The #OscarsSoWhite hashtag trended during the 2016 Oscars. 2016. Think about that. This is supposed to be one of the most progressive industries in America. If they can’t practise what they preach, should we be surprised when other industries also display a massive dissonance between what they say on their HR pages and what they actually do in practice?
Yet despite greater awareness of the lack of diversity in casting – as well as in all the other functions involved in film-making – major studios continue to churn out movies with central characters rewritten to suit white actors (Ghost in the Shell anyone?)
Below are 3 times Hollywood took it to a whole new level:
The Last Airbender (2010)
Currently chiming in with a frankly generous 6% on Rotten Tomatoes, The Last Airbender directed by non-recovering twist-aholic M Night Shyamalan is based on an animated series where all the main characters are quite clearly living in either Asian or Inuit-influenced cultures. Yet all the main casting choices were white actors. Except for the bad guy.
Short Circuit (1986)
Anyone who’s been enjoying Master of None on Netflix will have had this piece of ‘80s whitewashing beamed back into their consciousness. If you haven’t seen the episode ‘’Indians on TV’’ you should as it’s both enlightening and extremely hilarious.
If you haven’t seen the film, basically one of the characters who creates everyone’s favourite cinematic Robot pre Wall-E is called Ben Jabituya. He has a very strong Indian accent. It’s really very strong (from 1 min). The actor playing him is called Fisher Stevens. You probably remember him from that Friends episode ‘The One with the Boobies’. And you probably remember how he isn’t Indian.
Dr Strange (2016)
We all love Tilda Swinton. She pretty much elevates anything she stars in. But with so few roles perfectly pitched for older Asian actors, did she really have to swoop in and take the role of The Ancient One in Marvel’s Dr Strange? And to those who say it’s a win for feminism because they hired a female over a male (in the comics TAO is a man from Kamar-Taj) – sure, but why not just cast Michelle Yeoh? She’d have killed it!
So what’re your worst instances of whitewashing in Hollywood? Should one of these have been omitted for Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014)? Or perhaps Alec Guinness’s Arab Prince Faisal in the historical epic Lawrence of Arabia (1962) is where the buck stops for you. Let us know in the comments below.