Casting Evita.
March 19, 2016 8:26 AM   Subscribe

"The playing field needs to be aggressively leveled - possibly razed." Chicago theatre artists respond to an open letter to the Marriott Theatre regarding the casting of Evita, which only included one actor of Latin heritage.
posted by roomthreeseventeen (49 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
 
No Latinos in Evita? In other news water is wet. Evita has had a rich history of cultural misappropriation and dubious casting choices from its inception. Italians and Spaniards are close enough, right?

Try casting a black kid as Little Orphan Annie or Matilda? Watch the shit hit the fucking fan.

The playing field needs to be nuked from orbit and the Earth salted.
posted by Talez at 9:05 AM on March 19, 2016 [19 favorites]


We can only assume the insensitive and inadequate response to Mr. Bellinger's letter is due to their deep sadness.­­

Oh look, I'm adding a new theater crush in addition to everything Hamilton!
posted by TwoStride at 9:14 AM on March 19, 2016 [5 favorites]


It's like these people have never seen West Side Story.
posted by Sphinx at 9:33 AM on March 19, 2016 [2 favorites]


Given the population of Argentina at the time, wouldn't Bovine-Americans need to be represented too? I mean, if you're going to slander Eva Perón, go all the way!
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 9:34 AM on March 19, 2016


Oh, ffs. It's Argentina, not Mexico. At 97% European, it's significantly whiter than the US. None of those actors would look at all out of place in Argentina. Eva Perón was ethnically Basque; Juan Perón, Sardinian. White people playing white people -- quel horreur.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:52 AM on March 19, 2016 [20 favorites]


In a sense, going with Italian-Americans might make most sense if you want realism, since a lot of poor Argentinians were of Italian extraction and were being ostracized by the oligarchy. At the same time, if you want to translate the situation for an American audience, it would make more sense to use recent immigrants who are currently discriminated against, e.g. Latinos, Somalians, Syrians, etc.

There might also be a case to make Perón and Evita Biracial to emphasize the discrimination they faced as children born out of wedlock (though Juan Perón's parents eventually married and he was able to make it as an officer).
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 10:06 AM on March 19, 2016 [5 favorites]


At 97% European, it's significantly whiter than the US

Yes, but white != latin@, although latin@ can be white. This is, I think, not entirely about visual representation & whitewashing: it's also (maybe even primarily) about inclusiveness.

That in Chicago, they only identified one latino actor for their cast says a lot about the theater and the producers, and none of it good.
posted by suelac at 10:10 AM on March 19, 2016 [12 favorites]


Oh, ffs. It's Argentina, not Mexico. At 97% European, it's significantly whiter than the US. None of those actors would look at all out of place in Argentina. Eva Perón was ethnically Basque; Juan Perón, Sardinian. White people playing white people -- quel horreur.

This is addressed in the letter.
posted by zarq at 10:52 AM on March 19, 2016 [13 favorites]


Hispanic and/or Latin@ members of our society face discrimination European-descent White people do not, even those with light skin. It is pretty damn disrespectful to pass off concerns about representation as "oh, whatever, they're all white anyway."
posted by schroedinger at 11:01 AM on March 19, 2016 [9 favorites]


Hmm. From my non-American POC perspective, a lot of the rhetoric around this emerging ideal of highly specific ethnically accurate casting feels uncomfortably essentialist, restrictive, and in cases where stories about non-American societies are involved, even quite culturally imperialist. But is it worse than white people taking all the roles, all the time, unto eternity? Surely not. This looks like one of the few areas where actors of colour are able to assert some authority, to get any ground at all to argue that they should have opportunities to work without quite as many openings for white people to dismiss and patronise. It's quite interesting to watch the development of American racial ethics/politics, how the pressures one group puts on the others shape the positions those others take in response (which then inevitably get thinkpieced up and elaborated on and exported to the rest of the world).
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 11:07 AM on March 19, 2016 [5 favorites]




At 97% European, it's significantly whiter than the US

Yes, but white != latin@, although latin@ can be white.


I think you mean that people of Southern European descent are being played by people of Northern European descent, which is the usual thing. I dream of a peplum in which the Romans are played by Italian Americans instead of Russell Crowe.
posted by sukeban at 11:34 AM on March 19, 2016 [2 favorites]


Hispanic and/or Latin@ members of our society face discrimination European-descent White people do not, even those with light skin. It is pretty damn disrespectful to pass off concerns about representation as "oh, whatever, they're all white anyway."

