Friday, January 29, 2016

Casting Moses and Michael (Jackson): Eye on the Prize of Not Needing to Care

            The Internet Movie Database logline for The Woman in Gold (2015), reads, correctly "Maria Altmann, an octogenarian Jewish refugee, takes on the Austrian government to recover artwork she believes rightfully belongs to her family." Helping her is attorney Randol (Randy) Schoenberg, a grandson of the Schoenberg: Arnold, the composer, plus, for a second grandfather, the historical Randy had Erich Zeisl, another Jewish composer. In the film, Maria Altmann is played by Helen Mirren and Randy Schoenberg by Ryan Reynolds: both did quite well in their roles, neither is Jewish.
            Edward Zwick's Defiance (2008), in IMDb's serviceable summary, tells how four "Jewish brothers in Nazi-occupied Eastern Europe escape into the Belarusian forests, where they join Russian resistance fighters and endeavor to build a village in order to protect themselves and about 1,000 Jewish non-combatants." The older three brothers have major roles, played by Daniel Craig, Liev Schreiber, and Jamie Bell; the traumatized and mostly silent youngest brother is played by George MacKay. The performances are good; of the four heroes of Jewish Resistance, Liev Schreiber is Jewish, while the others are not.
            Ridley Scott's Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014) has Moses played by Christian Bale, Miriam played by Tara Fitzgerald, and Joshua played by Aaron Paul, with Ben Kingsley playing Nun, father of Joshua. There was controversy over the Whiteness of the cast; nothing much over having major Hebrews played by non-Jews, with the Quaker Ben Kingsley coming closest with a mother just possibly of Jewish descent.
            My immediate point here, as of 29 January 2016, is that I don't give the once-cliché rat's ass about such casting.
            I mention the date first because of the current controversy over the announcement made with impeccably bad timing of casting Joseph Fiennes as Michael Jackson in a half-hour Sky Arts comedy telling "the tale of an alleged road trip taken by Jackson, Elizabeth Taylor and Marlon Brando after the attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001." More specifically, the show is described as “a one-off, half-hour comedy," providing “a light-hearted look at a reportedly true event” as “part of a series of comedies about unlikely stories from arts and cultural history.”
            The date — 2016, not 2001 — is significant secondly because it precedes the voting in US primary elections that may result in a presidential race between or among Ted Cruz, Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders, and just possibly Michael Bloomberg.
            My larger point here is that as of today, I don't have to care about casting gentiles for Jewish roles because Jews are doing nicely, thank you, in the entertainment business and have clout in the US political system. And that, fellow members of minorities, should be one's goal.
            It's not so much if you're occasionally "disrespected" or distrusted, disliked, or even hated; what is crucial is whether or not you have to care.
            Power-privilege allows noting that there is a whole lot to question with a comedy about a road-trip by three now-dead stars following the massacre of 11 September 2001, to which we can add the perverse technical question of what sort of whiteface makeup most African-American actors would have to use to look like Michael Jackson in 2001.
            The Latin phrase "Nēmo me impune lacessit" translates formally as "No one harms me and remains unpunished" and more colloquially, "Don't fuck with us." It was the motto of the Stuart Dynasty of Scotland and has remained big among Scots, and the Scotch-Irish in America. Significantly, the Scots and Scotch-Irish in the course of their histories have been frequently fucked with and thoroughly fucked over.
            The ideal is to get past the warning/plea "Don't Tread on Me" and get to the condition of the confident Roman — okay, a snooty, arrogant, asshole Roman — who could dismiss an affront with "Aquila non capit muscam" (or muscas): in idiomatic English, "An eagle doesn't hunt flies." Or, if you like, there's the alternative put-down I'll translate, "An elephant doesn't trample mice."
            American Blacks need to protest even put-downs; having done that, guys, keep your eyes on the prize and go for systemic changes that will give you enough power that you don't have to care.
            But do be careful.
            It's been over three generations since the German annexation of Austria in the background of The Woman In Gold — with the accompanying despoiling, humiliation, and eventual murder of Jews — and it's been my lifetime since the hunting down and slaughter of Jews in the forests and towns of the Belarus of the Bielski brothers in Defiance. There are currently great strains in Europe in dealing with Semitic refugees (mainly Muslims this time around) from Syria and other parts of the Islamic world. And in the USA we may find a secular Jew as the Presidential candidate of the Democratic Party, with maybe Michael Bloomberg as a mildly observant Reform Jew as candidate of … well Michael Bloomberg. And on the other side a good chance of born-again Ted Cruz, or born again, and again, Marco Rubio: "Catholicism to Mormonism back to Catholicism to a Southern Baptist Convention-affiliated evangelical megachurch and finally back to Catholicism," a very much Church-militant Catholicism, with Rubio claiming to be "fully, theologically, doctrinally aligned with the Roman Catholic Church," except — I'll add — maybe for some of that peace-love-dove, serve-the-poor stuff.
            We may also see running as Republican nominee or an Independent Donald Trump, billionaire populist, giving voice to the Howard Bealean, "I'M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I'M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!" where the "this" in part refers to migrants and the changing complexion of America.
            For whatever their love for the Israel of Likud and "revisionist Zionism," whatever their love for the Jews in our role of bringing on the End Times, Cruz and Trump et al. are appealing to those who define America not as the republican State but as the American Nation. Not long ago, that was "America as a White, Christian Nation," now mostly just Christian but still largely Christian in the sense of the Church of the saved, people who have experienced Christ, been reborn in Christ, and have given their love and loyalty to Christ.
            And if you're outside the Saved and not a member of the American Nation, what is your place in the American State?
            Maybe not as President, and there's a fair chance that we will see over the next year a vicious cycle of European and American hatred of the Other, with the Other as those outside and threatening Christendom. In Europe, we'll undoubtedly be seeing more openly Fascist parties; in the USA open Fascism is unlikely, but dangerous ideas such as citizenship by "blood" have already been floated: that one explicitly by Donald Trump. A serious possibility of a Jewish President will get a fair number of anti-Semites out from under their rocks, lumping together Jews and Muslims, especially Muslims of the Middle Eastern, more-Semitic-than-the-Ashkenazi variety.
            And given the Nazi ability to lump together under the Jewish conspiracy Jews, Communists, liberals, and moralists — there's no reason Americans as talented as Joseph Goebbels can't lump together Jews, Muslims, and migrants.

            So as of the end of January 2016, I'm happy that such excellent actors as Helen Mirren and Daniel Craig are playing Jews in the movies. Later in the year, such minor details may get me nervous and upset.

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