I have lived most of my life within eyeshot of the Manhattan skyline. In my hometown, I had to climb to the highest point on a wooded trail, but there it was. Culture, sophistication, and power splayed across the horizon and incarnated as distant, vertical, rectangles. Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” would play inside my head.
Lately I haven’t been going into the city much. I was there in autumn, 2022, to see a play. As I purchased my subway ticket, a smelly, muttering man hovered close as a toxic cloud. I had to focus on not allowing fear or rage to cause me to fumble. I’m a woman alone and even seeing David Strathairn, a movie star I adore, live onstage, was not enough to compensate. The lesser mortals, the New Jerseyans I live among, may never be as sophisticated as Manhattanites, but they do not push women onto subway tracks.
The other day I heard an ad on the radio for Lincoln Center’s new production of Camelot. I rushed to the internet, determined to overcome any hesitation and purchase a ticket.
I grew up listening to my mom’s LP of Richard Burton as King Arthur reciting, “Each evening from December to December, before you drift to sleep upon your cot, think back on all the tales that you remember of Camelot … for one brief shining moment there was a fleeting wisp of glory.” Burton sings this at the close of the play, after his dreams and his life have been shattered. Burton somehow manages to sound both gigantic and utterly flattened – appropriate since King Arthur, The Once and Future King, is often interpreted as a Christ figure. For this archetype, catastrophe and triumph can cohabit. Burton evoked in me a spiritual experience. The ache of lost Edens quivered in my veins. Theater critic Kenneth Tynan remarked that Richard Burton brought his own cathedral with him. I am in that cathedral when I listen, for the hundredth time to Camelot.
Camelot’s plot is rooted in the rich, contested, ancient folklore of Arthur. Arthur is a legendary British king who is said to have lived in the fifth and sixth centuries and fought against invading Anglo-Saxons. The ninth-century Historia Brittonum, or History of the Britons, contains the first known written mention of Arthur. The author was possibly the Welsh monk Nennius. In a wonderful comment on the constancy of our four-footed friends, the Historia Brittonum author “relates that a stone in Wales that bears the footprint of Arthur’s dog always returns to the same place if moved.”
Arthur was not “British” in the 21st-century sense of the word “British.” Arthur was not British in the same way as current Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who is of Punjabi-African descent. Nor was Arthur “British” in the same sense as the current King Charles. Charles is a descendant of William the Conqueror, who invaded Anglo-Saxon-dominated England in 1066. William was born in France, and he spoke a French dialect, but he was himself a descendant of Rollo, a Viking. No. Arthur was a Briton, one of the people who lived in Great Britain beginning at least with the Iron Age. A modern English speaker would not understand a single word Arthur spoke, if Arthur were a real person, and his historicity is debated.
Arthur’s people, the Britons, were invaded by Romans, Vikings, Anglo-Saxons, and Normans. These invasions, and those less well chronicled, repeatedly replaced the language, culture, and DNA of Great Britain. Ten to forty percent of modern Brits have Anglo-Saxon DNA – that is the DNA of the invaders Arthur fought against. One study revealed that “60% of men in northern Scottish islands have Norwegian Viking ancestry … the majority of men in some parts of east and central England show some Danish Viking or Anglo-Saxon ancestry.”
Scientists now argue that, 4,500 years ago, before the Britons, the Vikings or the Normans, the ancient peoples who built Stonehenge were almost completely replaced by the Beaker people, whose ancestry was “from nomadic groups originating on the Pontic Steppe, a grassland region extending from Ukraine to Kazakhstan.” In a possibly non-violent, long, slow migration, the Beaker people “replaced 90% of the British gene pool in a few hundred years.” How? Climate change may have stressed the natives’ anachronistic Stone-Age agricultural techniques. The Beaker people had advanced to the Bronze Age, and their new technology offered a survival advantage. It’s also possible that the Beaker people brought plague, a pathogen the Stone Age natives could not fight off.
