Conversation between Hale Masaki and Mady Johnston
Mady: I guess we’ll start with what Rent is trying to represent: diverse perspectives. It has all these different characters going through very real experiences. I find it hard to talk about Rent starting out because I feel like it’s supposed to be taken in all at once.
Hale: I’m reading Angels in America by Tony Kushner in another class and I bring it up because it’s also a story about gay men living with aids and the severity of the aids epidemic. When reading this, Rent seemed really watered down in comparison.
M: I see what you are saying. I mean, the only time the hardship of aids is brought up is with Angel’s death. It’s a hardship in life too, not just in death
H: Yeah, if they are trying to represent diverse perspectives within economic crises too, where did all their money come from to do the things they are doing?
M: Well, Joane is a lawyer but I’m not sure if she’s necessarily providing. Also, Roger just picked up his life and went to Santa Fe? No one in economic distress could actually do that.
|H: What’s up with that cow udder shit?|
M: I don’t know. Modernist art and mooing?
M: I mean I think part of the goal with the diversity in the casting is that you can’t talk about the aids epidemic without talking about the black community. Because of the higher presence of aids in that community and how it caused an increase in racism and homophobia.
H: How come none of that is in the script then? It can’t be a casual representation without recognizing that race affects life. Only a white person can say race isn’t an important part of life.
M: What do you think about Mimi, Ben, or Joanne? How would that character change if it were played by a white person?
H: If race isn’t talked about, you are just effectively white. For instance, in video games where they give you this whole range of skin colors but don’t include the actual experience of race and ethnicity, it’s all effectively white.
M: Yeah, like Rent decided to be diverse for the purpose of being diverse and not for the purpose of showing the struggles of those people. Rent doesn’t really show homophobia or racism, just the idea of being a starving artist.
H: Nobody gets to be their race, they are all white.
M: They all have the same cookie-cutter struggles. You could change anyone’s race and it wouldn’t change the plot. So it kind of misses the mark of representation.
H: Also, it’s very convenient that Benny is black. Like a rich white landlord is an unprofitable look for them.
M: And that would be more truthful.
H: The movie is also mostly the original Broadway cast.
M: The two main characters are white men, they’re the center of the plot. And the fact that this is the og cast means this is Jonathan Larson’s intent and they wanted to keep it that way. Which is important because he died right before the first showing of rent. It’s also why La Vie Boheme is performed the way it is. They had decided to perform the show by just sitting at three tables, singing it through, but when La Vie Boheme hit, they couldn’t contain themselves and they performed the rest of the show as it was meant to be. So La Vie Boheme is usually performed with three tables pushed together.
H: So it’s stiff in some ways because they want to keep Jonathan Larson’s idea.
M: Yeah, like how West Side Story changed, but they didn’t change all the bad parts. Not erasing history, but this is for multiple reasons.
H: Moving to La Vie Boheme though, Mark is the most racialized person in Rent as a Jewish man, but he’s also the white main character.
M: Yeah they even include the Mourner’s Kaddish in La Vie Boheme. References to Jewish culture throughout are almost the only references to any culture at all.
H: At “Being an us for once instead of them” they show an interracial couple. They just kind of throw them in there.
M: It’s everything all at once again: gay, interracial, aids, drugs…not really representing in any way, just showing.
H: Besides race, you can’t tell who those background people are. They are essentially white.
M: I feel like when they say, “rice and beans and cheese” and then “huevos rancheros” they are just trying to fit Spanish culture into there also.
H: The whole musical is “look! we all like the same white guys!”
M: They say homo sapiens after bisexual and trisexual as in we are all human but we all also a little gay, which slay, but there is difficulty with being gay. They’re trying to show unity but…their experiences are actually different.
H: So the answer is no: race does not exist in the world of Rent.
M: Yeah, but everyone knows how to tango!