The Volokh Conspiracy

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Identitarianism Comes to Hollywood


The Simpsons announced that white actors will not be permitted to "voice" non-white characters. This raises so many questions. Is Hank Azaria–who is Sephardic and thus Hispanic under federal law–white? Is it still okay for Dan Castellaneta, a Gentile, to voice Krusty, a Jewish clown, or does he have to give the part to Azaria? And what's up with a grown woman voicing Bart?

I know that Hollywood mistreated minority actors in the past, but color-me-skeptical that creating ethnic ghettos for actors is the way to move forward, or that Hollywood is really serious about properly representing (even non-cartoon) characters.

Did you read about the forthcoming West Side Story movie? Steven Spielberg hired all sorts of cultural and diversity consultants and this is what he and they came up with:

"When we began this process a year ago, we announced that we would cast the roles of Maria, Anita, Bernardo, Chino and the Sharks with Latina and Latino actors. I'm so happy that we've assembled a cast that reflects the astonishing depth of talent in America's multifaceted Hispanic community," said Spielberg. "I am in awe of the sheer force of the talent of these young performers, and I believe they'll bring a new and electrifying energy to a magnificent musical that's more relevant than ever." ….

"I am so thrilled to be playing the iconic role of Maria alongside this amazing cast," said [Rachel]  Zegler. "West Side Story was the first musical I encountered with a Latina lead character. As a Colombian-American, I am humbled by the opportunity to play a role that means so much to the Hispanic community."

I commented at Instapundit at the time:

Why do Puerto Rican characters in West Side Story need to be played by Latinos, but not Italian characters by people of Italian or (better yet, given the demographics of New York's Italian community, specifically Sicilian) descent? Why is having a Colombian-American a politically-correct choice to play a Puerto Rican? What do Colombia and Puerto Rico have in common besides different dialects of the Spanish language? If you were trying to cast an Australian of 1960, would casting an English-speaking actor from the US, or India, be "authentic"? Isn't kind of insulting to assume that all Spanish-speaking countries are interchangeable?

It gets worse. Here is Zegler's ethnic background: "Her father is of Polish ancestry on his own father's side, and of Irish, German, and Italian ancestry on his own mother's. Rachel's mother is of Colombian origin." The notion that a half- European, half-Columbian descended actress, who, by the way, is from Clifton, New Jersey,  is somehow a more appropriate choice to play a Puerto Rican character than, well, anyone else is just farcical. That this choice actually won praise rather than scorn from Hollywood's diversity mavens makes me rather cynical about the entire enterprise.