Whoever the Stone Age people were who erected Stonehenge, they could not digest raw milk, and they were replaced by people who could. About 2,500 years ago, in Great Britain, there was a “massive increase” in the lactase persistence gene, a gene that allows adults to consume milk that hasn’t been processed into yogurt or cheese. Without this gene, people are lactose intolerant and can’t handle drinking milk. “In order for it to have gone from nothing to almost everybody in that period of time, your ability to digest raw milk must have been life or death,” says scientist Tom Booth. In other words, their inability to digest raw milk may have contributed to the genetic fade of the Stonehenge builders. The new arrivals who brought the lactase persistence gene may have also brought the Celtic languages that King Arthur would eventually speak.
Further back, 15,000 years ago, folks living in today’s England were reindeer hunters who “etched designs onto human bones and drank out of carved human skulls.” These Magdalenian people may have been cannibals. Hundreds of years later, they disappeared because of climate change. Reindeer moved north; so did the humans hunting them. As the Ice Age retreated and climate warmed, forest replaced tundra. That forest was more conducive to another population’s culture. Newcomers, called Western Hunter-Gatherers, came up from the south, replaced the local skull drinkers and established new language, culture, diets, and hunting strategies. Their artifacts show no sign of cannibalism. “In a short time frame, you can see a complete population replacement in the British Isles,” geneticist Cosimo Posth observes.
We know more about the Norman Conquest than about earlier invasions. What we know is horrific. By 1066, when William the Conqueror had arrived, the Anglo-Saxons dominated what is now England. William would not have that. The twelfth-century Benedictine monk and chronicler Orderic Vitalis put these words into William’s mouth: “I’ve persecuted the natives of England beyond all reason … I have cruelly oppressed them and unjustly disinherited them, killed innumerable multitudes by famine or the sword and become the barbarous murderer of many thousands both young and old of that fine race of people.”
Historians report that, “In the north-east of England, from 1069 to 1070, William ordered villages to be burned to the ground, farm animals to be slaughtered, and crops to be destroyed … Thousands of people were killed and many more died of starvation over the next few years … it took many years for some areas to recover. There is some uncertainty over how many people were killed, but the Domesday Book shows the population in the North decreased by 75%.” William especially abused Anglo-Saxon women, forcing them to marry Norman invaders. Many sought refuge in convents. Others secretly taught their children English; these Anglo-Saxon women are thought to have contributed significantly to keeping the English language alive.
Stonehenge was begun around five thousand years ago. Over four thousand years later, Geoffrey of Monmouth, a Welsh cleric, wrote in his book, Historia Regum Britanniae or The History of the Kings of Britain, that Merlin, Arthur’s wizard mentor, built Stonehenge. Geoffrey reached back across millennia, back through one population shift after another, and wove a fifth-century king into Stone Age megaliths in a twelfth-century narrative. Geoffrey also wrote that Uther, Arthur’s father, was buried at Stonehenge.
There’s a notorious scene in the 1981 movie, Excalibur. It depicts Uther Pendragon (Gabriel Byrne) harnessing Merlin’s magic to rape Igrayne (Katrine Boorman). The scene is stunningly graphic. Igrayne is nearly naked and Pendragon is dressed in full armor. That rape is how Arthur is conceived. One thinks that only modern times could produce such a perverse, lurid hero origin story. In fact this episode comes from a twelfth-century cleric, Geoffrey of Monmouth. Twentieth-century soft-core porn meets twelfth-century sexual brutality that is stretched back, mythically, to the Stone Age.
In the fifteenth century, someone named Sir Thomas Malory – and there have been too many men by that name to know which one – compiled folkloric Arthur material into Le Morte d’Arthur. Modern adaptations of Malory place Arthur in the Middle Ages, rather than the fifth century, almost a thousand years earlier.
T.H. White was born to unloving parents in British Bombay in 1906. He attended a British boarding school, where he was “bullied, beaten, and alone.” He retreated to a gamekeeper’s cottage and drank too much. He yearned to be “feral,” “ferocious,” and “free.” Lonely and unloved, sexually disordered and a conscientious objector in a time of world war, White attempted to bond with animals, including a goshawk and an Irish setter. He was a “modern exile in time longing for the past.” His isolation was underlined by where he died: shipboard.
