11 outraging cases of modern Hollywood whitewashing

You’d think that, with it being 2017 and all, whitewashing, blackface and yellowface were buried deep in the ground... right?
Think again.

It’s not just companies like Nivea and Dove slipping up and doing ads for soap or skin cream turning people white (so, like, literally white-washing)…it’s a big, big deal in Hollywood.

Yep, in this day and age just like at  the beginning of the past century, La La Land still casts white actors to play non-white characters – and addresses it through prosthetics and makeup, or simply rewriting the character and erasing their color.

Here you have some of the best (worst? 🤔) examples from the modern era.

1. Scarlett Johansson in Ghost in the Shell

Scarlett Johansson in Ghost in the Shell.
Scarlett Johansson is not Japanese. Sorry. Photos: Paramount Pictures/Shochiku

Proof that whitewashing is alive and well in 2017: Scarlett Johansson playing Major Motoko Kusanagi in Ghost in the Shell.

Guess Asian kick-ass actresses were just not interested in the role…

It’s hard to choose just one example of anime or manga though. Another recent offender would be the entire fricking Netflix version of Death Note. From Tokyo to Seattle? Really? Then there’s Dragonball, the latest controversy about the Hellboy reboot (kudos to Ed Skrein for opting to leave his role)…the list goes on.

2. Jim Sturgess in Cloud Atlas

Jim Sturgess with yellowface in Cloud Atlas
We get that Cloud Atlas was making a point about souls through time and space…But REALLY?  Photos: Wikimedia Commons/Focus Features

In 1956, one tight pull of eye tape and loads of really bad makeup turned John Wayne into Genghis Khan.

But we don’t do yellowface anymore….right?

Wrong! This look made an ill-advised comeback as recently as 2012 for major motion picture Cloud Atlas, trying to turn British actor Jim Sturgess Korean. And it looks bad.

3. Russell Crowe (and like, everyone) in Noah

Russell Crowe as Noah
So holy. So white. Photo: Paramount Pictures

Now that’s a sin. (But unfortunately not an uncommon one – check out every character in Exodus: Gods and Kings. When will white people accept that people in the ancient Middle East simply weren’t white?)

4. Benedict Cumberbatch in Star Trek: Into Darkness

Benedict Cumberbatch in Star Trek: Into Darkness
Benedict is beautiful, but…so white. Photos: Paramount Pictures/CBS

With a name like Khan Noonien Singh, what can go wrong? Oh. Putting a glaringly white British guy in an obviously Indian role. That’s what.

Admittedly, the previous (and Emmy award-winning) Khan wasn’t actually Indian either – he was played by Mexican Ricardo Montalbán.  But Paramount had a chance with the new film to cast a great Indian actor – but they went white instead.

5. Carey Mulligan in Drive

Carey Mulligan's character in Drive
Wait, why couldn’t a Latina do this role? Photo: FilmDistrict

This is a fun one. Drive is based on a book where the character Irina was Latina. But guess what? The director apparently couldn’t find a Latina he “wanted to protect”. So he rewrote the part for mousey little Mulligan. Hmmm.

6. Juliette Binoche in The 33

Juliette Binoche in The 33
Juliette Binoche vs the real Maria Segovia. Photo: Warner Bros Pictures

Fair-skinned French woman Juliette Binoche was cast as real-life woman María Segovia, the sister of a Chilean miners trapped underground for 69 days.

7. Jake Gyllenhaal as the Prince of …”Persia”?

Jake Gyllenhaal in Prince of Persia: Sands of Time
Hot? Debatable. Persian? Definitely not. Photo: Walt Disney Studios


(Gyllenhaal is American with Swedish and English descent.)

8. Main characters of The Last Airbender

Photo: Paramount Pictures (again)/Nickelodeon

Isn’t it funny how all the good guys got paler but the villains remained dark skinned? 😒 The lead protagonists in the original series were of Asian or Inuit descent. But in Shamylan’s version – they’re all white.

9. Rooney Mara in Pan

Rooney Mara as Tiger Lily
It’s like the one non-white role in the whole story…  Photos: Warner Bros. Pictures/1878 photograph by L. A Huffman

Tiger Lily is the only non-white character of significance in Peter Pan. So naturally when Warner Bros remade the film, they made her – white. Rooney Mara has Irish, French, German, and Italian heritage – but Native American? Nope.

10. Jennifer Lawrence in The Hunger Games

Jennifer Lawrence
Katniss is described as dark in the book. This is not dark.

Ok…no one’s bashing J Law specifically. She played the role beautifully. BUT, given that the books refer multiple times to Katniss Everdeen’s “olive skin and dark hair”, it’s a bit disconcerting that the casting call asked specifically for Caucasians. Actually, forget disconcerting. It’s fucked up.

11. Michael Jackson played by…wait for it… Joseph Fiennes.

Joseph Fiennes as Michael Jackson.
Who thought this was a good idea? Photos: Sky Arts/Francesco

Ok, so Sky Arts pulled this episode of Urban Myths after the (well-deserved) public outcry. But who thought this was a good idea in the first place?

Bonus: Naomi Scott in Disney’s Aladdin

Naomi Scott is British with Indian descent – not Arabic. Photos: Wikimedia Commons/Walt Disney

For the upcoming live-action remake of Aladdin, Disney claimed they were “not going to do Prince of Persia”… And good for them, they’re not! They found an actor with Egyptian descent to play the main role, and we’re ecstatic about that.

But the casting for Jasmine has raised concerns of whitewashing, or at least “colorism”. Sure, Naomi Scott is kinda brown, thanks to her Indian descent. But…she’s Indian-British. Not Arabic at all. Jasmine was an Arab princess.

Do better, Disney. Do better.


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