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Michael Greenwell
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Despite protestations of progreesiveness from many actors Hollywood is a pretty racist, statist, status quo and sexist kind of place. You only have to look at most of the films. There has been a lot of good work done about racism and sexism in disney films and the echo chamber effect this can have through society. The excellent documentary Mickey Mouse Monopoly is but one example. Below I have posted a review of a couple of documentaries that explain some of the reasons why this goes on.

But I have another question.

Should actors be asked to explain the political content of the films they appear in and whether they agree with it or is it not their concern?

Before you continue reading please watch this excellent 9 minute piece which won a sundance award about the portrayal of ‘Arabs’ in Hollywood and on TV and see what famous faces you spot…

It bothers me. Why do supposedly liberal hollywood actors who participate in anti-racist campaigns and the like still take parts in films that are blatant historical misrepresentations and very often blatant propaganda as well? If they take a great deal of the credit for a good film, why aren’t they accused as often of racism and sexism for a bad one?

A few examples at random would include Samuel L. Jackson who appeared in Do the Right Thing but also in Rules of Engagement. Tom Cruise appears in Top Gun but also in Born on the 4th of July. Robin Williams in Dead Poets and then in the frankly racist Aladdin. Not counting people like Charlton Heston there are still plenty more examples.

Even films that ‘liberals’ would tend to like can be extremely unfair. Howard Zinn pointed out that in Mississippi Burning the FBI turned out to be the solution whereas a lot of the activists that were there at the time would tell you that they were part of the problem.  I have also seen Platoon being criticised (fairly) because the essentially sympathy of the film is for the soldiers and their ordeal (which I am not saying wasn’t real) rather than their victims.

There are various possible excuses the actors could use. None of them are particularly strong…

  1. if they don’t do these parts they won’t get other parts
  2. not the actors job (’just following orders’ - ‘being apolitical’)
  3. the money

If none of these are the real reason(s) then there are some other possibilities…

  1. they agree with the story
  2. they haven’t really undertstood the implications of the story and they think it is harmless fun
  3. they don’t care as long as they have their face in the papers/on tv/in the movies

I think a level of responsibility should be placed on the shoulders of the people who actually play the parts. Surely actors - who by definition must have a certain understanding of a story in order to do their job - must have some awareness regarding the political ramifications of the things in which they appear.

I don’t doubt that some actors do refuse certain parts because they disagree with the content but we never hear about it.

This doesn’t only apply to white or rich american actors either. I once watched Omid Djalili on the BBCs Have I Got News For You program talking about his movie career in which he has had parts like ‘2nd Azerbaijani oil pipe attendant’ and various other groundbreaking ‘arab scumbag’ roles. Here is a suggestion - if you care about what is being represented more than you do about your career then don’t take the part.

Even better,  the actors who don’t take the parts should say boldly and publicly exactly what they thought was wrong about the movie.


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Scotland's Michael Greenwell has worked, at various times, as a university tutor, a barman, a DJ ("not a very good one," he clarifies), an office lackey, supermarket worker, president of a small charity, a researcher, a librarian, a volunteer worker in Nepal during the civil war there, and "some other things that were too tedious to mention." Nowadays, he explains, "I am always in (more...)
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