Hollywood. The year is 2016. The films are still whitewashed. The concept of race is still lost to this industry. Since the beginning of Western film, Hollywood has struggled (or ignored) the portrayals of the distinct and unique races and ethnicities that grace the silver screen. Many consider Hollywood to have evolved and progressed into a more multiracial industry but they are, ultimately, wrong. Whilst white and black actors and actresses take dominion over the movie world, they seem to be somewhat blind to the depictions of their Asiatic and Middle-Eastern counterparts. In a world where there are plenty of actors of different races to take on roles, Hollywood remains indifferent.
1) Jake Gyllenhaal & Gemma Arterton – The Prince Of Persia
An age-old tale and globally successful video game series, The Prince of Persia was set to bring its legendary appeal to life and enthral viewers in another branch of the franchise; it was short-lived. Whilst most viewers seemed content with two of Hollywood’s hottest, neither Gyllenhaal or Arterton are of Middle-Eastern, specifically Persian origin. Jehanzeb Dar, a filmmaker of Iranian descent, had this to say about the casting choice:
It’s not only insulting to Persians, it’s also insulting to white people. It’s saying white people can’t enjoy movies unless the protagonist is white
Whilst some might shrug off the race representation, the mere fact that Iranian or Iranian-American actors weren’t cast for these roles is quite alarming. It would seem star power is more important…
2) Emma Stone – Aloha
Set on the island of Oahu in Hawaii, Aloha centres around the lives of three characters in typical American rom-com fashion. Whilst Bradley Cooper and Rachel McAdams characters were purely Caucasian, Emma Stone was cast as Captain Allison Ng, an Air Force liaison of Caucasian, Hawaiian and Chinese race.
Although the Chinese and Hawaiian heritage only added to half of her character’s racial background, Stone clearly did not possess any outward appearance or trait that might suggest her character’s ancestry. The film ultimately flopped in the box office, partially due to the backlash and controversy of casting a Caucasian actress to portray a mixed-race character. Stone later stated that she regretted the casting decision and addressed the issue of Hollywood’s well-known whitewashing herself, adding fuel to the fire that is the underwhelming ethnically-diverse film industry as it stands.
3) Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton, Sigourney Weaver & Aaron Paul – Exodus: Gods And Kings
Ridley Scott, a name that you will become familiar with in this article, was the force behind this epic production of the famed story of the life of Moses. Telling the tale from his humble beginning to his rebellion against the Egyptians, Scott took monumental measures to make the film as tremendous and visually stunning as he could…except in the casting department.
The lead character of Moses was portrayed by Bale (a Welsh actor) whilst the character of Ramasses II was played by Edgerton (an Australian actor); another case of Middle-Eastern characters being portrayed by Caucasian actors. Weaver and Paul also portrayed characters outside of their ethnicity. When asked about the controversy behind the casting in his Variety interview, Scott stated:
I can’t mount a film of this budget, where I have to rely on tax rebates in Spain, and say that my lead actor is Mohammad so-and-so from such-and-such. I’m just not going to get it financed. So the question doesn’t even come up.
Such a delightful thought! The level of Hollywood’s whitewashing of Asiatic and Middle-Eastern characters is not just embedded in the directors or producers, it extends into the upper reaches of production management and finance. What’s wrong with casting the right race?
4) Chiwetel Ejiofor – The Martian
Didn’t I say that Ridley Scott would become a familiar name? Here’s why. The Martian was a truly successful book and film, excelling at the box office and receiving many awards at numerous events. However, the film did have one itsy-bitsy, teeny-tiny problem: Scott cast a Black-British actor to play the part of an Asian-Indian character. In a film where there were plenty of actors of colour present (and plenty of Asian-Indian actors to choose from for the role of Dr Venkat Kapoor, later changed to Vincent Kapoor in the film), Scott cast Ejiofor as the head of the Ares mission. Whilst this is not necessarily a case of whitewashing, it is definitely a case of blatant disregard of casting an Indian actor to play a role written for an Indian, and it certainly caused backlash amongst the Indian audiences across the world.
The sad reality about all of these cases is that they didn’t occur fifty or sixty years ago, when there was a shortage of Asian and Middle-Eastern races in Hollywood; these castings have occurred over the past six years. It appears that this industry still needs to enter the 21st century; we can no longer stand around and be content about this. Children all over the world grow up watching these films that Hollywood produces, and when these children are subjected to the whitewashing of their ethnicities, it can have a profound effect on how they perceive the world as they grow.