Whitewashing and the Monetary Excuse in Blockbusters and Indies

With the exclusively white nominations of the 2015 Oscars and the recent casting of Zendaya in the upcoming “Spider-Man: Homecoming” movie, the issues of racial representation and diversity in the media have been subjects of major debate. Specifically, the whitewashing of recent films has left moviegoers frustrated with the constant erasure of people of color and their stories. Whitewashing, the casting of white actors to play originally non-white roles, has occurred consistently throughout the history of film. With the rise of political correctness and social justice, the issue of whitewashing has been the center of discussion in conversations on the growth of racial tensions and inequality.

zendaya_by_gage_skidmorevia Gage Skidmore/wikipedia.org

In the scope of the blockbusters vs. indies debate, blockbuster films are the main culprit, prioritizing white audiences and potential profit over representation and historical accuracy.  Recent examples include “Stonewall,” “Gods of Egypt,” “Aloha” and the  upcoming “Ghost in the Shell.” By whitewashing these roles, the film industry fails to acknowledge the inherent cultural aspects of these stories.

As the film industry continues to cast white, brand name actors instead of people of color, the general public grows more willing to call out the industry for its racism. In the upcoming Marvel installment “Doctor Strange,” Tilda Swinton, a white woman, was cast to play a Tibetan sorcerer.  When Marvel received negative criticism from the public, the writers of the movie tried to defend their decision by explaining that casting a Tibetan actor would upset Chinese audiences due to the tense relationship between the two countries. In short, the profits from China, the second largest box office in the world, is more important to Marvel than the accurate representation of East Asian characters and the diversity of the media.

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When it comes to independent films, whitewashing isn’t always as easy to pinpoint. While indie films are generally more willing to cast a more diverse group of actors, their roles and stories typically aren’t written for people of color. Sometimes indie films fail to cast any people of color, but are excused under the guise of a lack of funding and resources. With a budget of only $1 million, “Palo Alto” failed to cast any people of color, but somehow managed to hire James Franco and Emma Roberts, two high-profile actors. Although none of the roles in the film were written for people of color, the film neglected to represent Palo Alto’s non-white community, which accounts for one-third of its population. The problem lies in the fact that the writing teams for these movies are limited and often fail to account for diversity and representation.

The issue with whitewashing coincides with the growing racial tensions of the modern world. As issues of racism continue to be topics of public and political conversation, the accurate representation of people of color is more important now than it has ever been. Without a realistic portrayal, audiences of color are limited in terms of relatable characters and actors. Finding people with similar experiences and struggles is an important part of understanding their identities. With the rise of social justice, it is important for people to speak up against the whitewashing of our media in order to prevent the inherent problems causing racism within our society.

Email Ryan Quan at [email protected]

Check out the rest of the Arts Issue here.

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