The celebrated racial "melting pot" that is America is not enough for some people. Instead, they seem to find the realities of race too daunting to dare face with accuracy and care. Even today, decades after Mickey Rooney's ill-advised and horribly stereotypical turn as Mr. Yunioshi in Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961), there remains a real problem with the accurate portrayal of race in America as applies to real individuals.
The day I first noticed that the preceding existed as something wrong in our nation directly relates to the most tragic day in modern American history: September 11th, 2001. The horrific events of that day shaped the America in which we live today, yet amidst the televised images of Islamic terror in America came the image of Americans emerging from tragedy to raise Old Glory within the pit of destruction that was the World Trade Center. Three men, all white, took a moment to express what all Americans felt that day, that we would stand strong as a nation and defy those who would bring terror to our shores. It was a moment of resistance frozen forever in time, preserved for the ages thanks to nearby photographers. Why, then, did the proposed statue of the firemen present them as black, Latino, and white? Was the photo not clear enough? Did the sculptor wear sunglasses while preparing? Was there some valid reason why the races of the firefighters were to be changed in the artwork? The sad answer is "no," for satisfying the nebulous requirements of the "politically correct" push for multiculturalism does not constitute a true rationale.
Before I continue, I must stress the following: America is increasingly diverse. Our nation has a complexion that is decreasingly pink and increasingly brown, and that mixture of colors and all the aspects of human existence that accompany such a combination should be presented on screen and film, or referred to in print, whenever possible. This is not to mean that reflections of a minority area are to be filled with pale residents or that Caucasian areas are to be seen with a plethora of brown faces. Ours are largely segregated living areas, and that's just the plain, brutal fact. However, when reflecting the greater society--whether at work in a city, on a ship, or in an area other than "home"--care should be taken to reflect that America is now a veritable rainbow. However, care must be taken to ensure that the depiction of modern America as a more diverse nation accurately reflects real individuals and situations with complete racial and ethnic accuracy. As an example, it would be unrealistic to write of a subway car filled with nothing but Caucasians when writing about a trip on a New York City subway. Or, as another example, it would be incorrect to reflect San Francisco's "Chinatown" as an area rife with Egyptians and Inuits. Unfortunately, some would apply the term "multiculturalism" to the proposed race-altered statue of the firemen and to the depictions of the subway and Chinatown, but isn't multiculturalism--when used to deny others based on race or ethnicity--just another form of racism? I argue that it is when it is used to offer an unrealistic presentation of real people, common situations, and real events where the unreality is one of racial and/or ethnic misrepresentation. With that said, we return to the horror of September 11th and the depiction of a hero named Jason Thomas in film.
Frantic search-and-rescue efforts were mounted in the aftermath of the collapse of the Twin Towers, and some 20 people were saved as a result. One of those credited with saving the lives of firefighters trapped in the rubble is the man pictured to the left, Jason Thomas. Mr. Thomas is a former member of the United States Marine Corps, and it was as a Marine that he found himself as one of those in search of trapped survivors. It was he and fellow U.S. Marine Dave Karnes who found a pair of Port Authority Police Officers buried in the rubble of the World Trade Center. The tale of the firefighters and their rescue was the basis for the 2006 movie, World Trade Center (2006), a film in which Mr. Thomas was portrayed by actor William Mapother.
To the right is a picture of Mr. Mapother, and no, your eyes are not deceiving you. The great Oliver Stone, the man who once stood on Hollywood's shoulders and shouted his belief that former New Orleans district attorney Jim Garrison had the goods on a vast conspiracy responsible for the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, cast the very not-black Mr. Mapother as the very black Mr. Thomas. Then again, perhaps the poor casting choice part of some mysterious conspiracy. Mr. Stone certainly pounded his conspiracy theories home via his film JFK (1991) and in personal appearances, and he chose to cast the role of Mr. Thomas in a manner that was not only inaccurate, it was also another egregious example of his tendency to revise history to his liking. Please note that I have absolutely nothing against Mr. Mapother. He was simply offered the role of a dedicated searcher and he took it, end of story. The issue is not with him, but with Hollywood's apparent need to portray real people in wholly unrealistic ways.
To the left is real-life MIT Blackjack Team-member Jeffrey Ma. To recap, the MIT Blackjack Team was a collection of extremely skilled mathematicians who applied probability calculations to take on Las Vegas. Mr. Ma was the basis for the main character of the corresponding book about the team's Vegas exploits, Bringing Down the House, and its related film, 21 (2008). The majority of the MIT Blackjack Team were Asian men, yet Hollywood treated that rather significant detail with utter disdain and hired a mostly Caucasian cast to portray the very real members of the very Asian team. Actor Jim Sturgess played the role of team leader (Mr. Ma's position) in an absolutely inaccurate casting move that confounds to this day.
There are other examples besides the above, of course. The purpose of this essay isn't to list every example of racial reclassification, but to inform via a few glaring examples. Some would correctly apply the term "whitewashing" to the cinematic depictions of Mr. Thomas and Mr. Ma (whose portrayer, Jim Sturgess, is seen to the right), but that term would not apply to the attempt to needlessly alter the races of the men in the proposed statue of raising the flag at Ground Zero. Call it what you will, but as long as our America is depicted in ways that present inaccurate racial and ethnic elements, we will never have a common view of this nation. There is reality and then there is fiction. Unfortunately, the recent fiction that is "fake news" and the continuing fiction that is racial and ethnic skew still dominate our perception. Or, to quote the character "Morpheus" from The Matrix (1999), "What is 'real'? How do you define 'real'?" The answer to that is an unfortunate one as our perception of "real" is often just another person's expression of bias masquerading as truth.
All the best,
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