This is topic Cultural Appropriation in forum Books, Films, Food and Culture at Hatrack River Forum.

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Posted by SenojRetep (Member # 8614) on :
Question: is West Side Story cultural appropriation?

For: None of the major driving forces behind the movie (Robbins, Wise, Lehman, Bernstein, Sondheim) are Puerto Rican. Most went to elite schools (Boston Latin, Harvard University). They were all a generation older than the protagonists and had no "lived experience" similar to what was depicted in the movie. Also, Natalie Wood.

Contra: Both Robbins and Bernstein are the children of immigrants, and understood the conflict of cultures inherent in becoming "Americanized". Their usage of latin rhythms, melodies, and choreography don't feel exploitative. Also Rita Moreno.

Mostly I'm interested in boundaries between sincere cultural appreciation and common artistic magpie borrowing of influences, and modes that are exploitative and icky. More broadly, I'm interested in how cultural norms develop, and this feels like a rapidly evolving understanding of how racial and ethnic representation can cross boundaries, and ways in which it can't (or shouldn't).

Also, there's a new West Side Story, coming next year. Courtesy of Stephen Spielberg and Tony Kushner, two talented artists who are also not Puerto Rican nor second generation Eastern European immigrants.
Posted by JanitorBlade (Member # 12343) on :
Well the musical is based on a play which was itself an Englishman telling a story about Italian politics and aristocratic rivalry, so....?
Posted by docmagik (Member # 1131) on :
Bugs Life is Pixar culturally appropriating from a community they don't belong to.

Show me one member of the cast/crew who is a circus performer.
Posted by SenojRetep (Member # 8614) on :
Originally posted by JanitorBlade:
Well the musical is based on a play which was itself an Englishman telling a story about Italian politics and aristocratic rivalry, so....?

I guess that's part of the question. Was Shakespeare culturally appropriating? Or is borrowing other cultures' stories and mores in bounds as artistic expression, as long as it is done in a non-exploitative manner? And how should a modern artist, especially one who is a white American, navigate the question of whether their appropriation is appreciation or exploitation?

I read an expose a few years ago about a white author who adopted a Navajo persona and projected that in his writing. Eventually it came to light that he was not ethnically Navajo at all. I thought it was fairly appalling, but when I showed it to a Navajo friend she didn't find it offensive. Instead she felt it was somewhat flattering that someone not part of her culture wanted to be part of it so badly that he assumed a false identity to do so.

Contrast that with this, where a white poet used an Asian pseudonym to increase the likelihood of a poem being accepted. Clearly different, especially in the underlying motives of the two authors; but not entirely dissimilar. But one seems more in bounds than the other. Obviously the adoption of an entire persona (or just a pseudonym) is a fairly specific and extreme form of appropriation, but even so there is an interesting spectrum of acceptability.

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