One autumn day, feeling “desperate” for something to read, and, “in lack of anything else,” he picked up Malory’s Arthur. “I was thrilled and astonished to find that (a) The thing was a perfect tragedy, with a beginning, a middle and an end implicit in the beginning and (b) the characters were real people with recognizable reactions.”
White published a series of fantasy novels about Arthur. He eventually republished them, in 1958, in a compilation titled The Once and Future King. White took his material from Malory. His book “is a wish fulfillment of the kind of things I should have liked to have happened to me when I was a boy.” White, as other authors had done, brought contemporary concerns into his version of Arthur. Freudian psychoanalysis influences the story, and White injects a brief allusion to Hitler.
About White’s book, Ursula K. LeGuin wrote, “A fierce and damaged man, T. H. White wrote about fierce and damaged people, and children, and animals, with a brilliant, painful innocence that has no equal in literature. He is so good at hurt and shame; how did he also manage to be so funny? I have laughed at his great Arthurian novel and cried over it and loved it all my life.” J.K. Rowling described the young Arthur character from T.H. White as the “spiritual ancestor” of Harry Potter.
Camelot, the 1960 Lerner and Loewe musical, takes its plot from T.H. White. The play opens with Arthur quivering with fear. He has to marry a woman he has never met. With time, Arthur and Guinevere’s arranged marriage-of-state settles into comfort and warmth. Arthur works to create a society where the powerful serve justice – “might for right.”
Arthur’s idealistic dreams are made manifest in the Round Table. A round table has no head. Everyone is equal. Medieval illustrations depict the Holy Grail, that is the vessel from which Jesus drank at the Last Supper, in the center of the Round Table (see here and here).
As in Greek tragedy, it is Arthur’s fatal flaw that dooms his best intentions. Arthur’s illegitimate son, Mordred, arrives to avenge his father’s abandoning him by crushing his father’s dreams. French knight Lancelot and Arthur’s wife Guinevere run off together. Lancelot must violate every courtly vow and slay his fellow knights to satisfy his lust. He and Guinevere do not find lasting happiness. She becomes a nun. Arthur forgives them both, and faces his final battle with Mordred.
I was an idealistic kid. I loved many musicals but Camelot occupied a sanctified spot. Some of the songs, like “Fie on Goodness,” are clearly rambunctious satire; “Fie on Goodness,” which celebrates rape and pillage, ruthlessly mocks the very value system of the play’s premise. “Eight years of kindness to your neighbor / Making sure that the meek are treated well / Eight years of philanthropic labor / Derry down dell / Damn, but it’s hell! … Ah, but to burn a little town or slay a dozen men! Anything to laugh again! … When I think of the rollicking pleasures that earlier filled my life / Like the time I beheaded a man who was beating his naked wife…” etc.
Underneath the anachronisms, the fa la la, the cynicism, and the costumes, the folkloric bones of the story communicate deep wisdom about human character and our perennial, and perennially doomed, yearning for the Eden we left by choice. At the play’s open, Arthur is hiding in a tree. He fears marriage. His mentor Merlin urges him to embrace gritty, real-world duty. Then Merlin is lured by the seductive Lady of the Lake to abandon reality. Merlin enters a perfect world, one where Merlin will always live in a dream state, without choice or consciousness. He can no longer warn Arthur of the danger Mordred poses. The play acknowledges that humanity’s yearned-for perfect worlds are always elusive. Arthur creates “eight years of philanthropic labor,” and his subjects rebel out of boredom. Guinevere, like too many women, throws over a good man, Arthur, for a bad boy, Lancelot. To preserve Camelot’s honor, Arthur must behead Lancelot and burn Guinevere, but he’s too compassionate to do either. Alas, that kind of compassion in a leader can lead to societal breakdown.
The songs reflect the story’s depth. In “What Do the Simple Folk Do?” Guinevere enlists Arthur’s help in dealing with her depression, possibly caused by her hidden lust for Lancelot, her husband’s vassal. This light-hearted song contains more wisdom about human nature and the successful treatment of depression than many a physician’s prescriptions. Arthur does not understand Guinevere’s reaction to Lancelot. He sings “How to Handle a Woman,” a song I wish every man I’ve ever been involved with would commit to memory – and then act on. “Before I Gaze at You Again” details the struggle to resist immoral lust.
