Whitewashing

Saturday 30th April 2016

In the last week or so, the first look at “Ghost In The Shell”- a Hollywood adaptation of a manga by the same name – has been released. The main character, Motoko Kusanagi is explicitly Japanese so I was beyond surprised when images were released of Scarlett Johansson, a white American woman, playing the leading role. This practise of ‘whitewashing’ in films is no more rare than it is acceptable. Emma Stone was cast to play a Chinese-Hawaiian character in aloha, despite being a white American. Jake Gyllenhaal played a Persian character, Dastan, despite being, again, a white American. This practise, as well as being common, is also not recent. Mickey Rooney, a (you guessed it) white man, was cast to play the Japanese neighbour Mr Yunioshi in Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

Whitewashing is not a problem that should be swept under the rug, it is not just a matter of poor casting, but a matter of underlying racism.  There is already so little positive representation of people of colour in films that taking roles away and giving them to white actors is disgusting. Whitewashing sends out the message that white actors/actresses are better than those of colour. The message that the stories of poc are unimportant and can be erased.

As well as the moral problems associated with whitewashing, it just doesn’t make good economic sense. There have been numerous films in recent years that have been commercial failures due, in part, to whitewashing. Aloha, Prince of Persia and the infamous Avatar:The Last Airbender were all ‘flops’ at the box office. Now, this may be partly down to other factors such as a poor script or poor acting, but it is also due to the increasing awareness amongst the public of the problems associated with whitewashing. People are increasingly looking to buy things, whether it be a cinema ticket or a pint of milk, that align with their own ethical and moral stance. By including whitewashing in a film, you alienate a section of the public whose values stand against this undercover racism.

It’s about time we start not only holding casting directors responsible, but criticising white actors/actresses who accept these roles. I am a huge fan of many of Scarlett Johansson’s previous work (especially as Black Widow in Avengers and Captain America) but I find myself having lost a large portion of the respect which I had given to her. She consciously accepted this whitewashed role. It could not have been more obvious that the role was to play a Japanese character and yet she accepted. It’s time we start holding individuals in Hollywood responsible for the choices they make, instead of only blaming the companies that cast them. I still view Scarlett Johansson as a talented actress, but I will not be watching Ghost In The Shell, I will not condone whitewashing.

For more insight into how little representation poc get in films, check out “everysinglewordspoken” on tumblr.

Drink some water, give someone a hug, take 5 minutes to just sit quietly and relax. Take care of yourself x

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