Colorizing history is not always a good idea.

One thing I like about the days around and following Christmas are the proliferation of old hit movies.

I just finished watching “The Wiz,” which was really enjoyable —   I had seen it before — and realized it would have been bathed in woke controversy if released today.

”The Wiz” put a fresh spin on an old idea


Although the cast was all Black, it was directed by Philadelphia native Sidney Lumet. Nominated for five Oscars, he was white, and today, that would not fly. 

“The Wiz” was not a Black carbon copy (no pun intended) of “The Wizard of Oz.” It stood on its own creativity.

 It was unlike the Black version of “Hello Dolly,” which was a revival of the white version, the same show line for line.

“The Wiz” borrowed some of the “Oz” storyline, but the music and choreography were new, and Dorothy was transformed from a white Kansas teen to a 24-year-old Harlem schoolteacher.

I don’t know how many Black directors were working in Hollywood when “Wiz” was shot in 1978, but probably not many. Today, you could not have a white director direct Black actors.

People are touchy, and when I say “people,” I really mean Social Justice Warriors and/or woke.

When Lin-Manuel Miranda decided to cast nonwhite actors as Colonials in “Hamilton,” remember what happened? White people rioted, burned down movie theaters and looted sports equipment stores.

No, that didn’t happen. What did happen?

White people stormed the ticket office and turned “Hamilton” into a major hit. It won 11 Tony awards. If there was any white protest, I didn’t hear it.

Personally, I found it off-putting. Why?

Unlike “Hello Dolly” and “The Wiz,” this was history and Miranda was distorting history. 

No big deal to you?

Let’s put the brogan on the other foot.

Remember “Glory,” the true story of the all-Black 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry in the Civil War? They were led by a white officer, but let’s recast the troops as white, too. Why not — their courage remains. Right?

Wrong. That would be insulting.

And historically inaccurate.

So Miranda benefitted from the liberal tastes of white people, who are the majority of the Broadway audience. 

[Personal Disclosure: I was the Philadelphia Daily News’ theater critic, 1978-1980.]

Miranda was acclaimed for turning what might be called “colorism” on his head, and he was as pleased as the cat that swallowed the canary.

Until 2019, anyway.

When trailers for “In the Heights,” Miranda’s 2008 Broadway hit, started running, the film was broadly criticized by some for its lack of dark-skinned Afro-Latino folks in lead roles. This was condemned as a product of colorism and anti-Blackness in Hollywood—and in Latino communities as a whole.

Miranda went from swallowing the canary to eating crow. He abjectly apologized.

Imagine the impact this had on Black and Latinos who were thought to be “too white” to have deserved their jobs. Pretty awful.

To bring this into the present, the musical “1776” opened last year with nonwhite, nonbinary and assorted other “nons” cast as the Founding Fathers.

Isn’t this fun?

Not so much, reported The New York Times. 

There has been some debate among cast members under the direction of two directors — very unusual — one Asian woman, and one Black man who was added after the death of George Floyd, the ex-con raised to sainthood.

During the rehearsal process, the Times reported, the directors had sought “consent from the Black folks in the play” to carry out its vision for the staging, which includes an evocation of a slave auction — but not from the rest of the cast, including non-Black actors of color. 

This decision, said one cast member, “unconsciously held up a false narrative by assimilating non-Black POC folks into whiteness.”

Got that? Yes, it is a little hard to follow because the labyrinth of race becomes unmanageable when grievance takes a leading role over history and sanity.

Please notice I am not asking it be shut down, or that you shouldn’t see it.

I am saying I will not see it, and why.

I am not in the cancel business, and I oppose anyone who is.

10 thoughts on “Colorizing history is not always a good idea.”

  1. When different ethnicities become interchangeable, they are reduced from one’s selfhood to trivial characteristics that are no more important than a wig or a costume. That selfhood is diminished. People of color playing white historical figures is not the same as people of color playing fictional characters. In the former, it is jarring, forced and artificial and in the latter it is a simple case of actors assuming identities different than their own in which only raw talent matters or should be considered. A black Ariel or Superhero bothers me not at all. A black Queen Elizabeth would. No one is disputing that an ethnic minority would have the talent to portray a historically white figure, but the visual of a black person playing a historically white person is as absurd as a white person playing e.g. MLK Jr. or Barak Obama.

