Listening to NPR's Scott Simon host WEEKEND EDITION is a Saturday morning ritual for me. Full disclosure: He's interviewed me on the show a couple of times about diversity and inclusion in Hollywood relative to the Oscar nominations. Today, he had a segment that I loved. The theme of a new series is "Movies You Missed." In today's segment, he a fabulous chat with Sam Sanders, a fellow NPR talent, about the beloved 1942 Hollywood classic, CASABLANCA, starring Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Claude Rains, Paul Henreid and Dooley Wilson. Sam Sanders had never seen it. After he had viewed it, Scott asked for his review. Sam was stunned at how highly quotable CASABLANCA is. There were lines he'd heard in pop culture for years but had no idea that they originated in the 1942 Warner Brothers film. His idea of a highly quotable movie was MEAN GIRLS, a 2004 teen comedy starring Lindsay Lohan with a screenplay by Tina Fey. More about MEAN GIRLS later. I loved that Sam Sanders was captivated by the luminous face of that extraordinary actress, Ingrid Bergman. "Here's looking at you, kid."
Watching them should be homework for the serious aspiring film and TV actor.
Scott and Sam talked about Dooley Wilson who played the pianist/singer and best friend to Bogart's character. Sam was worried that a black character in an early 1940s film would not reflect a "woke" sensibility. That it would play to stereotypes.
Well...to me, Sam the entertainer in CASABLANCA is more "woke" that a section of MEAN GIRLS. I wrote about that very thing in last month's post. Just go to my July section and read my post, Talkin' Race with Tina Fey.
If I had to program films to be aired during a Black History Month, I'd put CASABLANCA in the mix. Back in those Hollywood days, African American actors were supporting players -- and mostly in servant roles as mammies, maids, butlers, cooks, railroad porters and such. And they often had to speak in a cringe-worthy, stereotyped way -- "Yassuh, boss. It sho' nuff is"...that kind of dialogue.
Hattie McDaniel was the first African American nominated for an Oscar -- and she was the first to win. She played Mammy in 1939's GONE WITH THE WIND. The next black person to be nominated for an Oscar was recording and Broadway star Ethel Waters. Like McDaniel, she was nominated for Best Supporting Actress. Also like McDaniel, she played an uneducated domestic. Waters was nominated for 1949's modern race drama, PINKY. By the way, CASABLANCA star Dooley Wilson was Ethel Waters' leading man on Broadway in the hit musical comedy, CABIN IN THE SKY. In between those two black actresses getting Ocar nominations, the first black man to receive an Academy Award was James Baskett. Baskett was given an honorary Oscar for his work as the singing and storytelling plantation worker, Uncle Remus, in the 1946 Disney musical, SONG OF THE SOUTH. Who played the plantation cook in a musical number with Uncle Remus? Oscar winner Hattie McDaniel. McDaniel was billed like a bit player after GONE WITH THE WIND in some top Hollywood films in which she was the only cast member who'd won an Oscar. The gifted McDaniel played supporting role maids for the rest of her film career.
Now go read my July 2017 piece about Tina Fey writing for people of color. She had to alter one quote in MEAN GIRLS after the film was released.
To hear the Sam Sanders review of CASABLANCA on WEEKEND EDITION hosted by Scott Simon, click into "Programs & Podcasts," find WEEKEND EDITION and scroll down to the CASABLANCA segment after you log onto NPR.org.
Scott Simon, thanks for taking me to CASABLANCA again. "We'll always have Paris."
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