Hollywood’s problem with whitewashing has been going on for several decades and continues to persist into the modern era. What is whitewashing? According to Lester Andrist, a professor of sociology at the University of Maryland, the term refers to “the tendency of media to be dominated by white characters, played by white actors, navigating their way through a story that will likely resonate most deeply with white audiences, based on their experiences and worldviews.”
The perpetuation of whitewashing in Hollywood not only severely curtails opportunities for people of color in the industry, but also hinders the possibility of people of color seeing themselves represented on film.
Here are some of the many cases of whitewashing in the entertainment industry.
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The 2017 Netflix series “Death Note” was considered a whitewashing disaster.
Originally, “Death Note” was a manga turn anime series that Netflix decided to make into a live action adaptation. But instead of casting a Japanese actor to play the Japanese main character, the streaming service cast Nat Wolff, a non-Japanese actor, in the role. In fact, the Netflix adaptation included a majority white cast — and was almost immediately called out for it.
Tilda Swinton’s character in Marvel’s 2016 version of “Doctor Strange” is not white.
In the comic books, Ancient One is an elderly Asian man, so how did Tilda Swinton, a non-Asian, non-male-identified actor land the role in Marvel’s live-action film? In a statement to Mashable, the studio defended Swinton’s casting by saying “‘Ancient One’ is a title that is not exclusively held by any one character” — similar to James Bond. Nevertheless, Swinton and the movie itself were called out for whitewashing and continue to defend their casting decisions.
The ’60s musical “West Side Story” is a classic example of whitewashing.
In the 1961 film “West Side Story,” the character Maria, who is of Puerto Rican descent, was played by Russian-American actress Natalie Wood. Another character of Puerto Rican descent, Bernardo, was played by Greek-American actor George Chakiris. To make things even worse, Rita Moreno, who is of Puerto Rican descent, was forced to wear brownface.
Although it’s too late to change the original film, upcoming “West Side Story” revivals will reportedly be cast with actors of appropriate ethnicities.