  2. Brilliant piece — insightful. It works because it makes you THINK.
    My wife and I started to watch a TV series on Neftlix titled ‘Bridgerton.’ It was set as a period piece, with many of the actors Black or Asiatic, at a time when such was unthinkable. I could not stretch my mind enough to accept the visual slap in the face of the casting. (Think of ‘Gone With the Wind’ with Jamie Fox as Rhett Butler. See what I mean?) Or how about re-doing the ‘Godfather’ cast, replacing James Caan as Sonny with a Black man (or woman, why stop at race?), or the godfather himself being played by James Earl Jones, one of the great Black (there, I said it) actors. Nope, doesn’t work for me. And it doesn’t make me a racist, just a movie purist.

  3. The subject of race as you eloquently point out has become a tool to be used when all other rebuttals fail by simply stating you are a racist and now try to defend your position not on the facts but under the cloud of being a bigot. I take note that in our country today there are 14.6 % of Americans are considered black but if you look at all the ads on TV now you would believe we now have reached the level of 50% of interracial couples with children from an interracial family. The product usually can speak for itself but to try to placate a race with equity, inclusion, and diversity in every domain by colorizing the participants falls short of reality and downplays the struggle for real equality.

  4. Four years ago my daughters friend imperiously denounced the latest Little Women film release as not being representational.That was a woke harbinger of things to come and I remember trying to reason about say a film about the Eskimos-should that have a box checking rainbow cast?Incidentally see The NY Times claim that Louisa May Alcott was possibly trans.And the beat goes on…

  5. “Out of the closet comes a tranny,
    Old grandad who’s now my granny;
    My mom can’t hide that she is mad,
    But she’s not my mommy, she’s my dad.”

  6. Heh. We (thankfully) have capitalism. If there is a market for something, it will happen. On the bright side, I am glad that the wokies are embracing the founding fathers instead of going on about how the Constitution (three-fifths etc) and the founding was inherently racist. I like to see, instead, the embrace of its aspirational ideals of equality. As an unabashed “American Exceptionalist” I think the more “minority” celebration of the founding, the better. What better way to preserve the world-changing ideas of a bunch of “dead white men” than to have it renewed by minority celebration of it? What better way to say that it was their ideas, not their race, that mattered?
    I’m also pretty sure that the founders did not sing and dance their way through the Revolution, so one can’t really say, “All the rest was historically accurate.”
    I’m an old-fashioned “Star Trek liberal” who believes that in the ideal society, race is no more remarkable than any other physical detail. Should a casting director make sure that a brown-eyed actor doesn’t play a hazel-eyed founder? I don’t see how that’s important. (Of course, nowadays advocating colorblindness, even as a mere endpoint after remedies for the past, is “racist”–but what, according to the wokester’s isn’t?) We don’t demand historical precision, in say, the actual accent used at the time (both British and American accents have diverged from how the language was spoken at the time)–why insist on race? Should George Washington be played by a mostly toothless actor fitted with wooden teeth? Ideally, shouldn’t race just be something that is unimportant and part of our “suspension of disbelief” needed for any performance? Must someone playing Julius Caesar be Italian, or Hamlet, Danish? “Olivier is a Brit of French descent–ruined it for me!” It’s not like anyone is changing the history books to claim Ben Franklin was a minority. In Shakespeare’s time, all the female parts were played by guys in drag–how can we stand not being true to the Bard?
    I don’t think that the analogies to white actors in “Glory” or someone playing Obama or MLK hold up, because in these cases, race is an essential part of the story. Ironically, it is the SJW types that claim that the founding was all about “whiteness” and this criticism just plays into their hands. In truth, the message of 1776 is universal and enduring, and can and should be articulated by a person of any race or ethnicity. That’s what America means. It does not matter what the founders looked like.
    If history is the test, should I give up my favorite Westerns because it turns out that historically about 25% of cowboys were Black, and this historical fact was never portrayed?

    On the other hand, I admit to some feeling of incongruity when I first saw stuff like that. But I’ve found it really doesn’t matter if the actor is good. (E.g., Learned to love Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury though the character was white in the comic books I grew up with). I think that feeling is what the SJW’s have developed into an entire doctrine they call “cultural appropriation.” “Those were white guys! Don’t pretend they were Black.” Like everything else, they excel at finding the most infinitesimal violation of this. But I don’t think it is a stance worthy of adoption.

    1. Reframing historical figures as singers and dancers comes under the suspension of disbelief. Turning Ben Franklin into a Black woman does not. Not for me.

  7. On the other hand, Madama Butterfly, an Asian woman, has been played by a Greek (Maria Callas) and others of the White persuasion. Was that by Occident?

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