“Chaim Levine,” “Charlie Sheen,” and Racism in Hollywood

by Latoya Peterson

Charlie Sheen is a fucking trainwreck.

I caught about five minutes of an E! True Hollywood Story on the man, and saw references to drug abuse and rehab, domestic violence, and a very pissed off Heidi Fleiss, noting that while Sheen is one of the top paid sitcom stars of our time, she was stuck in jail.

Charlie Sheen has been on a downward spiral for a good while now, and it’s clear from comments like these that things are only going to get worse:

Both Today and GMA asked Sheen, who says he underwent private rehab at home, if he is now on drugs. As he told the latter, “Yeah, I am on a drug. It’s called Charlie Sheen! It’s not available, because if you try it once, you will die. Your face will melt off, and your children will weep over your exploded body. … I woke up and decided, you know, I’ve been kicked around, I’ve been criticized. I’ve been this ‘Aww, shucks’ guy with this bitchin’ rock-star life, and I’m finally going to completely embrace it, wrap both arms around it and love it violently. And defend it violently through violent hatred.”

I could normally care less about the troubles of Charlie Sheen, but one of his recent verbal misfires is interesting on a few different levels. Sheen referred to Two and a Half Men creator Chuck Lorre as Chaim Levine in an angry open letter, protesting the cancellation of the show, widely rumored to be because of Sheen’s erratic behavior. After receiving pushback for his remarks, Sheen offered this gem to TMZ:

While Charlie spilled his guts to TMZ yesterday about his hatred for Chuck Lorre, he referred to the “Two and a Half Men” creator as Chaim Levine — the Hebrew translation of CL’s birth name — which many people felt Charlie used in a mean-spirited attempt to denigrate the Jews.

Now Charlie tells TMZ … “I was referring to Chuck by his real name, because I wanted to address the man, not the bulls**t TV persona.”

FYI — Chuck’s birth name is Charles Levine … and his Hebrew name is Chaim.

Charlie added, “So you’re telling me, anytime someone calls me Carlos Estevez, I can claim they are anti-Latino?”

Oh, readers, where do we start?

“I was referring to Chuck by his real name, because I wanted to address the man, not the bulls**t TV persona.”

Number one – Chuck Lorre’s birthname is Charles Levine. So why not just address the letter to Charles? This is where folks are picking up an anti-Semitic vibe. It is a really ugly thing when folks point to your difference as a way to denigrate you, even if they try to play their way around it. Oh, I didn’t use a slur or anything… Uh-huh. It’s hard to pick up tone from a written document, but check out the context where Sheen is trying to address “the man:”

What does this say about Haim Levine [Chuck Lorre] after he tried to use his words to judge and attempt to degrade me. I gracefully ignored this folly for 177 shows … I fire back once and this contaminated little maggot can’t handle my power and can’t handle the truth. I wish him nothing but pain in his silly travels especially if they wind up in my octagon. Clearly I have defeated this earthworm with my words — imagine what I would have done with my fire breathing fists. I urge all my beautiful and loyal fans who embraced this show for almost a decade to walk with me side-by-side as we march up the steps of justice to right this unconscionable wrong.

Remember these are my people … not yours…we will continue on together…

Charlie Sheen

(Sidebar: Wait, I thought we were getting real here. So why not sign that letter Carlos Estevez, since we’ve gone to people’s government/Hebrew names?)

This isn’t a calm, rational discussion Sheen is calling for, especially if you start calling people maggots. Now, some folks have pointed to Lorre’s self-identification on a vanity card as the reason for Sheen’s usage of Chaim Levine. But once again, check the context. Entertainment Weekly explains:

…[S]pecifically, vanity card #327, that aired Feb. 7 after an episode of Two and a Half Men.

On the card, Lorre talks about his visit to Israel and feeling comfortable while “surrounded with DNA much like my own.” Then he concludes:

“Which raises the question, why have I spent a lifetime moving away from that group? How did Chaim become Chuck? How did Levine become Lorre? The only answer I come up with is this: When I was a little boy in Hebrew school the rabbis regularly told us that we were the chosen people. That we were God’s favorites. Which is all well and good except that I went home, observed my family and, despite my tender age, thought to myself, ‘bull$#*!.’”

So Lorre talks about examining his identity, after “a lifetime” of distancing.

And interestingly enough, this is where he and Sheen have common ground.

Charlie Sheen’s father, Martin Sheen, was born Ramón Gerardo Antonio Estévez. The elder Sheen uses both names, one for public life, and one for private. IMDB credits him as saying:

Whenever I would call for an appointment, whether it was a job or an apartment, and I would give my name, there was always that hesitation and when I’d get there, it was always gone. So I thought, I got enough problems trying to get an acting job, so I invented Martin Sheen. I’ve never changed my name; it’s still Estevez officially.

[on changing his name] I never changed it officially. I never will. It’s on my driver’s license and passport and everything: Ramon Gerard Estevez. I started using Sheen, I thought I’d give it a try, and before I knew it, I started making a living with it and then it was too late. In fact, one of my great regrets is that I didn’t keep my name as it was given to me. I knew it bothered my dad.

His sons chose different paths – Charlie Sheen chose to retain the Hollywood surname. Emilio Estevez, his brother, chose to use the name he was born with, but mentioned that is was more to avoid riding his father’s success – and because he liked the initials.

The common thread here is racism and discrimination.  While many people in Hollywood opted to take a stage name for a variety of reasons, actors of certain racial or ethnic backgrounds were under even more pressure to assimilate, in order to even get their foot in the door.  Names become anglicized, roles are carefully selected to avoid being typecast, and people are careful to avoid anything that would provide an excuse to discriminate.  Over time, these changes and deals become habitual.  Toning down one’s given name to be seen as more palatable or acceptable is beginning to fall out of style – but in this comment Sheen reminds us of why this practice began in the first place.  When the simple act of calling someone outside of their chosen name has heavy racial or ethnic undertones, it is because of our nation’s history and how we have historically treated people who were different.

