By: Alana Mirikitani
Whitewashing. What is it? Exactly how it sounds. When the presence of any person of color is completely washed out. In this issue specifically, it pertains to Hollywood’s actions in many films originally involving Asian characters.
There have been various films throughout history that have shown the presence of whitewashing certain characters originally meant to be played by Asians. One recent example is Ghost in the Shell, featuring Scarlett Johansson. In this film, she plays a character whose name is Motoku Kusanagi, who is clearly Japanese. The film also derives from a popular manga series in Japan. It literally, couldn’t have a more Asian origin. The story line itself was completely changed in order to appeal to the western audience. What is completely appalling, is that they had another character played by a White actor who would have originally been Japanese.
An even more blatant example of whitewashing would be with the film adaptation of Avatar: The Last Air Bender in 2010. This movie was an adaptation of the popular Nickelodeon series that went by the same name. In this series, there were four tribes set in an Asiatic-like world: water, fire, earth, and air. In the movie, it appears almost as if all of the good guys are White and all of the bad guys are people of color. Even the main protagonist is played by a young white boy named Noah Ringer. The fire nation, which is seen as the antagonistic group throughout the film was played by a South Asian cast. While M. Night Shyamalan might not have meant to pin color against white, he certainly did. This upholds the criminalization of people of color in media. All of these characters, originally were meant to be played as Asian characters. From their wardrobe, to their fighting styles, it was obvious that all of the characters, within their nations, were supposed to belong to different Asian denominations.
I mean, is it really that hard to stay true to the original characters? Having a different adaptation to a story through film doesn’t have to mean whitewashing a cast.
There are many more examples of Hollywood interpretations that whitewash originally Asian casts; however, the importance behind this is that these roles are being taken away from a minority group. For decades, White people have dominated the theater screens. Ethnic minorities have constantly been discriminated against during casting for roles. So, why are originally Asian characters, being cast with White people? This can go back to the common tradition of only White people being wealthy enough to go to theaters to see films. This has been carried out today, although many people of color see Hollywood movies.
Why is the knowledge of whitewashing important? It brings light to the discrimination in Hollywood whether it’s casting, or making minority characters the villains. Hollywood often portrays people of color as either non-existent, or evil. This sets many stereotypes for minorities, and reinforces others that have already been set in place. The underrepresentation of minorities in media is completely unjustified and often overlooked by many filmmakers. Acknowledging whitewashing identifies the problem within the misinterpretation and underrepresentation of ethnic minorities. After identifying a problem, the next step is to solve it.
So, how can this issue be fixed? Cast ethnic minorities properly, without giving into negative stereotypes. Keep the characters, originally made to be people of color, as people of color by hiring the corresponding ethnicity. Over all, Hollywood needs to stop resorting to whitewashing as the norm for casting within films. This especially goes for stories that were written with the intent of having certain ethnic characters.
Considering the diverse groups of people that support Hollywood through box office, and merchandise sales, these films should be more racially inclusive.