Monday, 4 November 2013

I was gonna call this entry 'The New Blackface'...

...but if Hallowe'en taught us one thing this year it's that the old blackface never really went away. Nevertheless, I want to talk about something that's analogous. As always, these things depend on context. We may still get yahoos thinking it's funny to dress as a murdered kid on Hallowe'en, but in some ways we HAVE moved on. I was watching a documentary last week about the 50th anniversary of the UK's National Theatre, and one of the things the film covered was NT director Laurence Olivier's cringeworthy turn in blackface during a production ofOthello. Some people thought this unacceptable but for many the prevailing attitude was that the play was the thing, and it didn't matter if Dear Larry was covered in boot polish as long as Our Nation's Finest Actor was playing The Moor (even if he was hamming it up like crazy and making questionable sotto voce jokes to other actors during rehearsal). Some people even praised him for his decision to play Othello as a black man with (what Olivier thought was) a black accent. Despite all this, things have moved on. We wouldn't, these days, claim it was okay for an actor in a serious production to black up (comedy still has a blackface problem, hugely, but in legit drama at least blacking up is a no-no now). We certainly wouldn't praise a supposedly serious actor who decided to slap on the polish, roll their eyes and start acting like some horrendous parody of what they think a black man is. If we're talking about a cis man playing a trans woman, however...well, the film's the thing, isn't it? It shouldn't matter whether the actor is cis or not as long as the Nation's Greatest Actor-Who-Also-Happens-to-be-in-Some-Pompous-Emo-Band gets to play a trans woman. And hey, in a way, isn't Jared Leto being brave? Isn't he doing A Good Thing and Increasing Awareness by acting like (what he imagines to be) a trans woman? Is he heck. What he's doing is the same thing Olivier did: presenting as some kind of social awareness victory what is in fact a caricature, however well-intentioned, of an experience he'll never fully understand, and in the process denying trans actors - and there are GREAT trans actors out there - of a role that should be theirs. If Dear Larry had had any decency he'd have got out of the way and let a really good black actor play Othello, and if Pretty-boy Jared had any he'd get out of the way and let a trans actor play the role he's now getting brownie points for. He'd be advised to. As I say, Larry's Moor is a deeply embarrassing turn to watch these days. And a few years down the line, Jared's little transface turn is going to look every bit as cringeworthy.

No comments:

Post a Comment