I had a happy little accident a few days ago. I had been writing a blog post about the recent hullabaloo regarding white actors cast in a Hartford production of Stephen Adly Guirgis' "The Motherf*cker in the Hat":http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/11/30/playwright-criticizes-casting-for-production-of-the-____________-with-the-hat/
And lo and behold, it was totally erased by my faulty computer after three hours of editing it. I cursed my own existence, and gave up for the day, vowing to revisit at a later time when I was more calm. That time came today when I happened upon a fellow actor's blog regarding the issue:http://peacockchronicles.com/
I found that the talented Carmen Pelaez summed up my experiences exactly, so I didn't have to write anything!
After you've perused these articles, I will leave you with this: I completely support Guirgis' views regarding the production and understand his anger at not giving Latino actors the opportunity to audition for this production. However, I found myself grimacing while reading about the issue, simply because of the manner in which Puerto Ricans were swept under an enormous umbrella of a certain urban type. In fact, I expected more care to be taken in using labels for a certain ethnicity from a publication as prestigious as the New York Times. Dare to dream.
It did make me realize the absolute NEED for a wider range of Hispanic characters in our media outlets. The reason the term "urban" was not used to describe the characters instead of "Puerto Rican" is because there have been no true successes on a wide scale from Puerto Rican artists to make known the wide range of walks of life that Puerto Rican society enjoys. It (obviously) is as big as any other society, as big as what they call the "white" society. There are white Puerto Ricans/Americans, there are black Puerto Ricans/Americans, there are poor Puerto Rican/Americans, there are white Puerto Rican/Americans. There are even rich-then-stock-market-crashed-and-now-poor-with-a-dark-skinned-son-but-from-light-skinned-parents Puerto Rican-Americans. I think you get the point. How odd then, that only the poor and black Hispanic population is portrayed in our movies and media outlets. How very odd.
I wonder why that is?
I've recently gotten into an obsessive habit of trying to clean out my inbox and keep my desk immaculately clean. I blame it on the upcoming holidays: there's never any telling how I will behave in the last two months of the year.
In performing these tasks, I came across an article about Stetson Kennedy in the New York Times from August that I was forwarded and had been meaning to read:http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/30/us/30kennedy.html
It was forwarded from a protege of Mr. Kennedy's to my father-in-law, who then forwarded it on to Stu, my husband (and producer of our film), who then forwarded it on to me. Don't you just love the internet?
Stetson Kennedy, who died August 27 of this year, was a white civil rights leader. Apart from an entire lifetime of civil rights work and collecting folklore, he was particularly well known for infiltrating and exposing the Ku Klux Klan. There is a documentary coming out this month on him that will eventually make its way to PBS. Rumor has it that Tobey Maguire bought the rights to his life, following in the footsteps of Humphrey Bogart. Hopefully, Mr. Maguire will be successful in getting his life onto the big screen for all to see.
As a producer, I have to ask myself and be able to answer the question, "why should anyone care?" I have to be able to answer it because if I don't know the answer, I can't explain it to someone else, and then voila: no money for fun times movie. What's interesting (and what I love) about White Alligator is that the majority of the current crew is not Hispanic. The only Hispanics we can claim right now are me, the writer/actor, and Raquel Almazan, the director. So, I often ask myself, why do these fabulous people that have dedicated their (unpaid for now) time, energy and resources, care?
Well, why did Stetson Kennedy care?I'd like to think that White Alligator, despite having a main character from Puerto Rico, speaks to all walks of life. It's written and designed to have people across the board say, "yes, that's me, that's happened to me." But playing devil's advocate, which all producers do, let's say for some reason, it doesn't. Let's imagine the worst case scenario where a mixed audience sits in that theater and at the end, some say, "funny stuff, but what's this gotta do with me?"
In my dreams, I like to think that the Least Common Denominator should be able to see my film, have a good time, grab a beer afterwards and go to sleep content. Later in the week, when bringing in candidates for an open position for, say, fund structuring attorney and he/she looks at a pile of resumes and happens to have a Mr. Rodriguez with an excellent resume, I'd like to think that this person would now have the subconscious ability to think, "Oh, maybe this Rodriguez fellow won't come in with nasty crack habit and a fondness for glocks. He did go to Harvard Law School, after all. What the hey, let's bring him in..."
That's the worst case scenario. The next level of people in the audience are the ones that say, "what's this gotta do with me?" And this is the most exciting group of people to encounter. They're the ones that Stetson wrote for, the ones that are on the fence about caring, the ones that haven't yet been converted. They care enough to ask, "why should I care?" And they are the future. They still pass a homeless man on the street without blinking, but maybe later in the day when they're getting soup for lunch, they think about him again and wonder if there's anything anybody can do.
The real answer to the question, "why should I care," should be that we're all interconnected by an invisible string, and when one person falls down, we all come crashing down. It's hard to see this, of course, when you're in the middle of the grit of your own personal day. But some people, such as Stetson Kennedy, Oskar Schindler, Mike Daisey, can see that string linking us all. They see that that homeless man, if given the proper therapy and medication for his schizophrenia,
has the potential to someday solve the healthcare crisis. They see the value and worthiness of every living creature placed on Earth.
Those are the beautiful souls that I am fortunate enough to be surrounded by in this project. They do not say, "
I'm not Hispanic: what does this project have to do with me?" but rather, "this project has the potential to advance our humanity."And for that, I am forever grateful.