Friday, September 11, 2015

Authenticity, Credibility

Authenticity in acting is an oxymoron.  A person can be authentic — honest, sincere and truthful.  We can speak of the authenticity of a gem, a document, and a signature.  A product can be authentic — genuine and unadulterated, true to what it claims to be.  A painting deemed inauthentic is a copy, a replica, a workshop piece, a misattributed work, or else a work of forgery,  But acting is feigning; therefore, the performer can never be authentic nor her or his performance.  Its art consists in the ability of the actor to impersonate convincingly a character she or he is not.  If successful, the actor achieves credibility, not authenticity but a semblance of authenticity or verisimilitude. There are people who fail to see this distinction.    

It is absurd to expect an actor, who once or at the time was a hooker, promises to perform the role of a hooker better than anybody.  If she played the character convincingly, the accomplishment owes to her acting, not her other profession.  The actor can become a thug on stage or screen without being a thug in life.  

A skilled Caucasian soprano can sing Aida and Madama Butterfly and act out the characters credibly; conversely, an African American, a Native American, a Latino or Latina, or an Asian can certainly successfully sing appropriate roles in Don Giovanni and Parsifal. Similarly, a a black actor can be cast and effectively perform King Lear and Oedipus Rex.  

These are stylized dramas, of course.  But it is no different in contemporary plays and films set in the contemporary world and realistically realized.  

A controversy in Hollywood was reported recently in the New York Times article with the headline reading “Who Gets to Play the Transgender Part?” (3 September 2015).  The answer to the question is: “Anyone who can should.”   Refusing to answer the question decisively, the writer Mr. Brooks Barnes, muddled the issue.  There is no question that the movie industry should seek out and use more minority actors with more effort — Asians, Blacks, Latins, Physically Challenged, Gays, and Transgenders, but not necessarily, I argue, in their corresponding racial, ethnic, and gender roles The confusion apparently issues from the community of transgender people pressuring the industry to cast transgenders in transgender roles.  This is befuddling to say the least, or rather, downright silly, if we can assume, as I do, that a transgender man or woman striving to pass as the person of the opposite sex should welcome a non-trans actor assuming a transgender character.  

We remember Theodor Bikel, a Jew from Vienna, was a Southern sherif in The Defiant Ones, 1958, and he was credible enough to be nominated the Best Supporting Role by the Academy; and Dustin Hoffman’s autistic savant in Rain Man won him his second Oscar.  

As the Hollywood producers and directors interviewed in this article are said to have insisted: acting is acting.  Indeed.

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