Shakespeare is great. Natalie and I disagree on this. She sums up all Shakespeare as “if your name is in the title, you’re gonna die.”
Kenneth Branagh’s WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE’S HAMLET (1996) was one of the last Holy Grails of DVD for me and after ten years of buying DVDs, it finally was released last fall. At four hours it’s the most complete version of the play ever done. If you’re remotely interested you should clear out an afternoon (or two nights, miniseries-style as I do) and watch it.
So there I am on a Saturday afternoon trolling through the Special Features looking for trailers and find one for the Laurence Olivier version of OTHELLO (1965).
So I’m like “cool, “1965… who’s playing Othello?” Sidney Poitier, Harry Belafonte, James Earl Jones, Paul Robeson?
You read that right. Olivier. Is playing Othello. The Moor of Venice. The African-Italian. The black guy.
You might want to go back and click the hyperlink now.
I watched the trailer, jaw in my lap, in shock. British Olivier walking around with short “black” hair and covered with makeup that makes him look more like one of the One Hundred and One Dalmatians trying to escape Cruella De Vil more than it makes him look like a black guy. His nose, his lips, his voice still sounds like Olivier, albeit, Olivier covered in probably the same makeup they used to do the same thing to C Thomas Howell in SOUL MAN (1986). I don’t know what kicks my ass more; that somebody thought this was a good idea for OTHELLO seven years before I was born or still thought it was a good idea fourteen years after I was born.
I have a hard time watching the movie SCARFACE (1982) mostly because I think it sucks. Yeah, I’m the black guy that hates SCARFACE, I’m the one. It irks me there isn’t a Latino in it (actually that’s untrue because I found out later Steven Bauer is actually Cuban). But watching people with the names Pacino, Mastrantonio, Loggia and F Murray Abraham play Cubans is just laughable. Granted, this isn’t 1961’s WEST SIDE STORY that without Rita Moreno is Latino-free. This is 1982. Director Brian DePalma would correct this later in CARLITO’S WAY (1993), a movie I think chains SCARFACE to a shower and goes at it with mini-chainsaw. The only non-Latino in that film?: Al Pacino… again. But we were more politically correct in 1993.
Trivia: The first Latina female lead of a Hollywood Studio film? Salma Hayek, DESPERADO (1995). Thought there would have been one twenty years earlier? Me too.
I was listening to Richard Attenborough commentary on GANDHI (Best Picture, 1982, I am the only person who describes GANDHI as a movie that “kicks ass”) and he commented that Anthony Hopkins has lost considerable weight hoping he’d get the part and Attenborough couldn’t hire him because he was very uncomfortable with a white man in blackface, especially a British white man, playing that part. A few years ago the same thing happened with MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA (2005) casting Chinese actresses to play Japanese and something about China being bitter to Japan from World War II. I came to this conclusion. I’m cool with someone playing another ethnicity in their race, just not another race. I am offended by Olivier in OTHELLO and Mickey Rooney in BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S(playing a buck-toothed Japanese buffoon, something director Blake Edwards and Rooney still see no need to apologize for (although the Producer has)). Andy Garcia playing an Italian in GODFATHER PART III (1990)… fine. Leonardo DiCaprio and Cameron Diaz (she doesn’t look it but she’s Mexican, people) playing in GANGS OF NEW YORK (2002)… sure. Tony Shaloub, Ben Kingsley and The Rock playing pretty much anybody that isn’t white… no problem.
I have seen Homosexuals get ticked when they cast non-gay actors to play Homosexual-American roles. It isn’t like Tom Hanks and Antonio Banderas are really going to have sex (but I would pay ten bucks to see it especially if one of them didn’t know it was going to happen). Then you drift really close into should Catholics play Jews and if not then what’s the point of hiring actors? Spike Lee got the directing gig on MALCOLM X (1992) when he protested to the point Norman Jewison was kicked from the project (honestly, I don’t think it would have made much difference). I remember the backlash when THE REAGANS (2003)miniseries aired that James Brolin, husband of Barbra Streisand, confirmed card-carrying liberal, was playing Reagan. Oliver Stone is prepping his film W about George W Bush and there are people already fastening their nooses.
Ironically, James Brolin’s son, Josh, is playing George W.
Can people only participate in projects that reflect themselves? Or maybe we can live in Kenneth Branagh’s Shakespeare world. A place where he made Shakespeare’s MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING (1993)and cast Denzel Washington and Keanu Reeves as brothers and never once attempted to explain it.
Perhaps we doth protest too much.