest hint of contrition. It shows weakness; it gives them a victory they do not deserve; it makes them hungry for more of your blood.
Apologies are only ever justified when you have done something wrong.
Fox did absolutely nothing wrong. The confected outrage was just the left doing what it always does: using every wheedling, low-down, dishonest, cry-bullying, canting trick in the book in order to claim another right-wing scalp.
The fake news furore was prompted by some remarks Fox made on my podcast the Delingpod. We were discussing the current fad for ‘diversity’ casting in TV shows and movies, and Fox remarked, en passant, that while watching Sam Mendes’s 1917 he had found the scene where we meet a Sikh soldier in the back of a truck with a bunch of white, English Tommies a bit of a distraction.
This was a perfectly reasonable point to have made. Though it’s true that over one million Indian troops fought overseas for the British Empire during the Great War, the vast majority of them did not serve on the Western Front (where 1917 is set) but mainly in the Mesopotamia.
Only a total of 130,000 Indians served on the Western Front — a drop in the ocean out of the nearly 22 million Allied soldiers who served there. No one is disputing the Indians’ service, their loyalty and in many cases their courage and self-sacrifice. The issue is simply a historical and artistic one: how likely is it that in 1917, a Sikh cavalryman would be travelling with — and clearly very pally with, as though they have been together for some time — a unit of English Tommies?
And the truthful answer is: not very.
It’s not impossible. By 1917 most Indians had been withdrawn from the Western Front, though there did remain two Indian cavalry divisions. Normally they served as separate units: they wouldn’t have been mixed up with English ones. But we can just about persuade ourselves that the Sikh was a straggler who had somehow become separated from his unit.
So: not totally impossible, just improbable — a bit like having Siegfried Sassoon or Wilfred Owen being in the back of the truck. Not quite enough to make you go: “This is ridiculous. It could never have happened.” But certainly enough to make any reasonable viewer familiar with the period go: “Hang on a second. What’s that Sikh/war poet doing in this situation?”
If you listen to my conversation with Fox it is perfectly clear that we are not in any way belittling the Sikh contribution to the Great War and that we would be well up for seeing a war movie that featured nothing but Sikhs in World War I if anyone cared to make it. (One of my favourite war movies of the last 15 years was Rachid Bouchareb’s Days of Glory, which was about North African troops — Algerians and Moroccans — fighting for the French in World War II).
It’s not an “I can only bear to see white people in war movies”, issue, as some of the more desperate leftist attacks on Laurence Fox have seemed to imply. Rather, both Laurence and I, in the course of our discussion were raising a perfectly valid historical and aesthetic point: the inclusion of the Sikh soldier in that scene was jarring and distracting because, effectively, it triggered the bullshit detectors of anyone in the audience who wasn’t on board with the woke propaganda narrative.
This, let it be stressed, is a wholly deliberate strategy on the part of the left-liberal cultural elite that dominates Hollywood, Netflix, the BBC and much else of our entertainment and media industry.
It’s at once a form of provocation and triumphalism.
“We have the power to rewrite history to suit our political ends,” they are telling us. More than that, though, they are daring their audience to notice and be bothered by it. And if you do notice, you’ve fallen into their trap. “If you care about this, then you’re a racist!” they are telling you.
But this has nothing to do with prejudice nor with some deeply ingrained unwillingness to give BAME actors (as they are excruciatingly known by the Wankerati, though never by any real person I have met) a fair showing.
Rather, the perfectly valid objections to this kind of ‘colour-blind’ ‘diversity’ casting are that it misrepresents history; that it’s a rude and unnecessary distraction and an imposition on the audience (who not unreasonably want to be carried away for two hours to a world they can believe in, not one where the director wants to give them a gratuitous lesson in how to be inclusive and not racist); and that it elevates political considerations above artistic ones.
I argue this in more detail in this — though I say it myself — must-read piece I did last year for the New English Review, titled ‘Excellence Rejected’.
And let’s be clear, they’re not being racist for noticing these details. With film and TV, noticing detail is the whole point. If it’s a thriller, you’re scrutinising everything anyone says or does for clues. If it’s sci fi, you’re assessing the look, the gadgets, the technologies to answer your own question: “Do I buy this vision of the future?” If it’s Downton Abbey, you’re wondering every few seconds—”Was that word really in usage as early as 1920?” “Could the chauffeur really have been so familiar with the daughter of an Earl?” —and so on. The idea that these critical faculties are suddenly going to be suspended when a black character—or a woman or whoever—gets shoehorned into a role they could never have conceivably had in the era being depicted is the kind of fatuous delusion only an empty-headed Social Justice Warrior could seriously nurture.
If anyone deserves a medal for service in the Culture Wars this last few weeks it’s Laurence Fox. What he has done — simply by speaking clearly, honestly and bravely about some of the issues (#MeToo, ‘diversity’ casting, racism, climate change, etc) that the Social Justice Warriors have sought to render unsayable — has been admirable. He should look at the comments below our YouTube discussion, 99 percent of which are from people grateful for what he has done and who are not buying for one single second the nonsense put out by the Guardian, the BBC, the Daily Mail, the Mirror in their deliberate, cynical efforts to shit-stir so that perfectly innocuous remarks are magically transformed into some kind of race scandal.
Here’s a sample:
He’s a decent man calling out the lunacy of the ‘woke’ race baiters
Laurence Fox is a breath of fresh air in the midden of celebrity.
Laurence Fox is a great actor, but an even better human being.
Fox is Brilliant. The majority are on your side. Thank you for speaking up against the hysterical bullies.
As an American who tries not to watch much television, I’m one of those who didn’t know who Laurence Fox was. But, I do now – and I ADORE him!
These are your people, Lozza. They’re in the majority and they’ve been ignored for too long. Go on speaking the truth and damn the torpedoes! The Social Justice mob are on the retreat and the fact that they’re acting like cornered rats is a sign of weakness, not strength. They are certainly not worthy of your apology and everyone with an ounce of integrity understands this.
James Delingpole is the host of the Delingpod podcast