The other day I went to the movies and the experience moved me to tears.
It was the most recent version of “Macbeth,” brought to the screen by the great Denzel Washington, appearing alongside veteran actors (like the sublime Frances McDormand as Lady Macbeth) and talented newcomers. That, coupled with the amazing black and white cinematography, took this movie to the next level.
As I was walking home, something came to mind. Denzel Washington is a black man who starred as a Shakespearean English-speaking medieval Scottish king, and no one in the theater batted an eyelid. Thank God they didn’t.
There have long been examples of this kind of talent cross-pollination. White men often played Othello, the Moor of Venice, wearing blackface when it was still permitted. James Caan played the characters of two famous Italians, one real and one fictional: Brian Piccolo and Sonny Corleone. Al Pacino, a real Italian, played a Cuban in ‘Scarface,’ and Meryl Streep has been Dutch, Australian, German, Italian, Jewish, WASP, British and the entire UN Security Council during her storied career. career.
Until recently, no one had a problem with artists being artists and manifesting the glories of literature, theater, music, history, food, poetry and all the things that make life interesting. Longfellow was able to write about Hiawatha without the Native Americans shouting that he had no idea what was going on in their wigwams. Ernest Hemingway was able to write about a Cuban fisherman in his twilight years, fighting the last great battle of his life, without people protesting that a guy from landlocked Idaho had no idea what it meant to be a Latino on the sea. Charles Dickens was able to write about ghosts, without people pointing out the incisive fact that he was still, apparently, alive.
A few years ago, some overly sensitive Latino groups revolted because a non-Mexican woman wrote a book called “American Dirt” about the experience of, you guessed it, a Mexican woman who illegally crossed the border. As an immigration lawyer who has handled countless cases of Mexican women in similar circumstances, I can pretty much guarantee that you don’t have to be Mexican or an immigrant to understand their plight. particular. To suggest otherwise is pure arrogance.
And that’s just the literary world. As I’ve noted before, Denzel Washington, a black American, channeled his native genius into a role he was born for. I honestly think his version of Macbeth matches that of Olivier, or Orson Welles, or any of the other great Anglo-Saxon actors who took up the challenge. Skin color didn’t matter.
Unfortunately, because of culture warriors demanding that gay roles be played only by gay actors, or trans roles be played only by trans actors, or Latino roles be played only by actors Latinos (or God help us, Latinx), or female roles to be played only by women (tell Shakespeare) or Asian roles to be played only by Asians, or black roles to be played only by black people, it is now a “thing”.
And that’s tragic, because it balkanizes the world, locks us into these little sterile categories based on identity. I don’t give a damn about the sexual orientation of the guy playing Richard III, since the whole point of the game is to transcend the physical, the obvious, and take it to the next level. I don’t care if the person playing Oscar Wilde is straight as an arrow, or if the person playing Cleopatra can’t spell the word Mesopotamia, or if the person playing Mussolini comes from a long line of O’Haras . What difference does it make?
Identity fascists want to destroy the quality and character of culture, and they do so because they believe that ticking boxes like columns on a Chinese menu elevates society. They want quotas based on color, not skill. They demand that we honor culture by essentially neutralizing it, and they are ruthless in their drive to weed out anyone who dissents.
I was thrilled to see one of the greatest actors of our generation take on one of the greatest roles of any generation. We need more of it, and less of the “stay in your lane” mentality. As the great Sidney Poitier, who knew how to fight stereotypes, once said: “I never had the opportunity to question color, so I only saw myself as what I was. . a human.”
In the end, that’s all we are, and the rest is just irrelevant societal entrapment. And we can honor the art and ourselves without fear of offending someone who thinks they own the story of their ancestors.
To quote another Shakespearian hero, somewhat more sympathetic than the Scottish king, “This above all, be true to yourself, And it must follow, as night to day, Then you cannot be false to any man .”
Christine Flowers is an attorney and columnist for the Delaware County Daily Times, and can be reached at [email protected]