by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
For as long as there have been actors, there have been forces trying to determine how people should act. In the Elizabethan period, it was illegal for women to appear on stage in a play. Through much of the nineteenth and even twentieth centuries, the races could not mingle onstage. Later, there were efforts to ban communist actors from work lest they use their platform to turn the country red.
These rules all have two things in common. They were promulgated to serve a perceived societal good; and they were bad not only for art, but for society. Today a new set of rules are emerging regarding who should act in certain roles. Recently, Scarlett Johansson was hounded out of a role as a trans man, and more recently the casting of Jake Whitehall as Disney’s first openly gay character has been criticized because he isn’t gay. …
… Becoming a profession for which one can get a graduate degree changed acting’s basic meaning. It was no longer just pretending to be something you aren’t for the enjoyment of others, it became a tool of social justice among, other things. In the last 20 years, identity issues have become the new shibboleths of censorship, the arbiter of who gets to pretend to be what.
The basic rule of thumb is that everyone gets to pretend to be straight white men, and who gets to pretend to be anything else depends on where they fall in the hierarchy of marginalization.