That's not at all what I said, but, hey, maybe you're right -- maybe lumping everyone from south of the Rio Grande into one monolithic group really is somehow more respectful of their heritage, and maybe casting a woman of French extraction to play a woman of French extraction really is super racist.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:38 AM on March 19, 2016 [10 favorites]


Based on the "included" link, there are 25 people in the cast. Only casting 4 percent Latin actors in Chicago -- a 28.9 percent Latin city -- is pretty bad for any show.
posted by Etrigan at 11:40 AM on March 19, 2016 [4 favorites]


You can always tell that a critique has struck a nerve as soon as "slanderous" shows up in the response.
posted by bakerina at 12:15 PM on March 19, 2016 [1 favorite]


This is addressed in the letter.

This was pretty weakly addressed in the letter. There is no one Latino culture. As a Latino myself, I find it more offensive that any Latino can stand in to play an Argentinian. That might work for an American-based sense of propriety, but I've usually found it insulting when I've seen it in movies and TV. I've said it before, but they call it "acting" for a reason. A good performance is a good performance. I more appreciate a story well told than a story told with good intentions. Casting, say, an obvious Cuban or Puerto Rican to play a Mexican, because authenticity or whatever makes for more of a distraction and spectacle than storytelling. But American audiences can't tell a difference, so who cares as long as they have dark skin or their name ends in a vowel? Yet that's exactly the attitude being expressed here.

And lets face it. We're not even talking about an Argentinian creation here. This is the work of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. Certainly two Brits could be counted on to portray an Argentine story with utmost sensitivity and good will?
posted by 2N2222 at 12:22 PM on March 19, 2016 [26 favorites]


For what is worth, No Llores Por Mí Argentina sung by an Argentinian.
posted by sukeban at 12:32 PM on March 19, 2016


I dream of a peplum in which the Romans are played by Italian Americans instead of Russell Crowe.

whereas I'd just be happy with an Oscar winning depiction of ancient Rome where a slave doesn't rise up to save the f***ing empire.

In other words -- what a dumb movie!
posted by philip-random at 12:40 PM on March 19, 2016


I'm just gonna be over here, composing my JFK musical in Spanish: the story of a young ambitious president who has numerous sexy affairs while a Iago-like Lyndon Johnson plots his demise (with a character called Lee hanging out in the wings!). JFK is subsequently killed and all the dreams of America are lost forever like tears in the rain. As history, that's what Evita is like. Reducing the central historical period of XX century Argentina to a cartoon. The casting is the least of it's problems.
posted by Omon Ra at 12:48 PM on March 19, 2016 [2 favorites]


I dream of a peplum in which the Romans are played by Italian Americans instead of Russell Crowe.

Actually, Maximus was suposed to be Hispano-Roman (he's supposed to be from Trujillo in Extremadura), so maybe a Spanish actor would have been more appropriate.
posted by Omon Ra at 12:51 PM on March 19, 2016 [3 favorites]


where a slave doesn't rise up to save the f***ing empire.

Let me tell you about that time a slave rose up to be king of Rome. And Narcissus everything.


I'm just gonna be over here, composing my JFK musical in Spanish

You mock, but I'm seeing a lot of people in my Spanish twitter circle fanboying Hamilton lots. I just hope the eventual Spanish version of the musical is better than Spanish Les Miserables. That was horrid.
posted by sukeban at 12:57 PM on March 19, 2016 [1 favorite]


Oh, I actually love Hamilton ('m not throwin' away my shot!), but that's a million times more political astute than Evita. You get a pretty good sense of the political complexities of the time from it and the different forces animating Hamilton. Evita and Perón, on the other hand, are only very slightly 2D. Slightly more colorful than your run of the mill populist politician. You get no sense of anything that came before (y'know, a century of civil wars, followed by pretty complex period of stability) and no sense of the horrors that were to arrive. As history it's pretty piss poor.
posted by Omon Ra at 1:18 PM on March 19, 2016


Well, it's usually not the done thing to fanboy quasi-fascist dictators with personality cults so no wonder they had to prettify the Perones.
posted by sukeban at 1:21 PM on March 19, 2016


Otherwise the most famous Argentinians are Ché Guevara and Maradona, and Maradona will get a musical in the USA sooner than Ché.
posted by sukeban at 1:23 PM on March 19, 2016


So sad that Guevara and Maradona are more well-known than Borges. I could easily see a musical based on Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius ;-)
posted by Omon Ra at 1:28 PM on March 19, 2016 [6 favorites]


I think the plot of Death and the Compass is the one that has appeared in the most Hollywood movies. From Hell, Sherlock Holmes, of course The Name of the Rose... :)
posted by sukeban at 1:31 PM on March 19, 2016 [1 favorite]


Otherwise the most famous Argentinians are Ché Guevara and Maradona, and Maradona will get a musical in the USA sooner than Ché.

