"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Sunday, April 30, 2023

When Snoop Dogg Played Eleanor Roosevelt–Authenticity, Identity, And Diversity On The Great White Way

“I ain’t playin’ no old white bitch”, Dogg said when approached by his agent for the title role in a modern remake of Hyde Park on the Hudson, this time featuring FDR’s wife, Eleanor.  It had to be a joke, some weird Broadway-meets-AOC shit that his agent had cooked up with David Mellick wannabees in the Brill building. “Yes, massah, I’se gwine to plow dem fields o’ cotton bullshit, harness up ol’ Dogg, dress me up like a black mammy talking slave talk to de white folk.  Fuck that shit”.

Dogg’s career had been lagging for some time since his old rap days, peddling beer in be happy bonding commercials was his latter day showpiece, and he admitted he needed a boost.  “Just think of it”, his agent offered.  “Playing the whitest lady in American history, crossing the color line once and for all, burying racism and white assumptions forever.  Forget Denzel Washington as Macbeth or Papaa Essiedu as Hamlet.  Whiteface, white aspirations, white thinking.  You, my man, are the  blackest black man around, the black man who has given authenticity the attention it deserves.  Now any black actor can be Oscar, Emmy, and Golden Globe material when the ur- black man, Snoop Dogg, plays a fluty-voiced, bosomy, buck-toothed old woman.

Snoop Dogg | Rap Wiki | Fandom

‘You jivin’ me’, said Dogg.  Despite being brought up in Long Beach, he turned into a Compton bad boy right before his parents’ eyes (they wanted him to be a doctor).  They should have seen the genius of the boy and how he could play George Washington if he wanted, transforming the ghetto into a white Elysium. Dogg could be authentic – playing a crackhead – but could also suspend disbelief.  Black actors could play anyone of any stripe and make it real. Minority actors, the disabled, dwarfed, and LGBTQ+ were encouraged to play against type.  What was wrong with Dogg playing Mrs. Roosevelt? Good for his career and integration. Bernstein was a genius of both authenticity and cross-identity placement.

Dogg’s favorite role had been the crippled crack dealer in Antoine Fuqua’s Training Day, a street-tough motherfucker more ghetto than ghetto in a wheelchair goddamn it; but then he was typecast, locked in to street crime, jive, and bling when he preferred Picasso.  He hit the big time in the black salad years – everything black was good, street creds spiked on the market, the black experience; but the black thang had trapped him in the same cotton pickin’ wagon white people had for generations.  Maybe it was time to lose the ‘hood.

Yet losing the ‘hood meant that ‘they’ wanted you to act as white as white could be – Hamlet, Macbeth, and Alexander Hamilton – to prove your real worth.  if you could act so white, so bloody upper class English white that audiences would forget you were black, you had really made it.  Make black disappear, then turn around and make it appear as nasty, bad, and ghetto as you could make it.  A whiplash, stable boy to king and back again.

Tennessee Williams was once told by a reviewer that he created such good roles for women because he was a woman – a proud gay man who would rather be a floozy than a stud – but Williams was nonplussed.  I create great parts for women, he said, because i am a great playwright, and Sean Penn no limp-wristed Castro boy played Harvey Milk to a ‘T’.  Why not? he said.  He was a great actor.  So the only better offer from Bernstein would have been to play Vita Sackville West or her lesbian lover Virginia Woolf –gay white women played by a pimp-walking Compton banger.

Tennessee Williams - Wikipedia

In this woke age where transformation is the rule, and playing against type is A-list, where macho men turn frilly and sensitive, where girly girls go E-boots and flannel in Bernal Heights, where identity is a gender-reveal parlor game, and where race is a shell game, which black man will pop up and disappear before your eyes?

This, thought Bernstein, Dogg’s agent and master of the cross-acting authenticity phenomenon and never troubled about principle and therefore a super-agent , is what Xi and Putin see when they look at America.  America the vaudevillian, the carny clown, the side show freak, a gay Punch and Judy, a black Goodnight Moon.  They, imperialist nationalists, czarists and Mandarins, and modern day princes,  rule homogeneity.  ‘Diversity’ is a bad joke.  Rus and the Tang Dynasty are not.

The Enduring Wisdom of 'Goodnight Moon' - The New York Times

Bernstein had become known as the go-to agent for the younger generation of minority actors who saw their window of opportunity finally open.  Bernstein could sniff out diversity roles and create them where none existed.  Why don’t you put a gay actor here, a black one there, an Asian one where nobody thought to look.  My stable is filled with thoroughbreds, he said, of many breeds.  He could produce a disabled white or black man, a gay Asian or Pacific Islander, and any combination thereof.  Jerome Martin, a black, gay dwarf was his biggest money-earner.  Producers looking for a two- or three-in-one minority gesture paid top dollar for Martin, and Bernstein had two equally identified and qualified stand-ins in the wings.   Business was booming, and he was featured in a lead article in the New Yorker (‘Black Stars Align For the Genius of the Great White Way’).  According to the magazine, Bernstein could do no wrong, so attentive was he to the reformation and restructuring of Broadway and Hollywood.  ‘No one is missing from the client list of this most catholic of agents’.

As a matter of fact, wrote the New Yorker, Bernstein represents no white actors.  ‘They have had their day’, he said. ‘A good run, but their finish line has long been crossed’.  Bernstein of course felt no such thing.  The greatest actors on stage and screen were still white.  Laurence Fishburne could never match Olivier’s blackface Othello, nor could any black actor possibly match Gielgud as Hamlet; and here Bernstein played the race card – the same one played by aspiring black actors and their supporters.  British actors had Shakespeare in their blood and the blood of Henry IV, Richard III, and Margaret of Aquitaine.   Al Pacino was told by classic British Shakespearean actors that he couldn’t possibly Richard III.  It was not a matter of talent, but inheritance.

Richard III: Laurence Olivier's melodramatic baddie is seriously limp |  Movies | The Guardian

Since Bernstein was a canny, savvy agent fortunately free from the trammels of political philosophy, he willingly and happily promoted his stable of blacks, gays, women, small people, and the disabled to play any role at any time.  What better Richard III than a dwarf? Why not a gay man playing Tamora, the Queen of the Goths, mutilator of women, rape-protagonist, and viciously ambitious harridan?

When the producer of a play or movie called for authenticity – black men for black male roles, for example – he was right there.  When another producer asked for against type, revolutionary roles, he always had innovative ideas.  Be ironic, he said, and pick a lesbians to play tough, brutish kings.  Bernstein was not the go-to man on Broadway for nothing.

“Who said there’s no money in diversity?”, Bernstein – Park Avenue, Hamptons, Biarritz, Gstaad, Rimini Bernstein – opined.

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