I love Camelot. So I was prepared to cast aside hesitation about spending a lot of money and bussing to Manhattan. I clicked on the play’s website. The website showed me the three leads: Andrew Burnap, a white man, as King Arthur. Phillipa Soo, of partly Chinese descent, as Guinevere. Jordan Donica, who appears to be mixed race, as Lancelot. The demographics of this new Camelot are the same demographics as commercials, lately. The cast of commercials have to be a black guy married to a white gal and they have an adopted Asian kid. When I saw the cast photos on the Camelot website, I immediately decided: I will not buy a ticket to this production.
I realized, if I tell anyone this, that I love Camelot, that I got excited about buying a ticket to Camelot, and I decided not to buy a ticket because of the tricolor leads, they’d call me a racist. Would they be correct?
The narrative is that black people are excluded from roles and therefore roles that a white actor might have played must be played by black people; otherwise, we’d never see black people in entertainment. I understand that that was close to true decades ago, but, a Baby Boomer, I have never lived in that world. As a child I adored films like To Sir With Love and Lilies of the Field that starred a top box office star, Sidney Poitier. I had a girl crush on Diahann Carroll, whose TV show, Julia, I watched intently in order to mimic my role model. Nichelle Nichols, Ossie Davis, and Isabel Sanford were TV stars fifty – fifty – years ago. I’ve gone out of my way to see films starring Don Cheadle, Will Smith, Michael B. Jordan, Chadwick Boseman, Idris Elba, Leslie Odom Jr, Angela Bassett, and Halle Berry. These are all major box office stars. One of my all-time favorite films, 1970’s My Sweet Charlie, features a romance between a white woman and a non-white man, as do several other films I’ve taken to heart, including The Mountain Between Us, Three Thousand Years of Longing, A Patch of Blue, Crazy from the Heart, and The Bitter Tea of General Yen.
I admire black actors. I am moved by them. I thrill to their talent. I do not pity them. They do not require my charity. Donica’s career, like the career of any actor, will rise and fall on his talent and his luck.
Both Phillipa Soo and Jordan Donica gained prominence in Hamilton. Hamilton famously chose non-white actors to play white people like Alexander Hamilton. Donica played Thomas Jefferson; Soo played Eliza, Alexander Hamilton’s wife. In 2016, Hamilton put out a casting call for “NON-WHITE” actors. The words “NON-WHITE” are capitalized in the casting call.
If you Google the name “Phillipa Soo,” you discover that in many sites that mention her, her paternal grandparents’ Chinese ethnicity is also mentioned. Soo does not look Chinese. Depending on lighting, makeup, and costume, she could pass as descending from people anywhere from Northern Europe to Afghanistan. Soo could certainly pass as a sixth-century British queen whose name, Guinevere, may have meant “white fairy,” “white enchantress” or “fair ghost.” Soo was chosen to appear in Hamilton, and, presumably, the new “diverse” Camelot, because of ancestry she must mention for the viewer to notice. The obtrusive mentions of Soo’s Chinese ancestry tells you something. It tells you that people who make decisions about art, culture, and money have decided that it is better to be NON-WHITE, in all caps, than to be white. Soo adds value to the new production of Camelot because she can be understood as non-white.
In the 1960 Camelot, “If Ever I Would Leave You” was Robert Goulet’s show-stopping love ballad; it became handsome Goulet’s signature song. A YouTube video of Jordan Donica singing “If Ever I Would Leave You” is here. For this viewer, Donica surpasses Goulet. While Goulet was rigid and perfect, Donica packs love-drunk passion, insistence, and tenderness into his performance. I can believe that this is a man so sensitive that he has been able to memorize every detail of the married woman he has loved from afar. I can also believe that this is a man so egotistical he can murder his former colleagues and destroy a kingdom to get to the woman he wants. I got chills listening to Donica in this YouTube performance. My eyes teared up. As talented as Donica is, the photos that were chosen to publicize the play speaks loudly about why marketers chose him, and chose those photos.
