“No more whitewashing!” The outcry about films like The Last Airbender, Argo, Cloud Atlas, Prince of Persia, 30 Days of Night, Noah, Exodus: Gods and Kings, Avengers: Age of Ultron and now Aloha is quite simple. Stop “whitewashing” people and tell their stories truthfully.
Whitewashing: When Caucasians are hired to play roles that were intended for People of Color (POC).
While Cameron Crowe issued a heartfelt apology, welcoming feedback from viewers and Ridley Scott pointed out that hiring unknown actors wouldn’t be good business for the ‘Exodus’ film, the problem isn’t really with them. It’s with the entire system.
Unfortunately, this is a complicated issue, and no matter how many of us wish the Maximoff Twins had been played by people of Romani-Jewish descent, or that Exodus and The Last Airbender had paid attention to geography and history and hired POC, the “whitewashing” problem isn’t just about one thing.
Perhaps one of the biggest hurdles actors face is that of education. While Hollywood does tend to focus on new, young stars for their looks, it is true that training will go a long way in creating a self-sustaining career. Acting schools, however, aren’t cheap, nor are they available everywhere. The best training (which involves making connections) needs to be done in areas where films and television are being made. If you don’t live in New York, L.A., or Vancouver B.C., there aren’t as many chances you’ll get a quality education.
There’s also a lack of opportunity. With the majority of films and television being produced in California and British Columbia, there aren’t many other areas where people can audition. Some people are lucky and get discovered, others move to L.A. and wait tables while awaiting their big break, and some people are born into the business, or close enough to it to get a head start.
The city is inhabited by pretty even numbers of Caucasian, Latino and Hispanic people, but only 11% or so of the population is Asian, and less than 10% are of African heritage. Well, that’s not exactly encouraging, and especially not for those individuals who don’t count themselves in any of these groups, such as indigenous peoples (American Indians, Polynesians, etc.).
This already puts people of color at a disadvantage, in every way possible. Hollywood is run by white executives, stories funded by white producers, and told by white writers. White actors take most of the work and therefore are more likely to win awards.
Deep below these surface problems is the issue of internalized racism. This is the ugliest one, and the most pernicious, because many people are simply oblivious and those that aren’t often turn a blind eye. Hollywood’s standard of beauty shapes which females are fit for lead roles, and Caucasian standards of beauty, at least at this point, don’t include dark skin, brown eyes, and natural hair (or if they do, they are to be accompanied by large assets in the north and/or the south).
The issue with movies like ‘Aloha’ and ‘Exodus: Gods and Kings’ is that business is business, and we can’t change the way we do business overnight. If actors win roles that were intended for POCs, should they take it with the determination to respect the role, which might be more than another actor would do, or should they refuse roles until POCs are given their due?
While I would love to see a mass refusal to participate in internalized racism, or a movement to train people of color in the film and television industries,, I don’t see it happening any time in the near future. However, we can still do something. We can celebrate POC and their stories by rooting out our own internalized racism, engaging in conversation over social media, supporting the voices of people of color when calling out problematic behavior in the industry, and watching films and shows that highlight authentic portrayals, like this list of 115 films made and/or acted in by women of color. Most importantly, we can buy tickets, merchandise, films, and TV shows/episodes to encourage Hollywood to make POC stories part of the story stable.
Put your money where your mouth is, because that’s the only language Hollywood understands.Image Credits: Columbia Pictures, Marvel