January 15, 2019

THE IDIOCY OF MODERN IDENTITARIANISM SUMMED UP IN ONE STORY: Steven Spielberg’s ‘West Side Story’ Finds Its Maria, Anita, Bernardo & Chino.

“When we began this process a year ago, we announced that we would cast the roles of Maria, Anita, Bernardo, Chino and the Sharks with Latina and Latino actors. I’m so happy that we’ve assembled a cast that reflects the astonishing depth of talent in America’s multifaceted Hispanic community,” said Spielberg. “I am in awe of the sheer force of the talent of these young performers, and I believe they’ll bring a new and electrifying energy to a magnificent musical that’s more relevant than ever.” ….

“I am so thrilled to be playing the iconic role of Maria alongside this amazing cast,” said [Rachel]  Zegler. “West Side Story was the first musical I encountered with a Latina lead character. As a Colombian-American, I am humbled by the opportunity to play a role that means so much to the Hispanic community.”

Why do Puerto Rican characters in West Side Story need to be played by Latinos, but not Italian characters by people of Italian or (better yet, given the demographics of New York’s Italian community, specifically Sicilian) descent? Why is having a Colombian-American a politically-correct choice to play a Puerto Rican? What do Colombia and Puerto Rico have in common besides different dialects of the Spanish language? If you were trying to cast an Australian of 1960, would casting an English-speaking actor from the US, or India, be “authentic”? Isn’t kind of insulting to assume that all Spanish-speaking countries are interchangeable?

I’ve been working on a paper about legal definitions of race and ethnicity in the U.S., and the designation of “Hispanics” as non-white was not exactly historically inevitable. “Mexicans,” along with other Spanish-speaking peoples of the Americas, were usually considered to be legally white in the census and otherwise, though Mexicans were sometimes sent to segregated school thanks to local policy. When affirmative action programs started in the Sixties, “Chicano” (Mexican-American) groups lobbied for Mexican-Americans to be included as a “minority” group. Once Mexican-Americans were included, the category gradually expanded. First, it was anyone with a Spanish surname. But that proved overbroad, because many Italians have last names that sound Spanish, and many people of Hispanic descent do not. So eventually this morphed into “Latino” or Hispanic. But why, for example, an Argentine immigrant of Italian heritage is less “white” than a native-born American of Italian heritage is a mystery. Having lived in Peru, the irony of seeing like-skinned Latin Americans of mostly European origin who are generally contemptuous of darker-skinned Latin Americans suddenly becoming “people of color” eligible for minority preferences if they immigrate to the U.S. is something to behold.

But as Glenn might note, dividing people into artificial “races” creates extra opportunities for graft.

Oh, and while we’re at it, here is Zegler’s “racial” background:  “Her father is of Polish ancestry on his own father’s side, and of Irish, German, and Italian ancestry on his own mother’s. Rachel’s mother is of Colombian origin.” So do we give Spielberg only half-credit for finding an actor who at best is half-Hispanic? Why does anyone sane want to go down this rabbit-hole?

UPDATE: And speaking of double standards, friend read this and commented, “And why is it OK for almost none of the actors on The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel are Jewish in real life?”

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