“Look, instead of complaining about the weird-looking CGI fur used to try and make various well known performers look like felines in the newly released trailer for the film version of Cats, shouldn’t people really be asking why none of them are played by actual cats?” asks Penelope Gravel, founder of the East Chertsey Cat Anti-Defamation League. “I mean, I’d hoped that the days of human actors putting on fur suits and fake ears in order to pretend to be animals were long behind us – it’s on a par with white actors ‘blacking up’: not just insulting to actual animal performers, but depriving talented cats and the like of work.” Writing in the Chertsey and Walton Advertiser and Cattle Mart, Gravel – whose organisation is dedicated to combating the negative stereotypes of cats perpetrated by the pro-dog media – contended that she was sure that there were hundreds of cats in Chertsey alone who were more than capable of playing the roles of, well, cats in Cats. “But were they given a chance? Were any of them asked to audition, even?” she says. “Of course not. It’s pure discrimination. ‘Those cats can’t act’, they undoubtedly said. ‘Those cats can’t sing or dance, either’, they undoubtedly also said. But did they actually give them a chance? I’ve seen real cats display some pretty fancy footwork, (usually when they’ve trodden on a hot plate), and they certainly have a set of lungs on them – their wailing when they want to be let in is no more discordant than, say, Ronan Keating, (and he still gets work). They’re also pretty accomplished actors: I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve asked a cat whether it has been fed (even though I know it has) and it responded with a very convincing negative mew and pitiful look.”
Yet, as she points out, they still they don’t get the work. “It is grossly unfair – are other animals treated this way when they are portrayed on screen?” she demands. “Do westerns have two blokes in a pantomime horse costume instead of real horses? Is Lassie portrayed by a bloke in a furry suit saying ‘woof’? I think not. But they make a whole film about cats but don’t cast a single real feline. Bloody typical. But do people get upset about it? No, they instead focus on trivialities like how weird that CGI fur looks.” According to the fifty six year old spinster, this failure to cast real cats in a film about cats is just another example of the prejudice faced by felines. “They are always being portrayed by dog loving bastards like that Chris Packham as a bunch of bird-killing fiends, Hell-bent on destroying local wildlife,” she opines. “Then there’s all the pro-dog propaganda that dominates our press, you know what I mean: how they are man’s best friend, how they are loyal, how intelligent they are. The truth is that dogs are just horrible, thick four-legged shitting machines that blindly follow whoever can shout their name loudest! Cats are clearly superior – handsome, intelligent, discerning when it comes to relationships with humans and they cover up their own crap – yet the press constantly defames them!”
Gravel’s opinions on the casting of Cats echo earlier casting controversies surrounding the casting of disabled roles, with calls for these to be reserved for disabled actors – a concept that actor Tony Basalt violently disagrees with. “It all kicked off when ‘The Rock’ played someone with an artificial leg in one of his actions films film because, well, he has two real legs and it was denying an opportunity to a real disabled actor,” he claims. “Do the people who come out with this insanity actually understand the concept of acting? It’s all about pretending to be someone, or something, you aren’t, for God’s sake!” Basalt, who has appeared in films such as Hill Billy Heat, Reach Around and House of Whacks, argues that to follow this logic when casting for films and TV, would mean that disabled actors could never play non-disabled roles. “Back in the day, for instance, there was a popular character actor called Herbert Marshall, who only had one leg, yet always played two-legged characters, clearly this shouldn’t have been allowed,” he says. “If we take it to to its logical extreme, then black actors should never play characters originally written as white and female actors shouldn’t play parts originally written as male!”
Warming to his theme, Basalt ventured his opinions on the casting of gay actors in straight roles. “To be absolutely frank, I really don’t think that they should be playing straight guys,” he says. “Particularly in my bit of the business. I mean how could some homosexual convincingly simulate having sex with a woman? Yet, day in, day out, I see the bastards muscling in on my territory. Oh, I know, the ladies in the business say they feel safer with them, that they don’t get felt up and groped during the sex scenes, but it just isn’t right! I ask you, how would they like it if a couple of us straight guys invaded the gay porn scene and started simulating anal sex, eh? But apparently it is OK for them to pretend to shag birds. And if that is OK, then it must also be OK for actors who can walk to play characters in wheelchairs or even for humans to play felines, despite what this crazy cat lady thinks!”
Gravel, of course, begs to differ, contending that it isn’t just cats being discriminated against by the film industry. “It’s the same with that live action remake of The Little Mermaid – lots of people have been getting obsessed over the fact that a non-white performer has been cast in the title role and insisting that it is somehow not ‘authentic’, when what they should be up in arms about the fact that they didn’t cast an actual mermaid,” she told her local newspaper. “There is no way that anyone, regardless of race, creed or colour, with two legs instead of a fish tail should be playing that role. It’s a bloody outrage. It’s no good saying that mermaids are mythical creatures – that’s what Hollywood used to say about black people in order to justify casting white actors with soot on their faces. Damn it, even dwarfs get a better deal from Hollywood – you never see tall blokes on their knees playing those roles, they always get in the real thing, (OK, sometimes they use children with stick on beards). And dwarfs are just as mythical mermaids. I think.” Gravel ended her newspaper interview with a vow to start a campaign to have Cats reshot with, well cats.