In some photos, Donica’s European ancestry is predominant. See here. The Donica in this photo could be a tan Lancelot from the south of France. This is not the look the marketers of the new Camelot chose for their publicity, though. They chose these photos. Donica’s handsome young face becomes a footnote. It is overwhelmed by a more obtrusive feature: the large Afro hair style that occupies most of the headshot. In the second publicity photo, Donica’s Afro is as big as his head. Race hustle is the headline. I’m surprised that they didn’t make Phillipa Soo wear a fengguan, or Chinese tiara, for her photo.
Rachel Dolezal, Raquel Saraswati, Elizabeth Warren, Ward Churchill, Jessica Krug, CV Vitolo-Haddad and Kay LeClaire are all white people who, in recent years, have been discovered to be faking non-white identity. They did so because being white was disadvantageous to their career and social goals, and being non-white was advantageous to their career and social goals.
Less prominent folk also abandon unhelpful whiteness for more desirable non-white identities. “More than a third of white students lie about their race on college applications, survey finds … Seventy-seven percent of white applicants who lied about their race on their application were accepted to those colleges” The Hill reported in October, 2021.
Aaron Sorkin, creator of The West Wing, wrote the book for the new Camelot. Sorkin is openly leftist. The New York Times hinted at the direction the new Camelot might take. The Times quotes a director as saying, “People think the show is about a love triangle … but I really think it’s about the birth of democracy, and when you look back at ‘The West Wing,’ which is one of my favorite shows, that is a TV show that believes government can work for the people.”
Sorkin “made one key early decision that has guided his approach to the show: no supernatural elements. Merlin is a “wise tutor.” Morgan Le Fey is a scientist. “Even Arthur’s sword-in-the-stone origin story is questioned.”
Camelot, the Times reports, “like many older musicals, has its complications for a modern audience. ‘From a contemporary perspective, it’s very problematic … The musical is about heterosexual adultery ruining a visionary government, and the woman is ultimately blamed for it’ … Sorkin quickly realized that two songs, in particular, posed problems: the sexist-sounding ‘How to Handle a Woman’ and the classist-sounding ‘What Do the Simple Folk Do?'”
Sorkin decided to eliminate the “problematic” songs. Others objected, so he re-added them, but he mocks them. “The songs are back, preceded by dialogue in which Guenevere preemptively defuses their sting with Sorkin-esque wit.” Sorkin deconstructs other “problematic” features. “Guenevere is now a strategic helpmate, periodically outthinking her husband.” Note that Soo, coded as non-white, is superior to Burnap, who is clearly the white guy in the cast.
Originally, Morgan Le Fey “was little more than a spurned ex-girlfriend.” Sorkin rewrote her. “He made Le Fey a scientist, an unmarried mother, and, for a time, an opium addict … ‘The old version of Camelot felt distant … This version is inviting the audience to ask themselves who they are’ … ‘the ideas of democracy that are discussed in this show are the ones that are discussed in this country.'” Sorkin’s script implies “that Guenevere might be agnostic.”
New York Times readers were not onboard with Woke Camelot. The most popular reader comment is from Don in New Jersey. “How are ‘How to Handle a Woman’ and ‘What Do the Simple Folk Do’ problematic for today’s audiences? Both songs are reflections of the patriarchal social system of the Middle Ages … the arc of Arthur’s character is that he matures throughout the show. I consider myself very woke, but can we please stop re-writing other people’s works?” Other popular reader comments echo the sentiments of Don, from unsophisticated New Jersey.
In another interview, Sorkin labeled the 1960 Camelot “problematic.” He made, he said, “major changes” to the “love triangle between King Arthur, his queen, Guenevere, and the knight Lancelot. ‘I wanted those stories to feel relevant to 2023.'” He reemphasizes his removal of all magic. “Once again, I’ll return to there not being literal magic in the new show … a White House could have been Camelot. But with real-life humans working the switches.”
Below are quotes from online, audience reviews of the new, improved, relevant, non-problematic, no-magic Camelot.
“Gueneviere’s lines are very snarky … so it’s hard to see how King Arthur could love her … that makes his choice between saving Gueneviere and saving Camelot less convincing … it’s the lines themselves in the show that forces her to play the role as a kind of cutting and not very nice person.”
