Actor Vincent D'Onofrio asks Twitter: Is it OK to play an 'irredeemable racist' character?

Washington Post

Casting decisions are a new theater in the culture war. Arguments about who should or should not play this or that role due to one or another consideration are now constantly breaking out whenever production announcements drop about movies and television series.

Idris Elba might be the new James Bond? Cue the backlash.

Perhaps with his antenna turned to these showbiz currents, Emmy Award nominee and longtime "Law & Order: Criminal Intent" actor Vincent D'Onofrio on Saturday tapped out a message to his 180,000 Twitter followers. The post sparked a discussion among both fans and fellow actors that drilled right to the heart of what art should represent in times of intense political division.

"I am going to ask a question to everyone that cares to answer it," D'Onofrio wrote in a since-deleted tweet, according to the Verge. "I have an opinion which I will not reveal. Is Now the right time (considering the world in which live right now) for me to play a real to life characte [sic] who is irredeemable racist in a dramatic series?"

According to a follow-up post from the actor, D'Onofrio was flooded with nearly 2,500 responses to his question.

In his replies to some tweets, D'Onofrio expanded upon why he was conflicted about stepping into a racist character. Without delving into the specifics of the role or possible series, the actor wondered "Is it at this time dangerous?" He cited "the rise in racism" and "the ugly normalization of it" in the current culture. "Now more than ever we need 2pick a side," he wrote. "I want2protect the marginalized&educate those at fault."

He added: "Racism is something that is truly happening&rising in our society. If it's not in your house then it's in your neighbors [sic] house. It's down your street."

Some blasted the actor for crowdsourcing the topic.

"Vince D'Onofrios a good actor and a good dude, and I don't blame him for being cautious in today's age," one person wrote. "But somethings wrong in a culture where someone would feel the need to ask permission for this."

"Don't ask this question," another responded. "If you think you can do it well. . . then do it."

But others seemed to be plugged into the same concerns animating the actor's discussion prompt.

"Even 'redemption' stories make me cringe because it's usually the oppressed having to teach racist lessons instead of racist learning on their own," one tweeted. "I'd tread very carefully."

"I don't think I can watch a story now where the racist is shown as understandable and relatable," another response read.

Another line of response urged D'Onofrio to take the role, if only because a skilled actor could make the part meaningful.

"I would rather an actor who is completely redeemable and talented, like you, play the role as they understand why the role is considered irredeemable," one Twitter user wrote. "It gives you a chance to speak about the negative qualities and know why they are negative."

But D'Onofrio's conflicting thoughts about playing a racist character also apparently connected with his fellow actors like Carl Weathers, Ron Perlman, and Donal Logue.

"Everything depends on whether you're promoting racist behavior or illuminating its effects on society," Weathers chimed in. "Brando did it in Roots. We're Actors bro! If the character is fascinating, ya gotta play it!" Perlman said. "I think so. You bring such deep authenticity to every character you play - people need to see some heavy truths," Logue replied.

D'Onofrio did not publicly comment on where he finally fell on his decision. But the experiment - launching a real-time conversation with fans, trolls and fellow actors - seems to have been successful.

"Not only am I impressed with all the reply's [sic] I received from my question," he wrote. "I am impressed by my peers in the business. Many whom I've never met also reached out. That is a sign of our times. People want a civil discussion."

First published in the Washington Post

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