Convincing Victims

I thought of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” this week when it was announced that Scarlett Johansson would be playing the part of a transgender man, Dante Gill, in a film called “Rub and Tug.” There has been a heartfelt cry of protest from the trans community.

I once watched a play set in 19th-century where a Russian slave-owner was played by a black actor. It was a completely realist rendering otherwise, and I’ve got to say, it felt bizarre given that the play was about the consequences of abolishing serfdom in tsarist Russia. But people explained that this was a convention in American theater. People get hired for roles irrespective of their identity as human beings.

Nobody is hiring the multitude of struggling Russian actors in the US – some of them incredibly talented – to play in renderings of Chekhov, for instance. And there’s no outcry and no weepy pieces in NYTIMES.

Shit, we, the Russian-speakers, can never sell ourselves as convincing victims. We are failures even at this nifty little cottage industry.

21 thoughts on “Convincing Victims”

  1. . But people explained that this was a convention in American theater. People get hired for roles irrespective of their identity as human beings.

    Nope. Nope. And definitely not in Hollywood.

    She did this role because she wants an Oscar, and she hopes the Academy will give her one for her acting. It worked for Hillary Swank and Charlize Theron. If you believe that makeup, wardrobe, and maybe an exercise regimen/fat suit are “acting.” I think all of that will do the heavy lifting. (check out the pictures). But what do you expect, they’re going to get Pittsburgh in that era wrong too. It’ll be too brightly lit and clean and there will be palm trees in background shots.

    The problem is people go to her movies to look at her face and body and not for her acting. Maybe she got cast to get the movie greenlit — who knows?


    1. You’ve got to understand, I have no idea who these people are and will never see the movie. But I do find the idea that one can’t play anybody but oneself to be quite crazy. And it’s even crazier that this silly argument would be published by the NYTimes.


  2. Everybody is overthinking this. Scarlett Johansson was cast in the title role for exactly one reason: The movie studio wants to make money off the film, and needs a big-name star to pull in the audience.

    That’s all there is to it, period.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. serious voice Have you considered who is President? There are maniacs who go to these reelection rallies right now. The POTUS election isn’t until 2020. I don’t think a movie is a stretch.


          1. Those are midterms. The dude filed to run for reelection the day of his inauguration. He’s mostly stumping for himself not the reps and senators up for election. Even by American standards this is a nuttily long campaign. But I digress.

            My point is, being a raving maniac doesn’t necessarily stop people from watching your movie/tv show/whatever. The Roseanne reboot had great ratings. Dinesh D’Souza makes money from his “movies.” Mel Gibson made a “comeback.” People pay money to see Rush Limbaugh broadcast his show. Kanye still has a rap career.


            1. Oh, absolutely. But you’ve got to be somebody aside from a ranting maniac.

              I’m.just stunned that NYTimes gives a playdate to obviously ridiculous people while there are actually important things going on in the world. Spain reportedly took 75 million to throw the game to Russia. That’s interesting! At least, it’s more interesting than people acting batty on Twitter.


            2. And Trump will get re-elected in 2020, unless the Democrats manage to get their head out of their ass, and come up with some slogan besides “Impeach Trump” and “Abolish ICE.”


              1. With a disapproval rating of 55%, Trump will be a drag in the midterm elections. And if he runs the economy into the ground with his crazy tariffs….


  3. // I once watched a play set in 19th-century where a Russian slave-owner was played by a black actor.

    What was the play? You keep mentioning it, but the title stays secret. 🙂

    I have also wanted to ask something about the previous conversation. You said:

    // London and Dreiser were realists with socialist politics. It was a strong literary movement back then with some amazing writers. But then postmodernism came down like a ton of bricks and nobody cares about the struggles of the working classes any more. I still believe it was the best that US literature had to offer.

    What do postmodernist writers care about?
    I thought about middle age crisis of well-off men, but it cannot be that.

    If you want to try “Bastard Out of Carolina”, I can share it. It was published in 1992 and is about working classes among other things. It also is good literature, unlike “Hillbilly Elegy” which I am currently reading.


  4. From Pauline Kael (maybe the most influential film critic in the US) reviewing Othello with Laurence Olivier

    “Part of the pleasure of the performance is, of course, the sheer feat of Olivier’s transforming himself into a Negro; yet it is not wasted effort, not mere exhibitionism or actor’s vanity, for what Negro actor at this stage in the world’s history could dare bring to the role the effrontery that Olivier does, and which Negro actor could give it this reading? …. Possibly Negro actors need to sharpen themselves on white roles before they can play a Negro. It is not enough to be: for great drama, it is the awareness that is everything.”


    1. Loved this interpretation:

      // And Othello, who thought himself almost accepted by these civilized whites, is destroyed by primitive, irrational forces in them that he has no knowledge of. His “civilization” is based on theirs and goes because he believed in theirs.

      A wonderful review, cliff. Thanks for sharing.


  5. Today (July 13) Scarlett Johansson announced that she is withdrawing from the cast of this movie. So her departure from the project is a huge victory for…WHO, EXACTLY??

    It will be VERY interesting to see who the movie studio will dare to cast in the staring role now — and how commercially successful the final production will turn out to be!


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