By Praditya Fulumirani
Blackface, yellowface, redface—racism in Hollywood isn’t as blatant as it used to be, but by no means has it become any less hurtful.
Whitewashing isn’t anything new, and it doesn’t look like it’ll be stopping anytime soon.
We don’t have to look far to find examples of it. This year we have Ghost in the Shell and Death Note, last year we had Gods of Egypt, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, and Doctor Strange. The list goes on: Avatar – The Last Airbender, The Dark Knight trilogy (first and third installments), The Social Network, Prince of Persia, Exodus: Gods and Kings, Pan, Aloha, Dragonball Evolution, Star Trek Into Darkness, The Martian.
Those are only a few of many examples, and I feel like the list will only grow because Hollywood seems to never run out of justifications on why this keeps on happening.
“Bankability,” they say. There are simply not enough non-white actors with a big enough draw for audiences worldwide.
If that is the case, then why have these aforementioned movies with “bankable” white actors playing characters who are clearly not white, flopped? Of course, not all of them have, but a great number say otherwise.
“It’s an adaptation,” they say, especially in cases of rebooting Japanese anime/manga properties.
But making something more “American” doesn’t necessarily mean it has be one-hundred-percent white, well, because…America isn’t one-hundred-percent white. I’m not saying you can’t have a Western adaptation, you definitely can, but the West—particularly the U.S.—is multicultural.
An American adaptation does not have to be an all-white adaptation. People like to bring up the fact non-white actors are occasionally cast in traditionally white roles (Michael B. Jordan as Johnny Storm in 2015’s Fantastic Four and Zendaya as Mary Jane Watson in the latest Spider-Man film) as a reason why it’s all right to do it the other way around.
It’s different. You can’t compare a couple of non-white actors playing a handful of white characters of a few years past to decades of whitewashing.
Until the opportunities are equal for everyone, it’s only fair that actors of colors every now and then get the chance to play characters who are canonically white. Not until the playing field is level can those two practices be clumped together.
White actors don’t have to steal roles, they have more than enough to pick from.
A movie having a whitewashed character doesn’t automatically translate into it being bad. No, plenty of whitewashed movies are more than merely watchable.
But denial can only get you so far. The excuses are getting stale. The executives can do better, the audiences deserve better. But all hope is not lost, there is change in the air.
Recently, actor Ed Skrein dropped out of the upcoming Hellboy reboot due to outcries of whitewashing. He was set to play a Japanese-American, and wasn’t even told his character was of that ethnicity.
This could either be a blip, or it could signal a coming shift. I pray it’s the latter.
I know, a lot of people might think, “it’s just movie,” but what kind of message does it send to audiences when people of color can’t even play themselves?