Hollywood Still Whitewashing Characters in 2014

Davin Steeves, Contributing Writer

sListen up America!

Why do Hollywood and the American cinema insist on “whitewashing” characters of color? Pick any American-made movie since the invention of the camcorder and it is a safe bet that any character that could be played by a wide variety of actors of different races will end up being played by a white actor. Or worse yet, characters of color will end up being played by white actors.

Even many modern movies, including those that came out in 2014, are still whitewashing characters. Currently in Spearfish, the Northern Hills Cinema has no movies playing where a person of color is cast in a lead role.

For those not familiar with the term, according to racebending.com, “whitewashing” or “race-bending” is when a character of color is played by a white actor. Or similarly, it can refer to times when a character that has no defined race is played by a white actor.

The Huffington Post reported that “whitewashing” has been heavily documented with the inclusion of black-face and yellow-face in many movies throughout the decades. While these practices are now deemed unacceptable, it doesn’t stop white actors from being cast in roles written and defined as people of color.

One of the most notable examples of this is the recent film “The Impossible.” The film is about the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that killed more than 227,000 people. As The Guardian reported, the story follows an Asian family on their quest to find one another after the tsunami. But go ahead and take a wild guess about who played the family. That’s correct — the entire Asian family was played by white actors.

Perhaps what’s even worse than just “whitewashing” a film is deciding to “whitewash” only the hero. In the 2010 film “Avatar: The Last Airbender,” originally all of the characters were meant to be of either Asian or Native American descent. However, in the film, all the heroes are played by white actors. However, the actor who plays the villain of the movie is of Indian descent.

The solution is simple — cast more people of color — even in roles with no defined race. Just because a character doesn’t have a specified race or characteristics does not mean that white actors should automatically be cast. There are plenty of non-white actors who would love to be cast in lead roles. Greater representation of minorities in film is crucial.

Not all films fall into this trap. The 2006 film “Night at the Museum” features many characters played by people of color. The character Ahkmenrah is an Egyptian pharaoh played by Rami Malek who is of Egyptian descent. Also, Attila the Hun is played by Patrick Gallagher, who is of Chinese descent.

So why does Hollywood insist on casting white actors to play characters of color? Since the invention of film, “whitewashing” has been presented front and center on the big screen. There are many roles that could go to either a white actor or an actor of color, yet too often the white actor ends up snagging the role.

So America, when will the “whitewashing” end?