Everyone from Fred Astaire to Miley Cyrus is an offender when it comes to accidentally mocking other cultures, sometimes just by referencing them. “Cultural appropriation” is the newest sin against political correctness.
Outrage over culture caricatures spiked this year over everything from supermodels in Native American headdresses to sports team names. Movies and music were a popular battleground for the blame game.
Although those calling out cultural appropriation insist there are ways to borrow from cultures without appropriating them, it seems nearly impossible to do so and remain respectful under their terms. Imitation is no longer flattery, and we are no longer allowed to have fun with other cultures for fear of offending them.
The Washington Post and New York Times kept the ball in the air this year as criticism mounted against those accused of imitating cultures disrespectfully. The Post mentioned cultural appropriation 84 times so far in 2015-16 while the Times brought it up 41 times.
The media bashed at least nine movies and songs in 2015 and 2016 alone.
- Actress Zoe Saldana fell on the wrong side of the debate when she was cast as musician and civil rights activist Nina Simone. Saldana apparently did not have black enough features to be cast as Simone.
- Amy Schumer came under fire for her rap music video “Milk, Milk, Lemonade” which made fun of black women’s bodies, critics said.
- Emma Stone drew the ire of the media when she played a Hawaiian, Asian, but mostly Swedish character in “Aloha.” Slate called her a “a preposterous casting choice” even though both the actress and character were mostly white. Stone later apologized for the role.
- Marvel’s 2015 hip-hop comic book covers annoyed some who accused the comic empire of appropriating black culture. Marvel was trying to “cash in” on hip-hop culture all while excluding those who built it, they said.
- Marvel messed up again with “Dr. Strange” due to be released in November. The white actress Tilda Swinton plays a Tibetan monk, again appropriating Asian culture.
- Coldplay and Beyonce were criticized for flippantly portraying Indian culture as an “exotic playground” in the music video for “Hymn for the Weekend.”
- Major Lazer, DJ Snake and Ma Head to India were also accused of parodying India in their music video for “Lean On.”
- Scarlett Johansson got into hot water in April for her role as the Asian Major Motoko Kusanagi in the Anime film “Ghost in the Shell.” Asian actors have a tough enough time finding roles without handing them to Johansson, said some in the media.
- However, music legend Daryl Hall of Hall and Oates had strong words for those accusing him and others of appropriating music styles.
“Are you trying to say that I don’t own the style of music that I grew up with and sing?” the rock star asked Salon in an interview. “I grew up with this music. It is not about being black or white. That is the most naïve attitude I’ve ever heard in my life. That is so far in the past, I hope, for everyone’s sake. It isn’t even an issue to discuss. The music that you listened to when you grew up is your music. It has nothing to do with 'cultural appropriation.”
“Anyone who says that should shut the f**k up,” Hall added.
Hall said he was not even sure who was critiquing him for "appropriating" soul music. “Who do they write for? What are their credentials to give an opinion like that?” he asked.
American culture is a melting pot, said the singer. “It isn’t split up into groups. Anyone who says otherwise is a fool – worse than a fool – a dangerous fool.”