White is the New Asian… According to Hollywood

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.

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Hollywood adaptation of Ghost in the Shell

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.

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Aang as interpreted in the film

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.

Hollywood Adaptation of Dragon Ball Z

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.

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Classic whitewashing in Hollywood

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.






2 thoughts on “White is the New Asian… According to Hollywood

Add yours

  1. Using a topic such as Hollywood and whitewashing is something I can understand. Seeing your take on this, as well as your discoveries is very well accepted. Having recent movies such as “Ghost In The Shell” definitely brings a great amount of interest within those in the pop culture community. Clearly pointing out that a pure Japanese character is being played by someone who is in fact white brings to light issues with directors in Hollywood. You describe how whitewashing tarnishes the original stories, as they were written specifically with Asian characters. Your work shows a definitive sign of understanding problems that occur when asian things are brought into the States.
    ~Leo Bautista


  2. This is the topic that would get me fired up no matter what people would say to justify their answers about white washing in the entertainment industry. I don’t understand why they cannot case the people of color to play the character that should be represented by. The movie industry should know that they are going to get backlash so why do it still. You gave off the list near the end of your statement of what should be done for backlash not to happen such as “originally made to be people of color, as people of color by hiring the corresponding ethnicity”. This is like the responds I would have. White washing stories that people of color have such a connection with ruins the originally and the culture.
    -Christina Lee


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