Disney's forthcoming film The Jungle Cruise will include a prominent gay character, a first for the company. Sounds like a progressive milestone, right? Not according to the intersectional left: Jack Whitehall, the actor cast in the role, is straight—and, gasp, white—which is very problematic.
The CW fared little better in casting Ruby Rose to portray Kate Kane in its upcoming Batwoman show. The character is a Jewish lesbian; Rose is gender fluid and part of the LGBT community, but not Jewish, which isn't good enough for those who think the actor must check off all the same boxes as the character. Rose was attacked on social media and quit Twitter over the weekend.
Not only does ruby rose not identify as a lesbian but she's not Jewish either. So…they basically lied about it wanting an actor that represented the diversity to stay true to who batwoman is and instead just picked a "hot" white person that isn't too gay to offend the straights
— Kristin | ™? (@negative_purple) August 7, 2018
Both these incidents follow Scarlett Johansson's decision to quit Rub & Tug, in which the cis white actress had been slated to play a trans man. Eviscerated for taking a role that should have gone to a trans person, Johansson finally backed out of the film—a decision that GLADD hailed as a "game changer" for the trans community, even though the actress's departure means the movie might not even get made.
This feels a little like the debate over cultural appropriation all over again: many on the left, including and especially the campus left, do not believe that people should engage in rituals, or borrow from other traditions, or cook ethnic food, or wear ethnic clothing, unless they were born a member of that tribe. Similarly, an actor shouldn't portray a marginalized person unless they were oppressed in exactly the same way as the character.
But controversies over Rose, Whitehall, and Johansson also reflect the growing influence of "intersectionality," a popular lefty academic theory that came into existence in the late 1980s, and generally makes several claims: various forms of oppression—sexism, racism, anti-gay animus, economic inequality—are both distinct and interrelated; they "stack"; the sole authority on a person's oppression is that person. Thus, in intersectional thinking, we cannot and should not turn to Ruby Rose to tell the story of a Jewish lesbian, even if she's an excellent and hardworking actress who endured some of the same struggles that the character did.
Obviously, it's important to listen to the marginalized, and intersectionality has value to the extent it encourages us to open our eyes to other people's lived experiences—to listen and learn from each other. Acting, though, quite literally demands imitation: informed and respectful imitation, we hope, but imitation nonetheless. As we become more aware of the various kind of oppression that are out there—and adherents of intersectionality are always adding more of them; able-ism and size-ism are on the rise—it's going to be more and more difficult to tell complicated stories if we demand that the people involved are perfect intersectional matches. The likely demise of Rub & Tug (the film is in "limbo," but things don't look good, according to The Wrap) serves as a useful example.
I'm thus quite skeptical we should aspire to build a world where these cultural boundaries are more rigid—where the perfect is the avowed enemy of the good. I'll throw one more recent example of supposedly insensitive casting at you: there is a person who's furious about the rumor that James Bond, who has always been played by white actors and was written as white in the source material, will be played by Idris Elba, a black man, in future film installments.
"A Black James Bond would be an act of dispossession far greater than a flotilla of a million refugees," wrote this person on Twitter. "Refugees are, after all, refugees. James Bond is a symbol of British identity—indeed, the British empire—and of European masculinity writ large."
This person, of course, is alt-right leader Richard Spencer.