So, Newsweek just ran a feature article claiming that Hairspray, a musical based on the original John Waters film about tolerence and acceptance has a problem. John Travolta's portrayal of a traditional family mother is somehow demeaning to women. According to the article (which I can't seem to find an on-line version of), it's the equivelent of Mickey Rooney in Yellow-face in "Breakfast at Tiffany's" or one of the many Sambo-like Blackface performances from White Actors - something no White Actor would do now (I'm capitalizing White Actor for ironic effect).
Outside of the author (Jennie Yabroff), she quotes Jill Nelson as a voice for feminism in being equally offended by this. Further recommending that Rosie O'Donnell would have been perfect for the same role. The article goes on to say that Eddie Murphy and Martin Lawrence taking turns playing female characters are also characteristic of this phenomenon, taking good roles from black women.
I found it interesting that the article includes some discussion of Shakespeare's "As You Like It", in which a woman (originally played by a man, of course) disguises herself as a man to investigate and, eventually fall in love with, a man. It did fail to mention this similar turn in "Shakespeare in Love".
In one paragraph in the 3 page article, there is some discussion that Homosexuals are angry since the role of Edna Turnblad is traditionally played by a gay man. Divine in the original John Waters film, Harvey Fierstein on Broadway, etc.
I can also see good reasons for John Travolta being cast. John Travolta and Christopher Walken are one of the few marketable dancing males today. Nathan Lane and/or Harvey Fierstein possibly could have worked, though he may have been accused of perpetuating a gay stereotype, not to mention the sort of reception Rosie O'Donnell may have launched in both conservative and lesbian communities. Robin Williams already did the drag thing (like he wouldn't have jumped at this chance).
Anyway - I don't feel qualified to actually discuss this, but I'm actually interested in what people's thoughts are. I have considered myself a feminist, for the most part, despite some of my many anti-PC pieces.
The question: Is drag demeaning to women?
I've, honestly, never ran across this perspective before. I am an Asian who has been offended by, say, Mickey Rooney's performance in "Breakfast at Tiffany's", I've also been able to dismiss it as a product of the time. Okay, for the moment, I think I'm going to look at that -
Mickey Rooney's performance, while played for comedic effect, wasn't about the makeup behind his slanted eyes, but from the ignorance of both the actor and the audience. The gags and jokes were common of asian stereotypes of the day.
The setting of "Hairspray" - segregated 1962 Baltimore - is played specifically for a post-integration audience. Further, the original films use of Divine challenged the 1988 audience that it came from - "Yes, we're enlightened and we like the fact that black and white are equal now but, wait-isn't that a man playing the mom? And is that black kid kissing a white teenage girl? And that young girl that's leading the dance routines - she's quite the fatty..." John Waters is used to using the cinema of offense in order to prove a point.
The musical "Hairspray" - played to today's "more enlightened" post-integration, gay-marriage debating audience - is cleaner, purer. It feels like a traditional musical, and yet, there's something 'off' about it. Something that people can't quite put a finger on - wait - is that John Travolta? Is that young girl in the lead role, um, fat? Just what are we saying about obesity?
Is this really the film to see such unacceptance? I may not be completely straight, but I'm not a woman. There is no way I could really be sure that such an act is not offensive.
Perhaps the casting of a straight man was done to reach a wider (i.e. including all our stereotypes about the midwest) audience. I don't really know.
Still nowhere in the article is their mention of John Travolta's actual performance. Was it good? Was it played to be the awkward, stereotypical, overweight mom? Did he dance well? The accompanying review, written by a man, claims that everyone, including John Travolta, turned in good performances.
I've seen the "original" Broadway musical, and enjoyed it immensely. When I heard about the casting of John Travolta in the filmed version, I was confused, but not turned off.
Maybe we should simply get over it. When Marlon Wayans plays a white woman in White Chicks, should we continue to limit roles based on sex and gender? Now we're just limited by a latex budget.
Maybe I'm just offended at the casting of a Scientologist. That's it.
Added bonus - Newsweek's look at Hollywood's homophobia...