“The original lines are some of the finest ever written but they were cut and replaced with a dryer political monologue … [Soo as Guinevere] was clearly directed to be snarky and a strong female but in so doing, we never see the love that must exist between her and Arthur for this story to make sense. And like others, I mourned the loss of magic.”
“Reset for contemporary values around capable woman and sometimes clueless men.”
“Three hours of a slightly bored dress rehearsal.”
“Where was the magic? We was robbed! … [Arthur called] Guinevere his business partner – ouch! They had no chemistry … Morgan Le Fay as a scientist, not a sorceress…really? It was a thin and too often joyless rendering of what has had pathos and beauty.”
“Gueneviere was feisty but overly snarky.”
“The script got too preachy.”
“The magic of Camelot is missing.”
“Nowhere in the preceding action did we see a moment when [Guinevere] was anything but snarky and [white Arthur] was anything but the butt of too many jokes … our 14-year-old grandson has no clue why the Arthur-Guinevere-Lancelot triangle is considered the greatest of the medieval tragic love stories. He may never read The Once and Future King! Now that’s a tragedy.”
“I felt completely insulted by this show, and it was torture to sit through … updating the book with current snarky and sarcastic dialogue … made absolutely no sense … He played Arthur as an absolute doofus, like a more simple-minded version of Chandler from Friends. And Phillipa Soo … played Guinevere as a shrew. She treated Arthur horribly … in this production she supposedly comes up with the idea [of the Round Table] herself while she treats Arthur like an idiot who can’t think for himself. And without that real love … the tragedy of her affair with Lancelot just doesn’t work … Morgan Le Fay slept with Arthur as a 15 year old boy and then gave birth to Mordred? First of all, that’s very creepy … I want to wash my brain of this production so I can love Camelot again.”
“Heavily embellished with Sorkin’s politics.”
“A cross between a bad sitcom and Monty Python.”
These and other reviews from audiences who have seen the new Camelot can be read here.
Guinevere’s snarkiness and Arthur as the butt of jokes can be seen in this YouTube clip from the new production. Andrew Burnap sings “Camelot,” a song meant to be witty, but also to convey how very special Camelot is. Burnap sings without commitment. Soo looks on with disdain. She performs a contemptuous gesture, a head wag, associated with contemporary urban black women. Burnap “mansplains” to her. The above-quoted review is correct. It reads like a scene from “Friends.”
Compare Burnap and Soo in Sorkin’s Camelot to another clip from an old Sammy Davis Jr. TV show. Richard Burton is alone on stage, not in costume and unsupported by any set. In this brief, blurry footage, Burton, with his voice and person alone, transports the viewer to Camelot, a once-and-future Utopia, destroyed by a king’s tragic flaw, a treacherous friend, and a queen’s lust. Burton brings tears to your eyes. It’s remarkable; Richard Burton, the man, was the embodiment of most of the seven deadly sins. He was a womanizer, a drunk, a carouser, a spendthrift. His own sins killed him at the ridiculously young age of 58. And yet no other actor has ever, as poignantly as Burton, conveyed transcendence. You can watch this footage here.
I decided not to purchase a ticket to Camelot on the basis, only, of the headshot featuring, primarily, Jordan Donica’s Afro, and, only secondarily, featuring his face. The marketer’s choice to erase Donica’s obvious European ancestry and cartoonishly to overemphasize his African ancestry told me much. This would be a Woke Camelot.
But what about the question of cultural appropriation? We know about Keziah Daum, the white teenager who wore a Chinese dress to her prom and was dragged all over the internet. We know about Kooks, the Portland, Oregon, burrito sellers who had to run for their lives – literally – because they weren’t Mexican but they sold Mexican food. We know darn well that violence would break out if a white actor were cast to play a black hero. Should we apply to Camelot the leftist taboo against whites engaging non-white cultures, and ban Donica from playing Lancelot? Hell no. He’s got a great voice and even otherwise negative reviews single him out as the strongest actor in the cast.
