ByEthan Hval, writer at
Ethan Hval

When Jared Leto announced he'd be portraying a transgender woman in the film Dallas Buyer's Club, it was an announcement that met with scorn and dissent from the trans community. When Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal portrayed gay sheepherders in Broke Back Mountain some in the gay community took offense. Why hire a white cis man to play a trans woman, the trans community asked. Why not give that opportunity to a trans actress? Why allow white heterosexual men to portray gay characters?

When Jared Leto won an Oscar for his performance the trans community reacted with vitriol when he failed to thank a single trans person.

Beyond gender identity and sexual orientation the debate continues to explode when it comes to race. Emma Stone was forced to apologize for her role as part-Asian Allison Ng in the film Aloha.

Now Marilyn Manson has come under- fire for portraying a Native American hitman in the soon to be released film Let me Make You a Martyr.

Perhaps, I am the only film aficionado who is perplexed and disturbed by this trend of shaming actors for the roles they choose to pursue and the films they take part in. Certainly, it is very important to avoid "white-washing" films but at what point does our obsession with political correctness begin to encroach upon free speech?

Where was the outrage at Robert Downey Jr for his role in the film Tropic Thunder - a role almost begging for someone to be offended by?

I find it hard to believe that shaming actors into exploring only roles as close to their own identities is part of a viable solution to racial, gender and all other types of inequality. One of the most basic functions of art is exploration. Actors explore the unknown in ways that most people will never be able to understand. As someone who has had experience performing on stage, I fear the day that I am relegated to only portraying lower middle class, white, college age characters of Scandinavian descent. Exploring other lives and other ways of living is intrinsic to the process of giving a great performance and if we begin to deny actors this ability the quality of our art is sure to suffer.

And all this whining and complaining detracts from the broad accomplishments that have been made to advance many causes. Does no one appreciate the impact of Brokeback Mountain which allowed gay love to enter mainstream dialogue and furthered the debate over gay rights? Should we not be thankful for the courage and bravery of the film makers for undertaking such a project? Should we not be pleased with the results that are surely far reaching? And what about TransAmerica? A film that exists as my first exposure to transgendered persons and their struggles. Surely, we can be grateful that the struggles of trans people are becoming more visible due to cultural shifts such as these. Certainly, the rise to stardom of trans actors and actresses like Laverne Cox owe something to these pioneering efforts.

I understand the desire and need to see people we relate to portrayed in film and television - but certainly we must recognize that change is slow and it will take sensitive members of majority communities to begin to tell the stories of the marginalized.

However, there comes a time when our criticisms and complaints our obsession with PC culture begins to limit expression and free speech. Have we forgotten that each of us are united in one thing: our humanity. I am worried that the current obsession with PC culture will damage our ability to express various opinions in the future.

Is it not ridiculous to complain when so much good has been done - even by the people we rail against? Look at the the Black Lives Matter disruption of a Bernie Sander's event recently. What is the point of attacking a man who marched with Martin Luther King Jr, who was arrested for fighting segregation?

And how does the an obsession with political correctness restrict our abilities to express opinion? Certainly there must be room for dissent, for those who challenge our beliefs and who anger us due to their actions. Only by examining our reactions to the events and world around us can we hope to have any clear understanding.

As a lover of film I fear deeply for actors, writers and directors who decide to go against the grain and express themselves honestly. The world is getting smaller, soon it may be too small for even dissent...


What do you think of Political Correctness as it relates to art?


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