A lot of people seem to be mad at Clint Eastwood these days, and for good reason. His recent defense of Donald Trump and his racially charged comments — that the Republican presidential nominee “says a lot of dumb things” but that people should “get over it” — have not exactly made Eastwood look like a paragon of racial equality.
But human beings are complex creatures, which means that Eastwood is a set of contradictions. His defense of Trump’s comments about Hispanics and Muslims is no doubt reprehensible, and has caused many people to label him as a hardcore racist. But in excoriating him, those same critics have forgotten that for years Eastwood has, in his own way, been one of the most racially sensitive people in Hollywood.
Years ago, a friend pointed out to me that Woody Allen, darling of film critics and urban intellectuals, never seemed to cast any minorities in his films, even in the background.
Yet Clint Eastwood, often reviled for his conservative/libertarian politics, has consistently cast, and acted with, black performers, many of them in key roles — not just in the “Dirty Harry” films, where for example, Felton Perry played his partner in “Magnum Force,” but also in pictures like “Bronco Billy” (Scatman Crothers) and “The Eiger Sanction” (Vonetta McGee). I wrote a piece about this for the Los Angeles Daily News, and to this date, no one has contradicted my findings.
So I ask you:
Does a racist make a film like “Gran Torino,” in which a grumpy old racist learns compassion for others when a Hmong family moves in next door?
Does a racist make a film like “Bird,” the story of black jazz musician Charlie Parker?
Does a racist appear in a film in which his lover is a black woman, as McGee was in “The Eiger Sanction?”
Does a racist consistently appear along with, or cast black performers in key roles in his films (Morgan Freeman in “Unforgiven” and “Million Dollar Baby,” Isaiah Washington and Lisa Gay Hamilton in “True Crime”)?
Does a racist become a lifelong lover of blues and jazz, and make a 2003 documentary called “Piano Blues,” that features performers like Ray Charles, Pinetop Perkins, Big Joe Turner and Oscar Peterson?
Does a racist marry Dina Marie Ruiz, a Hispanic woman? (The couple divorced two years ago after 17 years of marriage.)
I don’t know where Eastwood’s head is these days. He seems to have settled into grumpy old manhood, which has made him something of a joke, as far as his public statements are concerned.
But his current antics do not negate the years when he was one of the few white filmmakers in Hollywood who showed some sensitivity toward minority performers and their stories. To those of you willing to throw his entire career out the window because of his recent stupidity, I can only quote Jesus: “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”