So Sheen’s last line becomes particularly absurd.

“So you’re telling me, anytime someone calls me Carlos Estevez, I can claim they are anti-Latino?”

As with most things, context matters. And I have a feeling that if Sheen were the subject of a hate-filled rant, he would want us to consider the context as well.

But at this point, it appears we aren’t going to hear much out of Sheen, except for the same old, same old.  Check out this apology, which is begging for us to break out a racist apology bingo card:

He apologized to co-creator Chuck Lorre for referring to him by his Hebrew name in radio interviews (he said it was a joke). “Sorry if I offended you,” Sheen said during his sit-down with ABC News’ Andrea Canning (the full interview airs Tuesday on ABC’s 20/20). “Didn’t know you were so sensitive. I thought after you wailing on me for eight years, I could take a few shots back.”

  • jeff

    Charlie Sheen is nothing more than a younger Mel Gibson. They are both closet racists whose true colors come out when under the enfluence of drugs at which time they are too out of it to realize what they are saying. Nobody has done anything to them in their rich, Hollywood world of unreality, yet they see fit to vent on entire groups of people.

  • Nina

    I chucked when I began reading the article b/c last night after the Piers Morgan interview, Carlos Estevez was trending on Twitter, not Charlie Sheen.

  • Anonymous

    Charlie Sheen is a junkie pure and simple. The worst thing anybody can do is pay attention to anything a junkie says. If someone interviewed me when I was using, it wouldn’t have been pretty.

  • Soulsentwined

    I thought that was Mel Gibson. Am I getting my bigots confused?

    • Anonymous

      “Am I getting my bigots confused?”

      OK, I may be wrong for this, but…

      Best. Line. Ever!

  • Anonymous

    When I saw him say he was on a drug called Charlie Sheen, I knew this thing wouldn’t die. I feel for his family – it must be terrible to have a family member refusing treatment. It’s hard not to think that he called Chuck Lorre out specifically targeting his Jewishness. I hold Charlie responsible for what he does, but would try not to pay much attention, because he’s obviously spiralling out of control.

    I have never been a fan of 2 1/2 men, and as Pellinore said – I always thought it wasn’t really acting that he was doing on the show. He was just being himself. With better writing.

  • Digital Coyote

    Why is it whenever things get real (or someone’s got a bone to pick), a person’s “ethnic” name comes out? Is it denigration? Is it to take a jab at the “real” person (as opposed to their invented/constructed identity)? Does “outing” a person take away their white privileges or put them in their “place”? Does it count extra if it comes from another “white” person? Is there some unacknowledged tension because Lorre and Sheen are both rudderless after their lifetimes of distancing and it’s being played out along white and “ethnic” privilege lines?

    I mean, Charlie Sheen is never regular ol’ Carlos Estevez until the shit hits the fan and people remember he loves booze, bimbos, bombast, and blow. Calling Lorre by his Hebrew name–and crowing about it–seems to have been some sort of coup for Sheen and not some sort of joke.

    I’m not excusing his actions or words, but it’s a serious wtf.

  • Anonymous

    I’m just confused why he’d consider himself Latino? He’s similar to Shakira I think. Spainard heritage rather than Latin American. But I can understand him being racialized in such a generalized way that even though he’s may not actually be POC, were he in Spain, he can be racialized differently . . . I think this was discussed in relation to Penelope Cruz’s involvement in some Woody Allen film.

    I have no respect for Mr. Sheen. And I absolutely hate Two and a Half Men. It just isn’t funny. It’s like I’m watching Sheen’s life, given his history with domestic abuse and general disrespect of women and other minorities.

    • Digital Coyote

      His father has received an award for being a Latino activist, so he might be the source for how he identifies?

      http://www.dailybruin.com/index.php/article/2000/04/martin-sheen-receives-chavez-a

    • Ilana

      I think Shakira is Colombian and Lebanese, actually, but I could be wrong.

      • Anonymous

        I checked just to be sure. Wiki seems to explain it.

        Although she is known as a Colombian singer, and perhaps that does reflect her upbringing and cultural experience, the family was from New York. And she is of Spanish (Catalan), Lebanese (as you stated) and Italian descent. So, I’m not sure if her parents identify as Colombian, but her status as a Colombian singer could be a reflection of citizenship if not culture and upbringing as I mentioned before. So, I guess we’re both right. I doubt many would see her as Spaniard. Before looking into her background I just saw her as Latina. That’s still my dominant perception.

  • http://DeadAmericanDream.blogspot.com AngryBroomstick

    I definitely thought that by calling Lorre by his Hebrew name, Charlie Sheen was trying to give off anti-Semitic vibe. Whether he’s actually a true anti-Semite, I cannot say. but it’s like when some people refer to our President as Barack HUSSEIN Obama, we all know why his full name is being invoked.

    I am a playwright, mime artist and filmmaker. I am Indian and Muslim. My stage name which I use everyday, is not actually my real name. My real name is “ethnic” (for lack of a better term) and people have a hard time remembering it or always fucking misspell it or say it out loud wrong. Mindy Kaling and Kal Penn, also of Indian descent like me, have shortened their names as well.

  • http://twitter.com/JasVicious Giggity.

    we also shouldn’t forget the hatred filled voice mails that Sheen left his Ex wife calling her a “F*CKING NIGGER”, he obviously is a racist, and shouldn’t be rewarded for such misbehavior. damn straight they should cancel the show and stop putting money in this sexist, prejudiced asshole’s pockets. Just a thought.