Editorial Is this allowed? Tom Hanks and the Ethical Fallacy of Cultural Appropriation

In an interview with The New York Times Actor Tom Hanks recently announced that he will not be playing his role as a gay AIDS lawyer in Philadelphia.

The actor asked before answering, “Can a straight guy do what you did in Philadelphia today?” .

In doing so, Hanks is not only questioning his career, but also casting doubt on the acting talent of his up-and-coming colleagues – and on the very nature of his profession.

If the originality in acting is related to sexual orientation or other biography of the actors* such as gender, skin color, creed, political beliefs, then this means that for the reasons of said originality, no one should be allowed to slip into roles who is the other at best makes the actors question their outlook for the world?

Acting, like writing novels, is so exciting precisely because you open up to the experience of people who are different from you — through documentation, through our imagination, through the represented experience of another existence.

If everyone writes only about themselves, everyone plays only their part – or people who belong to their own identification group (political, cultural…) – we close ourselves off to the experiences of others.

Todd Haynes’ “I’m Not There” was so much fun because Bob Dylan was played by the likes of Cate Blanchett and African-American actor Marcus Carl Franklin, the re-imagining of Anne Simon “Richard II” was so difficult because she portrayed the warring king. A strange side: Fiction blasts categories, fosters empathy, blends identities, and turns normative discourses on its head.

Moreover, behind this statement lies a dangerous tendency toward segregation, camouflaged by tolerance, which is reflected in recent debates: should non-Jews be allowed to write about the Holocaust at all? Why is there a play in Avignon starting on Thursday in which a Luxembourgian actor plays a Portuguese extremist? Are Timothée Chalamet and Ariane Hammer allowed to sleep so tenderly in “Call Me By My Name”?

What matters is not what you can or cannot do – what matters is the respect and sensitivity with which you deal with a subject. If Nicholas Steele wanted to empathetically depict the fate of a kidnapped Jew in “Le chemin du bonheur”, but failed because his characters are so vulgar that they appear anti-Semitic, the problem is not whether Steele is a Jew or not – the problem is the insensitivity and subtlety with which the story was portrayed. them.

This might be the argument of a privileged person who can afford to write about anything other than racism, sexism, or homophobia because he hasn’t had to experience any of them firsthand. Understandably, people who have tried this want to report it, while the white heterodox author can sometimes write a book about bees, jellyfish, or Deutsche Bahn.

But telling cultural workers what they can and can’t do under the pretext of protecting so-called marginalized groups and preventing cultural appropriation amounts only to censoring art, drawing boundaries, and limiting our empathy.

Jeff Schenker

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