For schoolboys in the Seventies, the name of Charlotte Rampling was synonymous with only one thing: full-frontal nudity
For schoolboys in the Seventies, the name of Charlotte Rampling — one of the most subtle and intelligent actresses of her generation — was synonymous with only one thing: full-frontal nudity.
‘Phwoar!’ said my friends, leering at photographs of Rampling baring her breasts (and more) while smoking a cigarette in an explicit ‘art house’ movie.
‘Disgusting!’ said supporters of Mrs Mary Whitehouse, appalled that the daughter of an English colonel should specialise in sexually provocative roles and pose nude for Playboy.
Rampling shrugged off their outrage, and continued to pose nude well into her 60s.
Now, however, the actress faces a different sort of outrage — one that she can’t dismiss with a languidly raised eyebrow.
On Friday, she told a French radio station that complaints about the lack of black actors in the list of Oscar nominees were ‘racist to whites’.
‘One can never really know, but perhaps the black actors did not deserve to make the final list,’ she added.
As a result, Rampling has been called a ‘moron’ and a ‘posh racist’. One Twitter user spat: ‘She was never really acting when she played the villain.’
Even Chelsea Clinton, daughter of former president Bill, leapt into the fray, describing Rampling’s comments as ‘outrageous, ignorant and offensive’.
This is the nastiest row to break out in Hollywood since a drunken Mel Gibson told a police officer that ‘****ing Jews’ were responsible for all the wars in the world.
Yet Rampling, who celebrates her 70th birthday next month, was not drunk and nor is she a racist. She thought she was merely venting her frustration. Perhaps she felt safer doing so in French, which she speaks fluently.
Why was the reaction so explosive? One obvious reason is that Rampling is herself nominated for a Best Actress Oscar this year for her role in the film 45 Years.
Another is that Will Smith, rated by Forbes as the most ‘bankable’ film star in the world, is boycotting this year’s Oscars because all the nominees are white. This reflects ‘a regressive slide towards separatism, towards racial and religious disharmony’, the Men In Black actor claims.
Why was the reaction so explosive? One obvious reason is that Rampling is herself nominated for a Best Actress Oscar this year for her role in the film 45 Years
I think Smith is right: relations between whites and blacks in America are now almost as tense as they were during the battle for civil rights in the Sixties.
But it is absurd to imply the elderly, Democrat-voting members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences have passed over black actors because of the colour of their skin.
This is the same Academy that twice nominated Smith for an Oscar — and both times he lost out to another black actor.
Will Smith’s conspiracy theory, and the apocalyptic reactions to Rampling’s admittedly outspoken words, do suggest an unfortunate readiness to think the worst of white people and their motives. However understandable its roots, is there not a form of reverse prejudice at work here?
No one denies that blacks in the U.S. suffer from racial inequality. African-Americans make up 12 per cent of the overall population, but 60 per cent of the prison population. They are twice as likely as whites to be unemployed — and that is even true of black graduates.
There’s also evidence that American police forces employ a significant number of trigger-happy white racists.
But there’s also robust evidence that the U.S. has become dramatically less racist in recent years. In 1958, only 4 per cent of Americans approved of inter-racial marriage. In 2013, the total was 87 per cent.
There’s been a similar decline in anti-black racism in Britain, as well.
Even so, it’s perfectly reasonable to argue that in both countries racism still exists and that blacks suffer from it more than whites.
What seems unfair is to howl down someone like Rampling just for suggesting that sometimes — sometimes — prejudice does cut both ways.
Another is that Will Smith, rated by Forbes as the most ‘bankable’ film star in the world, is boycotting this year’s Oscars because all the nominees are white
It is reasonable — because we have hard evidence to back it up — to argue that certain members of black and other ethnic minorities are racists.
Some of them direct their racism against each other. In 2013, the BBC Asian network asked its listeners: ‘Are you surprised that Asian letting agents are discriminating against black tenants?’
Some racism is anti-white, on both sides of the Atlantic.
In an extreme example of this sort of racism, the Rev Jeremiah Wright, for many years Barack Obama’s pastor in Chicago, has preached sermons portraying the American government as a cabal of white supremacists and described the Supreme Court as ‘a closeted [Ku Klux] Klan court’.
On this side of the pond, research in 2008 found almost one in three white people believed they were the victims of racial prejudice in Britain.
Fifty-eight per cent said they believed they suffered more racial prejudice now than five years earlier, compared with 44 per cent interviewed in 2001. The figure for ethnic minority communities had hardly changed, at 32 per cent.
In 2012, a black journalist named Bim Adewunmi complained on Twitter about the use in the media of the phrase ‘the black community’. Diane Abbott MP, now Shadow Secretary for International Development, tweeted back at her: ‘White people love playing ‘divide & rule’. We should not play their game.’
If a white politician had ascribed such malevolence to black people in general, she would not be in Parliament today, let alone on the front benches. Abbott found herself in hot water, but managed to persuade her political bosses and the media this was merely one of her trademark ‘gaffes’.
Reasonable human beings know that bigotry and prejudice can lurk in every heart. Pretending otherwise is both hypocritical and an insult to our intelligence
I happen to have a soft spot for Diane and wouldn’t have liked to see her hounded out of public life on the basis of an angry tweet. What does bother me is her means of escape.
Having said something that could be considered mildly racist, she was able to fall back on the support of the liberal zealots who have turned social media, and especially Twitter, into places where what Will Smith calls ‘separatism’ and ‘disharmony’ flourish at the expense of reasoned debate.
It would be a stretch to describe all these tweeters as ‘digital thought police’. Many of them are more like parking wardens, nagging and ticking off members of the public for minor — and often unintended — infractions of the rules they have devised.
These rules dictate that any statement that offends any minority is an aggressive act that should be punished. If the offence is caused by a statue, as in the case of Oxford’s memorial to 19th-century colonialist Cecil Rhodes, then it must be pulled down.
Referring to ‘anti-white racism’, as Rampling did, is perhaps the ultimate crime. Young social media obsessives believe either there is no such thing, or that even if anti-white racism exists it is ‘inappropriate’ for white people to comment on it.
This one-way view of prejudice is not confined to race. It’s shared by many feminists, who can be even more shrill than anti-racists. (By using the sexist word ‘shrill’, by the way, I’ve just committed an ‘aggressive’ act.)
One of their core beliefs is that women can’t be sexist in the way that men are deemed sexist. Consider last week’s National Television Awards where the TV moment of 2015 went to Aidan Turner — as Poldark — whipping his shirt off to reveal his rippling muscles.
Imagine the uproar if the award had gone to War & Peace’s Tuppence Middleton — or any other actress — for getting topless. But Oona King, former Labour politician and head of diversity for Channel 4, defended her right to ogle Aidan — arguing that actors getting nude doesn’t damage their careers the way it would for actresses.
In itself, this incident couldn’t be more trivial. But it’s another demonstration of the tendency of the right-on to think they can never be guilty of the sins they so stridently ascribe to their enemies.
Rather than helping defeat racism or sexism, these dogmatic extremists are in danger of alienating those who might otherwise be sympathetic to their cause.
Reasonable human beings know that bigotry and prejudice can lurk in every heart. Pretending otherwise is both hypocritical and an insult to our intelligence.