The Problem of Whitewashing

Tuesday’s class was so stimulating for me because we got to talk about the problem with whitewashing Middle Eastern and Asian culture and cultural appropriation in general. As someone who stays in touch with movie news, one of the major problems I think the industry has is whitewashing people who are originally supposed to be Asian. Two recent examples of this are the casting of Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One in Doctor Strange and Scarlett Johansson as Major in the movie adaptation of a popular Japanese Manga called Ghost in the Shell. Both characters would be huge representations for Asian people, specifically women, in media today, but instead the movie decided to cast popular white actresses. I have more of a problem with the casting of Johansson in Ghost in the Shell though, because this comic is huge in Asia so it would only be fair for the main character to be an Asian woman, like it is in the comics. The only reason they wanted Johansson is because she is a big name in Hollywood today, but this movie will end up alienating its main audience – Asian’s – because they will see that this character they already love is white.

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Asian women are severely under represented in movies today – the last movie I saw with a somewhat main Asian character in it was Suicide Squad, and while the actress who played her was racially correct, she only had three lines of dialogue throughout the whole movie! Her character, Katana, is supposed to be a main member of the Suicide Squad, but has so little screen time that I think most of the audience forgot she was even there. Her introduction was rushed, she shows up out of literally no where and her backstory is told to the other members of the team by who is supposed to be the white male leader of the group in about two lines of dialogue. She does not even get to utter her own name, the white guy does it, even though she is perfectly capable of speaking for herself and can speak in English since one of her three lines are in English. Two other Asian female characters who got this treatment were Jubilee and Psylocke in X:Men Apocalypse. While, Jubilee ultimately uttered more lines than Katana got to, no one even mentions her by name throughout the whole movie. She is just there as part of the young X:Men. Psylocke is treated even worse with only two lines of dialogue. And while, she is included in an action scene unlike Jubilee, her outfit is so skimpy and unpractical for someone to actually fight in.

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In fact, I think the only major Asian actress that I can think of in Hollywood today is Lucy Liu, and I do not even know if she has been in any movies recently. So as you can already tell, whitewashing’s only purpose is to get white people to invest their time and money into whatever a movie, airline ticket, purses, clothing, perfume, and other ads are trying to sell, yet they do not keep in mind that they are misrepresenting Asian culture and ultimately won’t care if they do as long as they get plenty of money.

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5 thoughts on “The Problem of Whitewashing

  1. I agree there is an extreme lack in Asian representation in Hollywood films and television. There are only a few faces that we see over and over again and it’s supposed to satisfy the ‘minimum’ Asian representation. But I definitely feel as though in the past few years, people have become more vocal about it and there has been a much larger representation of either Asian actors/actresses or just Movies and TV that surround Asian-based storylines.

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  2. I think white washing is such a problem in Hollywood, and I am glad that the Asian community speaks against it. Representation in media is so incredibly important in socializing and developing the people, especially the youth, who interact with it. A significant number of people idolize those they see on television, the internet, in movies, and through books, and if there are only Caucasian people portraying all different ethnicities, then that is who they will forever envision and look up to. Representation of all races is vital in setting different ideologies, beauty standards, and mentalities; without an exposure to other cultures, people have a narrow view of the world. Although it has been finally addressed, I think Hollywood still has a lot more work to do to deliver accurate and revolutionary results.

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  3. I also have a problem with the whitewashing of characters in the media. I think that all types races should be represented accurately and to their fullest potential to really show the beauty of all the cultures that the world has to offer. so may people grow up to find their identities based on what the media has to offer and when people can’t find those connections, they feel disconnected and different. There is definitely a lack of Asian representation in media and when there actually is someone who is Asian, their features are dulled with whitewashing characteristics.

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  4. I ,too, have been appalled by the prevalence of white washing in the Hollywood and TV industry. Representation of people of color is so rare in our society, and whatever representation they do receive is not appropriate or profound enough. Sometimes it seems that people of color are even cast purely for the creators and directors of the project to say that they show diversity, but they fail to portray the complexity that such characters deserve. It is Hollywood’s cheap way of saying that their desire for profit is more valuable than the much-needed portrayal of minority groups in a predominantly white society. I do agree that it is a major flaw in our society today and with the amount of discrimination and bigotry that is existent in the minds of people, it will continue to be a problem for quite some time. Only with forward thinking can we, as a society, take the progressive strides needed to represent all of those that live in our diverse country.

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  5. Whitewashing has definitely always been huge problem in media, and thankfully this issue has been brought to light more in recent years. However, one form of whitewashing that you mentioned is the fact that when they do decide to give people of color roles, they tend to have minimal lines or play a minimal role in the movie. Like you mentioned, Katana in Suicide Squad barely had any lines! And she didn’t even get to introduce herself, another male character spoke for her even though she’s more than capable of introducing herself. This is one part to whitewashing that most people don’t discuss, because they feel as if people of color should be satisfied they even got a role in the first place.

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