White washing in Hollywood

Entertainment business still resists to diversify the big screen

Culture

Written by Jakob Wood 

You would think a nation referred to as a melting pot of cultures would produce movies that reflect its diversity, yet Hollywood continues to prove otherwise.

Within less than a week of each other, both “Ghost in the Shell” and “Power Rangers” released images sporting white actresses in ethnic roles.

Elizabeth Banks’ costume for the 2017 Power Rangers reboot sparked negative responses for its lack of the classic look established by the TV shows. There’s absolutely no resemblance to Rita Repulsa, the original villain of the Power Rangers, whether it be the costume itself or the actress playing the role.

The pressing issue is not with Banks, but rather the fact that the role of Rita Repulsa has historically been played by Asian and Hispanic actresses.

It’s bad enough that Power Rangers was originally a Japanese franchise re-cut for American use. But erasing an ethnic character’s identity for the sake of promoting a movie with a big-time actress is unforgivable.

The disconnection from the original character may be the reason this issue has remained mostly under wraps. If Banks had appeared in Rita Repulsa’s iconic look, I’m sure the whitewashing at hand would have been much more obvious to the general public.

Is the reason that Hollywood lacks diversity because there aren’t as many actors of color or because Hollywood refuses to cast actors of color in the roles they are qualified for?

Issues of racism and cultural appropriation have been at the forefront of pop culture for quite a few years now, yet the entertainment industry hasn’t learned a thing.

In short, cultural appropriation is one culture’s use and even adoption of elements that belong to another.

In the case of “Ghost in the Shell,” an American adaption of a Japanese manga, Scarlett Johansson was cast because “she’s a proven action star thanks to her place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and her sheer presence [has] ensured ticket sales,” speculates the Verge.  

This case is actually worse than that of the “Power Rangers.” “Ghost in the Shell” has always been set in Japan and the main character, known as The Major, has always been Japanese, yet the producers of this movie completely ignore those facts.

Replacing ethnic actors with white actors prevents people of color (P.O.C.) from being perceived as complex, compelling or important. What we see on the big screen reflects real life notions. If P.O.C. aren’t fit for movies then what are they fit for?

The solution to this dilemma is simple. First, acknowledge that there is an issue at hand and second, cast P.O.C.. “Star Wars” did it, and of all the franchises out there they had the most to lose.

Television has been even more progressive, with 2015 sparking massive discussion on diversified roles. Shows like “Empire,” “Scandal,” “How to Get Away With Murder” and “Fresh Off the Boat” have proven that viewers do in fact enjoy racial variation.

Yet 2016 brought one of the most painful examples of this whitewashing trend with Lionsgate’s movie “Gods of Egypt.” The movie stars an almost entirely white cast, save for a single black actor who didn’t even serve in a lead role. There should be no question why this is an issue. Either the casting directors took the fantasy element too far or they knew absolutely nothing about human geography.

I’m sure the gods of a nation located in Africa would mirror the complexion of the natives who worshiped them.

This ignorant trend of whitewashing movies is nothing new. White people have been playing roles of every nationality since movies have called for ethnic roles. They have gone as far as to adding prosthetic makeup to the faces of actors in order to darken their skin or alter the shape of their eyes.

It would be far more convenient if, I don’t know, P.O.C. played their respective roles.