Here’s the issue with those headshots. Sorkin’s rewrite of Camelot is not the only rewriting of narratives right now. Not just folklore, but actual history, is being revised to comply with Woke. We are told of white privilege, white supremacy, white fragility, white guilt, white settlers, white colonialism. Woke wants us to believe that invasions, population shifts, massacres, domination, slavery, genocide, are all what whites do to non-whites. Woke insists that whites monopolize all the unearned goods of the earth, including all the good stories. Whites must step back and give the good stuff to non-whites. This is quite literally the message of Ibram X. Kendi, and schoolchildren are indoctrinated into believing Woke as dogma.
This limited good worldview is extended not just to the redistribution of wealth and to affirmative action policies in universities and workplaces – whites must give non-whites money; whites must give non-whites jobs – but also to cultural goods like stories. “Limited good” was described by American anthropologist George Foster. It’s the idea that there is only so much good to go around and if one person has more, the next person will inevitably have less. Eric Deggans, NPR’s movie critic, expressed this limited good worldview when he chastised Tom Hanks for making movies. When a white actor makes movies about white heroes, that means there will be fewer movies starring black actors depicting black heroes. Limited good is the opposite of the worldview that says that a rising tide lifts all boats. In that worldview, a successful Tom Hanks movie means that movies in general are doing better and, therefore, more movies will be made, including movies starring black men playing black heroes.
Woke lies. Woke lies about history. The invasions and population replacements that are supposed to be what white people do to non-whites are all universal features of human life. Shifts in the populations of the Americas had been going on for millennia before Columbus. Inuit completely replaced pre-Inuit peoples, who left almost no trace of their existence. Anasazi Indians were wiped out in a cannibal genocide committed by their neighbors. The Comanche tried to wipe out the Apache.
Just so in what is now Great Britain. White people huddled in caves and drank from skulls. White people were wiped out by their genes or their technology that were ill-suited to new conditions. White people were invaded, massacred, raped, starved and enslaved by other white people. White people performed breath-taking feats, like erecting Stonehenge with minimal technology. White people sent the spires of gothic cathedrals into the heavens and white people raped and pillaged. That’s part of the universal human experience. Woke doesn’t want us to interpret it that way, so history is no longer taught to young people. Only unrecognizably distorted narratives. Distorted narratives are used to denigrate whiteness and to demonize powerful products of white cultures. Distorted narratives render Camelot “problematic” until it is rescued by a snarky heroine and a black lead – both of whom, in spite of their obvious European ancestry, must be understood, photographed, marketed and talked about as non-white in order to complete their salvific function. And so an “Asian” Guinevere makes a fool of a “white” Arthur and undermines the entire point of the play, draining it of any poignancy, humanity, depth, or magic.
For the past thousand-plus years, people in what is now Great Britain have been telling stories about a wise and benevolent king named Arthur. This is their story. It is not my story. I’m of Polish and Slovak descent. Arthur is not my king. When I get chills listening to Camelot, I’m being moved by a story that is not mine. Being moved by products of others’ cultures is also part of the human experience. I don’t need anyone to write a Polish character into Camelot for me to find it “relevant.” It is Arthur’s very particular Britishness that renders him universal, in the same way that John Paul II and Vaclav Havel became universal heroes by being so very thoroughly Polish and Czechoslovak. James Joyce said, “I always write about Dublin, because if I can get to the heart of Dublin I can get to the heart of all the cities of the world. In the particular is contained the universal.”
But, you may say, genetically unconnected populations have been rewriting the Arthur story for over a thousand years. These re-tellers of the tale include Britons, Anglo-Saxons, Normans, and Jews – Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe both had Jewish ancestry. The difference is that these successive tellers respected the material and the people who produced it. The new Lincoln Center production telegraphs its disrespect for both the people who generated and cherished the Arthur story and the story itself. The new Lincoln Center production isn’t about passing on cultural good to the young; it’s about tearing down that cultural good and bastardizing it to serve a narrative that hates the story and hates the people who produced it.
I suspected all of that when I saw the publicity photos of Jordan Donica, that worked so hard to reduce a beautiful, talented young man, a rising star, to political points scored on the Woke scoreboard.
Danusha Goska is the author of God through Binoculars: A Hitchhiker at a Monastery