A short desk lunch because things are busy, between my day job and my month-long NaNoWriMo project (not a novel, but just a time when I write and complete something every day for 30 days). Fun times! Is it Thanksgiving yet!
The runaway success of Hamilton has shown that this sort of “race-blind” casting can become an astounding success—and also how far we’ve come from the musicals of the 1940s.
Two things: ONE: I appreciate this piece because it makes the point that the days of Old Hollywood were lose-lose in their portrayals of POC and how they utilized non-white actors once they had them. Roles for minorities offered either deeply uncomfortable stereotypical portrayals, or POCs (and the roles they played) were whitewashed, such as my honorary grandmother Rita Moreno. I didn’t realize she was Zelda in Singin’ in the Rain until I had seen the movie roughly 16,000 times because she looked nooooooothiiiiiing like the way she’s looked the rest of her life. TWO: Hamilton is NOT a RACE-BLIND or COLOR-BLIND musical, and people need to stop calling it that. Race/color-blind implies (“implies”)* that the performers were chosen without considering their ethnic backgrounds, and this is not the case w/r/t Hamilton, where casting POC in every role (except King George) was an active priority because, in the writer’s words: “This is a story about America then, told by America now, and we want to eliminate any distance — our story should look the way our country looks.” The word you’re looking for (actively casting POCs in historically/traditionally white roles to create a double conscious performance) might be racebending, but to the best of my knowledge, there’s no theater-specific term for this sort of thing. However: the term is NOT “race-blind” or “color-blind.”
*Ironic quotation marks because I doubt anyone, literally anyone’s ability to conduct truly “blind” evaluations of any work. For more on this issue (but from a different field) see this piece from Apogee Journal about blind submissions at literary magazines. Readers, especially, often think that “the work” will speak for itself in a pure and objective manner, and that taking the name off a submission will also rid their own brains of implicit bias, and that’s absolutely not the case, ever.
Oh, MAN, do I love anything more than giant compilations of primary sources? NO, I DON’T. I got this book used for about $10 and so far it’s WONDERFUL. It works from the compelling, strangely radical thesis: maybe people have always been people, and maybe same-sex attraction/romance/intimacy/sexuality isn’t an invention of the past 10 minutes, and here are 400 pages of historical documents that can be viewed in that light! Maybe we, the inheritors of this legacy, can take people of the past at their word when they wrote things like: “I have certainly never loved [a] man as I love you—and never shall” and “If I could have lived along side of you all the days of my life, I should have been happier.” (full excerpt) It’s a better solution than superimposing a century of institutionalized homophobia on legitimate emotional relationships that don’t suit an “idealized” concept of the past. (Ironic quotations ABOUND today—no regrets!)
Have you ever heard of the Omura whale? ….There’s a pretty simple explanation for why you probably haven’t; they didn’t technically exist until 2003. You see, until then they were not thought to be a distinct spacies of whale, merely a dwarf version of another species. But in 2003, after a team of Japanese researchers spent a good deal of time studying their DNA and bodily chracteristics decided they were distinct enough to be their own species, and named them after the deceased cetologist Hideo Omura.
THERE’S A NEW WHALE? THERE’S A NEW WHALE!