Topic: Sports & Entertainment

Movie Actor Ethics

Conservatives are shouting for the metaphorical heads of American actors Billy Zane and Gary Busey for their willingness to star in the Turkish-made anti-American film "Valley of the Wolves: Iraq.” The movie, which shows such scenes as U.S. troops massacring guests at an Arab wedding and U.S. Army doctors stealing organs from Iraqi prisoners, is breaking all records in Turkey, where American popularity is at an all-time low. It is also drawing big audiences in Germany. The U.S. Army has expressed concerns that the film’s depiction of blood-thirsty American soldiers killing civilians and helpless prisoners could spark violence, though no incidents have occurred so far.

Do American actors have an ethical obligation not to appear in films critical of their country? In a word, no. This is an ethical back road that ought to be shut down to intellectual traffic. It leads directly to the political control of art and entertainment, which means no art and dubious entertainment at best.

Clearly, some Americans enjoy villainous portrayals of other nationalities in film but can’t tolerate the same thing when it’s focused on the U.S.A. The history of American film is full of false, mean-spirited or unflattering portrayals of Germans (“The Battle of the Bulge”), Russians (almost any James Bond film), Arabs (“True Lies”), Japanese (about a hundred W.W. II movies), British (“The Patriot”), Vietnamese (“The Deer Hunter”), Koreans (“The Manchurian Candidate”), Native Americans (“Lonesome Dove”), Italians (dozens of Mob films), Greeks (remember the Cretan women in “Zorba the Greek”?) and others, not to mention Southerners, New Yorkers, Californians, Mid-Westerners, Washingtonians, Bostonians and Texans, in some excellent and highly entertaining movies. Undoubtedly some of the slower-witted or ignorant moviegoers take these portrayals as literal truth, but most realize that considerable artistic license is involved and that movies are movies, which is to say, make-believe. Unless a film asserts or suggests that it is true (as in the case of Oliver Stone’s deplorable “J.F.K.”), there can be no ethical fouls called.

As for Zane and Busey, they deserve no criticism. Their job is to act, not to make moral judgements about the content of what they act in. Obviously an actor can choose only to portray admirable people or appear in politically correct films; he can also starve to death in the process. Billy Zane’s steadily declining career recently hit a new low when he played a teacher at a Hogwarts-like wizard’s school on the cheesy WB Aaron Spelling show “Charmed.” (Actually, “cheesy WB Aaron Spelling show” is doubly redundant.) As for Busey, his last big moment was playing himself on “Celebrity Fitness Club”, a cable reality show in which overweight and over-the-hill B-list stars endure humiliation at the hands of Marines and nutritionists as they attempt to shed unwanted pounds. In one episode, Busey had to run around a track with the equivalent of all the fat he had lost strapped to his back. Give the poor guy a break. He’s supposed to give up his first starring role in years because a movie makes Americans the villains? He didn’t write it, he didn’t fund it, his participation isn’t going to stop it, and besides, it’s only a movie!

Toy Story” makes human beings looks stupid: should Don Rickles have refused to do the voice of “Mr. Potato Head?” “Finding Nemo” portrays humans as morally inferior to pelicans and clownfish. Should we pillory Ellen De Generes?

As with all general rules, this one probably has some exceptions. We all can imagine some theoretical film so vile, powerful and insidious that ethical artists would be obliged to refuse to participate, though the Scoreboard can’t think of any real film that would qualify. Until it appears, let Busey and Zane earn a living, let the Turkish audiences boo Americans, and let American movies continue to vilify whatever nationality we’re fighting at the moment, along with corporate executives, Southern Baptists, journalists, lawyers, college presidents, government bureaucrats, Vice-Presidents, small town mayors, drug-dealers, pimps, generals, vampires, zombies, and Satan.

That’s entertainment!

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