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6 Times Acting Changed the World


By Graham Techler

[post_ads]On Sunday night, the cast of the sleeper-hit Netflix series Stranger Things went home with a hard-earned SAG award for “Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series.” With the disturbing events of the past week fresh in everyone’s mind, Stranger Things’ David Harbour was not the only actor to use his time on stage to make a political point, nor did he deliver the first acceptance speech of the awards’ season to encourage artists to fight the forces of prejudice with their art, but he was the first person to deliver a “call to arms” stating that “great acting can change the world.”

To that I say, “Bravo.” And also, “Brava.” Sure, there are some shallow, cynical assholes out there who might say that this masturbatory statement minimizes the real danger faced by millions of Americans—and the ongoing work performed by public officials and legions of volunteers—in order to venerate the essentiality of a bizarrely insecure profession which already has multiple annual primetime TV events dedicated to celebrating its own excellence. But to those people I say, “did you watch all of Stranger Things?”

As actors all around the world prepare to suit up and use their guest spot on Elementary the same way ACLU lawyers offer pro bono consultations, we look back at six times great acting shook the very foundations of our society to its core.


6
Charlie Chaplin in The Great Dictator

[post_ads_2]Chaplin, the great comic genius of the silent film era, had equal success with his first sound film, a satire of Adolf Hitler which concludes with a passionate plea for decency and tolerance which holds the honor of being a Facebook video most-shared by people who have not seen the rest of the movie, and would never want to. Chaplin’s scathing impression of the fictional dictator Adenoid Hynkel was so brutal that you’d be forgiven for thinking Chaplin was right there during the Battle of Berlin when Hitler shot himself in the head. He wasn’t, but he could have been. People also point out that any media mocking Hitler was effective in undermining the confidence of a man who hated to be mocked, as well as the power of America’s isolationist groups, and The Great Dictator as a piece of satire was incredibly effective propaganda in a war-torn Great Britain. But let’s just say that it was really Adenoid Hynkel who pulled the trigger on Hitler’s “suicide.”


5
Tom Hanks in Philadelphia

Jonathan Demme’s 1993 drama used the fame and charisma of its lead actor to help de-stigmatize HIV/AIDS in America, and was one of the first mainstream Hollywood movies to acknowledge homophobia at all. [post_ads_2]On top of that, Philadelphia, which used the life story of real-life AIDS discrimination plaintiff Geoffrey Bowers without his family’s consent to gross about 180 million dollars, also won Tom Hanks an Academy Award for Best Actor. Personally, I have no idea why AIDS is no longer a death sentence in most parts of the world, but if I had to guess I’d say a certain wee golden Mr. Oscar had a little something to do with it…


4
Hilary Swank in Freedom Writers

I really feel for black students in inner-city school systems who don’t have Hilary Swank to teach them how to write. If we could somehow clone Hilary Swank and send hundreds—no, thousands of Flanks of Swanks to every corner of our bitterly divided nation, [post_ads_2]we may finally get somewhere. Freedom Writers was not the first film to feature a white protagonist teaching students of color and, in the process, saving them… from themselves. Nor was it the first film of its kind to come under unfair and unwarranted attack for “narcissistically” “assuming” the “burden” of “white” “racial” “leadership.” But the many naysayers didn’t bother Freedom Writers. Not one bit. Swank showed all us white people that the world can truly be changed when we make movies showing white people changing the world. I myself have felt my own burden eased and my psychological itch for racial redemption scratched just by knowing a Swank is on the case, somehow, somewhere, some day.


3
Al Pacino in Any Movie

The power of acting is the power of yelling. Who can yell the loudest? Who can yell the most? Can a person yell even when they are whispering? Can they yell without saying anything at all? In this regard, the greatest actor both alive and dead is Al Pacino. [post_ads_2]You can turn on any Al Pacino movie—Glengarry Glen Ross, The Godfather, Scarface, Serpico, The Godfather, Scent of a Woman, Heat, Carlito’s Way, Donnie Brasco, The Insider, Insomnia, Dog Day Afternoon—any movie, really—and be treated to first-rate yelling you won’t soon forget. You want to talk about acting that changes the world? Think about all the places on Earth where people can’t yell. They’re not supposed to. They’re told it’s “loud.” But there’s one man who yells for you. He yells for me, too. He yells for all of us.


2
Quentin Tarantino in Django Unchained

In 2012 we had a country united. A man, a leader, had finally come along to rally us all under one flag. [post_ads_2]Yes, Barack Obama, re-elected that November, was a guy who did that, but the guy who did that was cult filmmaker Quentin Tarantino, and his cameo as an Australian miner who gets ‘slpoded in Tarantino’s own revenge film, Django Unchained. I often think about the Civil War. Sometimes I cry at the very idea of brother fighting against brother. Sometimes, I cry so hard, I puke a little bit. But then all I have to do to feel better is to think of America in 2012; a nation that saw not red, not blue, but just an awkward distraction from an otherwise winning movie. I think, in Trump’s America, when we have to have those hard conversations with people with whom we do not see eye-to-eye, we should start off by agreeing on one thing: Tarantino should stay behind the camera and never, ever again attempt an Australian accent.


1
The Cast of Stranger Things

Surprise! No list like this would be complete without World-Changing Acting’s most recent recruits. Who can forget that girl with the waffles, a character that spawned a Halloween costume so popular it single-handedly brought stock in Eggo back from the brink of collapse, saving thousands of American jobs?

Some bitter, useless assholes might say sure, the self-reflection that comes with all forms of storytelling is an essential part of any functioning society, and the equal representation of voices in every artistic medium strengthens our core democratic values, and also that the emotional life of a civilization is in part shaped by the art it produces. [post_ads_2]Those apologist cretins might say something about how the voices of people in the arts matter increasingly, especially as funding for public arts programs continues to be cut, and when high-profile celebrities use a platform to lend greater attention to causes they care about, it has wide-reaching and immediate effects, as when Sarah Paulson used her SAG speech to just tell people to donate to the ACLU, which received six times its annual donations over the weekend. Even when I hypothetically butt in to say that Paulson could have just said “great acting changes the world” and that basically would have done the same thing, these folks would say that the world is currently in desperate need of changing by slightly more immediate means.

Those puckering assholes would say that to invoke the current political climate and then to immediately suggest that acting—just acting, ipso facto, post hoc ergo propter hoc, a priori, in and of itself—effects real change is to suggest that the only measure of a work of art’s value is its ability to effect change. They might say this belief is ignorant of acting’s real strengths, not to mention flatly irresponsible, especially when the platform upon which that power was invoked could have been used to bolster the spirits and bank accounts of the people who are actually on the front lines of the coming conflict, working tirelessly at great personal sacrifice and risk. They would further suggest that it tastes just a little bit sour when that platform is used to congratulate oneself for one’s own performance in a hit throwback sci-fi show, as though that throwback sci-fi show touched upon some greater truth that could save us from our present calamitous circumstances, and for which the bearer of that platform literally just received an award. They would say all those things, if given the chance.

To those people, I say… “yes, but, did you watch all of Stranger Things?”



Courtesy : Paste Magazine

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