Er, you do realize Ché is a character (the narrator) in Evita, right? And that at least in the original Broadway production it was explicitly Ché Guevara?
posted by graymouser at 2:05 PM on March 19, 2016 [7 favorites]


I haven't seen the movie in ages and the play itself never, but anyway: a musical of his own then.
posted by sukeban at 2:14 PM on March 19, 2016 [1 favorite]


(For reference, it's Che, not Ché. Che is an interjection (kind of similar to 'hey' or 'y'know') common in Argentina; he got the nickname either because he used it a lot or just because he was Argentine.)

I think the best case here is made on the diversity of Chicago actors and audiences. Would it be OK to have an all-white production of Cats? No, and the reasons why apply equally to Evita. Bellinger talks about general problems minorities have had working with the theater, and another link tells about them assigning roles without auditions, and that's what the theater should be working on.

If people really want to make the issue cultural sensitivity instead... well, it doesn't help when the people in the first link seem to know nothing about Argentina. If they want authenticity, shouldn't they be demanding that an Argentine, or a person of Basque descent, play Eva? It's OK to just say that there should be more Latino/a presence onstage; you don't have to pretend that white historical figures were nonwhite to do it.
posted by zompist at 3:43 PM on March 19, 2016 [7 favorites]


is the theatre going crowd (esp the Marriott) like an ethnically diverse crowd from all kinds of backgrounds or are we seeing the practical outcome as the issue when the issue is something else entirely?
posted by runt at 6:11 PM on March 19, 2016


And lets face it. We're not even talking about an Argentinian creation here. This is the work of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. Certainly two Brits could be counted on to portray an Argentine story with utmost sensitivity and good will?

The relationship between the English and Peron - in part because of how dominant the English Argentines were in Argentine politics and business until Peron came along - is complicated.
posted by clawsoon at 6:17 PM on March 19, 2016 [1 favorite]


Che is an interjection

It'd be closer to say it means "dude". Which is an interjection, a name, an exclamation, a curse, a cry, really anything. A classic Argentine statement might be:

"Che boludo que quilombo!" which translates to "Dude balls what a mess!"

For an interesting insight into racial dynamics in Argentina, check the etymology of quilombo, and note that Argentines are adamant that this is not a racist word.

And nthing comments about them being white af. You know you've encountered an Argentine when they speak Spanish, have an Italian name, and claim French ancestry.

Source: lived there, almost married an Uruguaya, and good friends with many porteños.
posted by special agent conrad uno at 7:11 PM on March 19, 2016


Hispanic and/or Latin@ members of our society face discrimination European-descent White people do not, even those with light skin. It is pretty damn disrespectful to pass off concerns about representation as "oh, whatever, they're all white anyway."

No, that's not the point. The point is that many Hispanic and Latin@ people ARE white, everywhere but in the US. They are of European-descent, as much as any Euro-American or Euro-Canadian. Particularly in Argentina and Chile, for much the same reason that northern North America is primarily white: the indigenous population was smaller and more were genocided by the European settlers.

Due to Anglo prejudices against Romance languages and the mixed racial history of many Mexicans and Central Americans, "Hispanic" has largely become separated from "white" in the American conciousness. But South America has its own complex racial categories and history. Let's not impose American views upon it.
posted by jb at 7:15 PM on March 19, 2016 [1 favorite]


Let's not impose American views upon it.

It's a minor quibble, but when talking about these things, it's also important to remember that I am called an Estadounidenser, not an American. To an Argentine, Americans are people from the Americas, which includes both continents.
posted by special agent conrad uno at 7:45 PM on March 19, 2016 [1 favorite]


yeah, but I'm Canadian and we refuse to acknowledge the use of American to include us or any but the dastardly Yanks.
posted by jb at 8:34 PM on March 19, 2016 [2 favorites]


Due to Anglo prejudices against Romance languages and the mixed racial history of many Mexicans and Central Americans, "Hispanic" has largely become separated from "white" in the American conciousness. But South America has its own complex racial categories and history. Let's not impose American views upon it.

The play is being cast in Chicago. We do have to take U.S. views of race into account because that is literally who the audience is.
posted by dinty_moore at 7:51 AM on March 20, 2016 [1 favorite]


It'd be closer to say it means "dude".

So what you're saying is that Jeff Bridges needs to be cast as him?
posted by Talez at 8:08 AM on March 20, 2016


The play is being cast in Chicago. We do have to take U.S. views of race into account because that is literally who the audience is.

The play is about the life of Eva Perón. Casting someone who would read as "Latina" to a US audience in the title role would be considerably further from reality than casting, well, a blonde white woman.

