[(right) Tilda Swinton is seen backstage during the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Spring/Summer 2015 at Erika Hess Eisstadion on July 10, 2014 in Berlin, Germany. |Photo Credit: Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images, (left) An alternative view of actress Scarlett Johansson as she attends the ‘Under The Skin’ Premiere during the 70th Venice International Film Festival on September 3, 2013 in Venice, Italy. |Photo Credit: Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images]
Mainstream media is finally catching up with Hollywood’s misogynistic practice of whitewashing. The concept isn’t new in the industry—white actors are often cast in roles originally conceived for Asian actors. Most recently, Tilda Swinton was cast as The Ancient One in Marvel’s upcoming movie “Doctor Strange” starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Chiwitel Ejiofor. The casting of Scarlett Johannson as Major Kusanagi in the adaptation of Manga’s “Ghost in the Shell” has also sparked an outrage. In both the original comics, these fantastic roles were Asian. So, why is a white person playing them?
There is no better time than right now to address this diversity issues. The media, members of the industry (especially Asian-American), and the consumers of these films are being vocal about this approach. Indian actors such as Mindy Kaling and Aziz Ansari had to literally create their own shows (“The Mindy Project” and “Master of None”) to really leave a mark because the characters they were playing earlier (Kaling starred in “The Office,” Ansari starred in “Parks and Recreation”) weren’t three-dimensional or were still not considered the main leads.
Only recently has the perception towards Asian-Americans on television begun to shift—but with a seriously staggering progress. Whether it’s Priyanka Chopra on “Quantico” or Constance Wu in “Fresh off the Boat,” network television is grasping the intensity of success that shows focused on or starring Asian actors can bring. On a larger scale aka the movie, #OscarsSoWhite further intensified this issue when the Academy Awards nominees were only white actors for two straight years… in 2016!
[Read Related: “Priyanka Chopra, South Asians Make Impact at 88th Academy Awards Despite #OscarsSoWhite“]
Leading Asian-American stars and their fans are using social media to address their views on this issue and on being #WhiteWashedOut:
Is there a solution for any of this? The only way to find one is to first identify where the problem begins. Is the reason for not casting Asian actors in these pivotal roles because no other Hollywood star of Asian descent might be as famous or well-known as say Johannson or Swinton? And more importantly, why aren’t Asian-American actors, who are filled with equal amounts of talent, more famous? We’ll never get the chance to know. Big productions want to bank on high-ranking stars to help their movie cruise through the box office, no matter the compromises they are forced to make. Based on the critical reaction, however, it seems like that excuse is not going to work anymore.
Bollywood also has a similar trajectory when it comes to stereotyping or not being inclusive. For example, the Akshay Kumar-Kareena Kapoor starrer “Kambakht Ishqq” was shot in Los Angeles because the protagonist was a stunt man in Hollywood films. Most of his girlfriends, including a cameo by Denise Richards, were portrayed as total bimbos. Movies such as “Love Aaj Kal,” “Salaam Namaste,” and more also follow suit with this stereotype of foreigners. There are exceptions, of course, like “Rang De Basanti” and “Salaam-e-Ishq,” just like Hollywood has exceptions too with Lucy Liu in “Charlie’s Angels” and “Elementary” or John Cho and Kal Penn in “Harold & Kumar.” Sadly, these exceptions are too few and the whitewashing is too high. In fact, in order to revolt, the Internet started the
There are exceptions, of course, such as “Rang De Basanti” and “Salaam-e-Ishq” (where the white characters have both depth and a meaningful storyline), in a similar way that Hollywood has exceptions with Lucy Liu in “Charlie’s Angels” and “Elementary” or John Cho and Kal Penn in “Harold & Kumar.” Sadly, these exceptions are too few and the whitewashing is too high. In fact, in order to revolt, the Internet started the #StarringJohnCho campaign and replaced the posters of best-selling movies with his face to show how crucial this situation is and that we need to respect Asian-American actors—not just cast them in minority roles.
Diversity is more than just a buzzword. Representation of diversity is important because it reflects who we are as a society. The media we consume is larger than we imagine because it has the power to change perception. Therefore, it’s important to think—how can we really just replace Asian-American actors or characters with ease?