Whitewashing Episode IV: No Hope

If you’re not familiar with the term white washing, allow me to give you a brief definition:

Whitewashing is the casting practice in which white actors are cast in historically nonwhite character roles. — Fucking Wikipedia
(Photo courtesy of moviepilot.com)

Some people might excuse this practice as being non-discriminatory, “color-blind” casting. In reality it is anything but.

In the popular book series “The Hunger Games”, Katniss Everdeen is described as having “olive skin” and “straight black hair”. In the casting call, however, the studio requested Caucasian actresses to audition for the role.

The description of Katniss’ ethnicity is very vague, and actually allowed for a multitude of people to identify with her, yet Hollywood decided to only ask for white actresses to play her.

This is not a singular occurrence. In “Pan” a VERY Native American character named “Tiger Lily” was played by a VERY white actress named Rooney Mara. There was outrage at this casting, and people called to boycott the movie for the blatant erasure of Native Americans. Thankfully, even people who didn’t care about the white washing didn’t see the movie, as it bombed at the box office.

More recently Scarlett Johansson was cast as Major Motoko Kusanagi in the live-action adaptation of Ghost in the Shell, a popular anime film based on a manga. Below is a comparison of the two characters courtesy of ScreenCrush.

Getty Images/Kodansha Comics USA

You may be thinking to yourself: “What the actual fuck?”

Don’t worry, you are not alone.

The internet has been blowing up as new images are released of ScarJo playing the role of Kusanagi. While many people are enraged at Hollywood’s inability to cast an Asian actress, there are others that don’t see a problem with it. Thus a debate started across the internet about whether or not this was an erasure of Asian, specifically Japanese, people and media.

That debate was swiftly ended as it was revealed that the studio experimented with digitally making actors look “more Asian”.

Suddenly (almost) everyone was on the same page: The creators of the film acknowledged that the characters were supposed to be Asian, yet consciously cast white people in those roles.

Instead of casting actual Japanese people, the studio would rather spend money to digitally alter someone’s appearance to make them look Japanese.

The problem is much larger than Scarlett Johansson and the “Ghost in the Shell” movie. In truth, it’s larger than just the entertainment industry.

There are systems in place that erase the existence of marginalized people. (That’s why they’re marginalized.) These systems exist on a large scale, all over the world.

White people co-opting black trends. Magazines editing a model of color’s skin to look lighter. Trivializing feminist issues. Attacking a trans* person for simply existing.

We live in a world in which people are systematically oppressed, yet many do nothing to combat it.

Honestly, I don’t have the answers on how to dismantle these oppressive systems. But I do know that I cannot rely on cishet white men to do it. I cannot be dependent on my oppressors to end their oppression, especially when many are unconscious of it.

What I can do is continue to create opportunities to highlight marginalized people. I can stop supporting institutions that don’t support me. I can actively speak against injustice.

I can do something. I have to do something.