My experience with friends of Argentine descent in college was that they were read and treated as white, even by other Hispanic or Latin@ people.
posted by graymouser at 8:36 AM on March 20, 2016 [1 favorite]


A white, sure, but a blonde?
posted by clawsoon at 8:43 AM on March 20, 2016


Heh, not a natural blonde, but you do what you have to. At the central point of the show (the speech at the Casa Rosada, "Don't Cry for Me Argentina") her hair was definitely dyed blonde.
posted by graymouser at 9:19 AM on March 20, 2016


I think we can trust that actors from Latin backgrounds are familiar with Argentina, and aren't just thoroughly confused when it comes to representing the Latin experience onstage. When members of a minority community are attempting to redress a longstanding issue with casting and visibility, this is not the time to push your spectacles back and "Well, actually" them, under the assumption that they either don't know history and ethnicity or have somehow reached the wrong conclusion. It's shitty behavior.
posted by maxsparber at 9:19 AM on March 20, 2016 [3 favorites]


I think we can trust that actors from Latin backgrounds are familiar with Argentina, and aren't just thoroughly confused when it comes to representing the Latin experience onstage.
But why do you think that? An actor from a Latin background in Chicago may well have spent their entire life in the USA. Has probably never been to Argentina. May possibly never have even met anyone from Argentina.

Unless you think there is a genetic affinity (which I doubt you do, and really hope nobody actually believes, despite the USA's perplexing insistence on acting as if there is such a thing) or believe that they go (perhaps as kids?) to special classes after school ("OK, class, please pass in your papers on what it's like to be Cuban, and for next week read chapters 11 and 12 on what life is like in Argentina and Uruguay") by what mechanism would you think they necessarily know anything about Argentinian identity?
posted by Nerd of the North at 11:44 AM on March 20, 2016 [3 favorites]


It's shitty behavior.

It's a conversation, and it deserves more nuance than the author of the letter -- not Latino, btw -- gives it, instead leading with the thesis that all Latinos are the same, that there is a singular Latino culture and a singular Latino experience, and that Chicago's predominantly Mexican and Puerto Rican Latino community has more in common with people from Argentina than Chicago's largely Italian and German white community, despite the massive Italian and German influence on Argentine culture.

It is possible to simultaneously believe that A) minorities are terribly underrepresented on stage and screen, and B) that this is not the hill to die on in making that argument.
posted by Sys Rq at 12:18 PM on March 20, 2016 [5 favorites]


But why do you think that?

Because, without somebody demonstrating otherwise, it's always the best rule of thumb that people are experts on their own experiences. Or, at least, that unless you share their experience, that they know more than you. I am not Sephardic, but I am generally going to know a lot more about Sephardic Jews than most non-Jews, and I will expect non-Jews as a whole to defer to me when I'm discussing the Jewish experience and representation in America.
posted by maxsparber at 12:33 PM on March 20, 2016


It's a conversation

I don't know your background, so I'll address myself to white folks in general, like the producers of the play: It's a conversation that would be vastly improved if white people listened to the conversation a lot more, instead of presume expertise, or assume their opinions are valid, welcome, or useful. Because it's more than a conversation: it's about people's livelihoods and the way they are represented by the dominant society, and we'd do well to listen to them.
posted by maxsparber at 12:41 PM on March 20, 2016 [1 favorite]


Thanks for responding to the first three words of my comment with a lecture about listening to what people have to say. Now maybe you could read the rest of it?

(I'll be sure to pass on the message to the 97% of Argentines who are white people that their opinions are not valid, welcome, or useful.)
posted by Sys Rq at 1:12 PM on March 20, 2016 [1 favorite]


Because, without somebody demonstrating otherwise, it's always the best rule of thumb that people are experts on their own experiences.

Again, on the issue of having more diversity onstage, I think everyone here agrees with you.

But this thing of imposing US attitudes about race and Hispanic identity on Latin America is unhelpful and ill informed. I know you're trying to be a good "white person ally", but your attitudes are very US-centric. Latin American demographics and racial attitudes are complex, and vary by region. Take the opportunity to listen to people who know the region rather than treating it all as a big smear of "minorities".
posted by zompist at 1:29 PM on March 20, 2016 [6 favorites]


I can tell almost no-one here has been to Buenos Aires. Or seen a picture of most people there, especially in the 40s.
posted by palbo at 10:39 PM on March 20, 2016


Also, god forbid a play or a movie actually made a remote effort to be somewhat accurate and educated a person or two along the way.
posted by palbo at 10:44 PM on March 20, 2016


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