The latest skirmish in the culture wars has arrived. In an interview with Joel and Ethan Coen published Thursday, The Daily Beast website asked the four-time Oscar winners to discuss the minimal diversity in the casting of their latest film, “Hail, Caesar!”
Their response ranged from “you don’t know what you’re talking about” to “the question you’re asking is idiotic.”
Among a leading cast of notables including Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Ralph Fiennes, Scarlett Johansson and Tilda Swinton, the 1950s Hollywood comedy features a brief role for Veronica Osorio as a Latina Carmen Miranda-style starlet who dances with bananas on her head. Michael Yama and Ming Zhao appear for moments as the maitre’d and waitress at a Chinese restaurant.
Co-starring parts played by Javier Bardem in “No Country for Old Men” and Irma P. Hall and Marlon Wayans in “The Ladykillers” are the only times diverse actors have had key roles in the Coens’ 17 features. In the Feb. 28 Academy Awards they may win another Oscar as the screenwriters of Steven Spielberg's "Bridge of Spies."
The Daily Beast’s Jen Yamato asked the Coens to address the “overwhelming whiteness” of “Hail, Caesar!” in the face of ongoing discussions about Hollywood’s low level of diversity. “I asked the Coens to respond to criticisms that there aren’t more minority characters in the film,” she wrote. “In other words, why is #HailCaesarSoWhite?”
“Why would there be?” replied Joel. “I don’t understand the question. No — I understand that you’re asking the question, I don’t understand where the question comes from.
“Not why people want more diversity — why they would single out a particular movie and say, ‘Why aren’t there black or Chinese or Martians in this movie? What’s going on?’ That’s the question I don’t understand. The person who asks that question has to come in the room and explain it to me.”
Yamato asked whether they consider it important for filmmakers to add in issues such as diversity.
“Not in the least!” Ethan responded. “It’s important to tell the story you’re telling in the right way, which might involve black people or people of whatever heritage or ethnicity -- or it might not.”
“It’s an absolute, absurd misunderstanding of how things get made to single out any particular story and say, ‘Why isn’t this, that or the other thing [included]?’” answered Joel. “It’s a fundamental misunderstanding of how stories are written. So you have to start there and say, ‘You don’t know what you’re talking about.’ “
“You don’t sit down and write a story and say, ‘I’m going to write a story that involves four black people, three Jews, and a dog,’ right? That’s not how stories get written. If you don’t understand that, you don’t understand anything about how stories get written and you don’t realize that the question you’re asking is idiotic.
“It’s not an illegitimate thing to say there should be more diversity in an industry,” Joel concluded. “But that’s not what that question is about. That question is about something else.”
“Hail, Caesar!” opens Friday.