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Tom Hanks dogged for insufficiently anti-racist film career: 'He's built a career playing righteous white men'

CRAIG SJODIN via Getty Images

As the heated national conversation over racial injustice escalates, progressive ideologues are becoming increasingly unsatisfied with the conventional non-racist notion of adhering to a colorblind way of life and treating everyone the same way regardless of race or ethnicity.

To be "non-racist" is simply not enough, the argument goes. Citizens, especially prominent ones, must be "anti-racist" if they are to be a benevolent force against America's systemic racism, both past and present. If they fail to demonstrate sufficient anti-racism, they are to be cast aside as something of a foe to the movement.

The latest victim of such an impossible standard appears to have been massively famous actor and filmmaker Tom Hanks.

What happened?

Hanks — known for his work in "Forrest Gump," "Saving Private Ryan," and countless other popular films — attempted to do good by the push for racial equality earlier this month by writing an opinion piece for the New York Times urging Americans to "learn the truth about the Tulsa Race Massacre."

But in response, the actor was dogged by NPR entertainment critic Eric Deggans for not doing enough, especially considering his supposed role in perpetuating white supremacy through his artistic endeavors.

"He's built a career playing righteous white men," Deggans wrote in his own op-ed for NPR over the weekend before going on to suggest that Hanks, like many other prominent white public figures, is "personally and specifically connected to the elevation of white culture over other cultures."

Over the years, [Hanks] has starred in a lot of big movies about historical events, including Saving Private Ryan, Greyhound, Forrest Gump, Apollo 13, Bridge of Spies and News of the World. He has served as a producer or executive producer on even more films and TV shows based on American history, including Band of Brothers, The Pacific, John Adams and From the Earth to the Moon. He was an executive producer of documentaries such as The Assassination of President Kennedy and The Sixties on CNN.

In other words, he is a baby boomer star who has built a sizable part of his career on stories about American white men Doing the Right Thing. He even plays a former Confederate soldier in one of his latest films, News of the World, standing up for a blond, white girl who had been kidnapped and raised by a Native American tribe.

The problem, according to Deggans, is that many of Hanks' works have left out the contributions of black Americans, consequently damaging the movement for racial equality.

What else?

Deggans tried to make clear that he was not calling Hanks a racist — despite his dedicating an entire Sunday column to critiquing the actor's indirectly racist work.

"[But] I am saying it is time for folks like Hanks to be anti-racist," he admitted, noting, "There's a difference between non-racist and anti-racist."

Anti-racism implies action, or "looking around your universe and taking specific steps to dismantle systemic racism," Deggans claimed, then advising Hanks and others to examine how they have contributed to the problem and repent of it.

If he really wants to make a difference, Hanks and other stars need to talk specifically about how their work has contributed to these problems and how they will change. They need to make specific commitments to changing the conversation in story subjects, casting and execution. That is the truly hard work of building change ...

... People often say columns such as the one by Hanks are published to start a conversation. Well, here is my suggestion: Let's make part of that conversation how baby boomer filmmakers have made fortunes amplifying ideas of white American exceptionalism and heroism.

While Hanks is likely respected and popular enough to withstand a little scrutiny, other lesser known figures may not be. If that is the case, then some may choose to remain silent and Deggans' attack may prove to have the opposite of its intended effect.

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