Whitewashing

For this semester, I will write about the lack of Asian actors in Hollywood and how the whitewashing of their roles is unfair and needs to stop.

Asians don’t get much screen time in film and television shows, and the main reason this is happening is because their roles are being given to white actors—also known as whitewashing. This has been going on for years and needs to be addressed in order for it to stop. It shouldn’t be okay for a white person to play the role of an Asian; we wouldn’t let white actors try to pass as a black person, so why is it okay for them to play as Asians? The most common roles Asians are cast in are the token characters who are present to make the cast a bit more diverse, but Hollywood won’t succeed just by adding a single Person of Color (POC). Usually Asians are used as a punchline, stereotype, or typically both and it’s getting really old. It’s time for them to play actual third-dimensional characters that are used for more than a prop.

This topic is obviously important to Asians, especially those pursuing careers in media—like me. I want to work in television, but I can clearly see the playing field is against me before I’ve even started. It’s really important to bring this whitewashing problem to light, since it’s highly offensive and it doesn’t give Asian actors a chance to prove themselves since they can’t get any roles. Hollywood likes to paint the same picture on all our screens and show us a world where the majority of the cast is Caucasian. We, as a society, should be getting fed up with this portrayal because we know how colorful and diverse the real world is and depicting a white world with a sprinkle of POC isn’t accurate. People need to read about whitewashing so they can realize how big of a problem it actually is, how often it happens, and how we can solve this issue together. The media has such a big influence on the world and they can be using that power for good if they start to change for the better. Discrimination in Hollywood stems from its fear about anything that deviates from the norm won’t sell. We know that this is wrong as more shows with diverse casts are succeeding, like Fresh Off the Boat and Master of None.

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Alison Brie voicing Diane Nguyen in Bojack Horseman; Photo Courtesy: IGN

Whitewashing has been called the new yellowface and has been happening recently and doesn’t seem to stop. For example, Scarlett Johansson is playing a character called Motoko Kusanagi from a Japanese anime, Emma Stone portrayed the half-Asian Allison Ng in Aloha, and for some reason, a movie about the Great Wall of China is starring Matt Damon—because he’s definitely the first guy that comes to mind when you think about the Great Wall. Even in Netflix’s Bojack Horseman, the character of Diane Nguyen—an assimilated Asian-American woman—is voiced by Alison Brie. Even though it’s just a cartoon with talking animals and she’s a great character and we never see the face of the voice actress, it’s still a role that could have easily gone to an Asian American. Most Asians who are born and raised in this country don’t have an accent—something I can personally attest to. A study based on a sample of films in 2014 found that only 1.4 percent of lead characters were Asian, since roles written for Asians keep getting whitewashed. Hollywood constantly whitewashes roles using the excuse that there aren’t enough Asian actors/actresses to fulfill the role required, but they obviously aren’t looking hard enough and are just a part of the problem by trying not to fix it.

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Tilda Swinton as The Ancient One, Emma Stone as Allison Ng, and Scarlett Johansson as Motoko Kusanagi; Photo Courtesy: The Hollywood Reporter

There are some questions I hope to answer about this topic in the future that will shed more light on whitewashing. Is Hollywood even attempting to change and hiring Asian actors in fleshed out roles? Why do they keep hiring white people for Asian roles and what are they hoping to accomplish by doing this? Do we really need a movie about the Great Wall of China starring Matt Damon?

 

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