Aaron Sorkin’s Ridiculous ‘Being the Ricardos’ Casting Defense

This is a preview of our pop culture newsletter The Daily Beast’s Obsessed, written by senior entertainment reporter Kevin Fallon. To receive the full newsletter in your inbox each week, sign up for it here.

This week:

  • My nemesis in Paris returns.
  • Aaron Sorkin totally missing the point.
  • All hail the sad Christmas.
  • The reign of Mariah continues.
  • Happy holidays to most of you!

The Gays Are Not Having It With Aaron Sorkin

No one does a better job making people not want to see an Aaron Sorkin movie than Aaron Sorkin.

Maybe we should be grateful that the award-winning writer is, unlike so many people in Hollywood, unfiltered and candid about his views, no matter what consternation they might cause, when he’s asked pointed questions. Or maybe he’s just a straight white guy who assumes there’d be little consequence to whatever he says.

In any case, Sorkin has been on a long press tour for Being the Ricardos, the film about Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz that hit theaters earlier this month, but is back in the news this week because it was made available on Amazon Prime. In other words, humans are actually now seeing it.

There’s been a lot of conversation around whether Javier Bardem, who is Spanish, should have been cast as Desi Arnaz, who is Cuban. That’s an important discourse about representation and the way we historically conflate culture and ethnicity with language. Rather than engage thoughtfully on this debate, any time he’s been asked about it Sorkin has appeared to be angry that this is a question at all.

“It’s heartbreaking, and a little chilling to see members of the artistic community resegregating ourselves,” he told The Times in the U.K. “You can act being attracted to someone, but can’t act gay or straight. So this notion that only gay actors should play gay characters? That only a Cuban actor should play Desi? Honestly, I think it’s the mother of all empty gestures and a bad idea.”

This is such a disappointing, bad-faith response to a legitimate concern. One, it’s a dismissal of the idea of cultural representation and its significance, and perpetuates the erasure of distinct identities within the Latin and Spanish communities. But it’s also a gross conflation of two distinct issues in Hollywood: the casting of straight actors in gay roles, and cultural representation.

I have lots of thoughts about whether or not straight actors should be cast in gay roles. I’m actually more forgiving of this than a lot of LGBT critics. But the ignorance in Sorkin’s statement is that he’s so clearly unaware that the issue has long since evolved past “who is right for a part” and “it’s acting, it’s pretend, so it doesn’t matter.” It’s a problem of opportunity.

There is still no such thing as out gay leading man in Hollywood, a gay actor who is cast in blockbusters, as action heroes, and as straight characters in romances. There are still a woefully limited number of robust, fully realized gay characters on screen. If we are still casting gay actors only in gay roles, that’s an egregious lack of opportunity to begin with—a problem that is exacerbated when straight actors are given the juiciest parts, usually because of their name recognition… which, again, they’re afforded because of the opprotunities they are given that gay actors do not have.

I wish Sorkin would have given more consideration to the question about Bardem. I wish he hadn’t made a false equivalence between ethnicity and sexual orientation in Hollywood. I wish he would realize that he is a straight white male and therefore perhaps ill-equipped to speak so authoritatively on any of this.

Billy Eichner, who is currently making history filming the first gay rom-com by a major movie studio and has cast every principal role, gay or straight, with a LGBT actor, had a great take on this:

Have Yourself A Merry (Sad, Depressing) Little Christmas

My favorite Christmas song in the “Not by Mariah Carey or Kelly Clarkson” category is “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” This is because I like to cry on Christmas, and this is a song that makes you want to load your pockets with stone and recreate the Virginia Woolf scene from the end of The Hours, marching stoically into the sea as Judy Garland’s mournful contralto reverberates.

Yes, this is such a loving and rejuvenating time of the year. It is also painful and lonely. The best of holiday pop culture understands the bittersweetness of it all, choosing that as the emotion to celebrate.

That is why I was enraged to discover a few years ago a piece of trivia that I have since become obsessed with. The reason the song, which was originally performed by Garland in 1944’s Meet Me in St. Louis, works is because of its melancholy, its emotional ambivalence. And because it is our human mandate to ignore such emotions, especially at a time like Christmas when we’re gaslit into mainlining holiday cheer, some people began to reject those elements of the song.

Frank Sinatra was one of the first to release a version with a rewrite of what is the film’s most consequential, most powerful lyric, “until then, we’ll have to muddle through somehow” to “hang a shining star upon the highest bow.” It’s such an ill fit, like the narrator of the song had been prescribed candy-cane happy pills because the acknowledgment of real emotions was bumming all the holiday partiers out.

That lyric has since popped up in countless other versions of the song, sparking a war so to speak between purists and those who appreciate the more optimistic lyrics. It’s become popular in recent years to lay down the law: Under no circumstances will we tolerate a rendition of the song that excises the “muddle through” lyric. Rightfully so.

I’ve noticed something interesting on social media in the past few days, especially. With more and more people landing positive test results for COVID and being forced to cancel their holiday plans—and with the dismal vibes ending a year that was supposed to mark a return to normal and a brighter post-pandemic future—that “Have Yourself…” lyric has been popping up everywhere. “Until then, we’ll have to muddle through somehow.” Never has the act of muddling through seemed so apt, especially during a holiday season.

But now everytime I hear that song or read that lyric, I keep getting struck by a different word: “Somehow.”

Muddle through? I’ve been doing a version of that for so long, especially these last two years. We all have to the point of wondering whether the muddling, the getting through, is even possible anymore. How many times can we face hopelessness and still be foolish enough to push through it? The word “somehow” strikes me now because it seems so impossible, so audacious.

That’s why I think this is the perfect song for this Christmas. It’s the holiday of “somehow.” The “somehow of it all” is the miracle of the season.

Mariah Carey’s Reign Continues, With a Glow-Up

Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You” went to No. 1 again this week, as it should. But that’s not the only victory. This truly batshit Christmas ornament of her likeness that went viral has finally gotten an upgrade. It’s what she deserves.

Merry Christmas to Everyone Except Them

Maybe they shouldn’t have given us the right to marry. (H/T @FleetwoodMax_)

What to watch this week:

Encanto: It hits Disney+ this week and is perfect family viewing for the holidays. (Fri. on Disney+)

Insecure: The finale of this show is this weekend, and it’s not spoiling anything to say that I’ve seen it, and it is beautiful. (Sun. on HBO)

The Matrix Resurrections: It’s obviously a mess, but obviously a blast to watch. (Now in theaters and on HBO Max)

What to skip this week:

The King’s Man: Imagine getting COVID because you had to see The King’s Man. (Now in theaters)

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