By Marissa Nellis
Cultural appropriation and character whitewashing has been going on for years in Hollywood and while the large majority of audiences tend to give these instances considerable backlash, it begs the question: Will Hollywood ever learn its lesson?
Earlier this year, when the trailer for Marvel’s latest film Doctor Strange was released, it was met with considerable backlash on the casting of Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One. In the comics, the Ancient One was a Tibetan man and while Marvel has praised itself on casting a woman in the role, the majority of audiences are not happy about the fact that they erased the character’s original ethnicity.
Rupert Sanders’ upcoming Ghost in the Shell film also received some considerable backlash when it was announced that Scarlett Johansson would be playing the lead. Accomplished actress Ming Na-Wen, most known as the voice of Disney’s Mulan and as Agent May on Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., took to Twitter to express her frustration on the casting.
She tweeted, “Nothing against Scarlett Johansson. In fact, I’m a big fan. But everything against this whitewashing of [an] Asian role.”
Comic book writer Jon Tsuei and co-creator of RUNLOVEKILL, a comic book series published by Image Comics, also commented on Johansson’s casting on Twitter.
He tweeted, “This casting is not only the erasure of Asian faces, but a removal of the story from its core themes. …It is inherently a Japanese story, not a universal one.”
Hollywood still operates under the assumption that white characters have the widest appeal. This assumption, ironically, has proven to be disastrous for Hollywood as many of the films that feature whitewashed characters, at least in recent years, have performed horribly at the box office So why does Hollywood keep eliminating diverse characters?
When asked in an interview with Variety about the decision to cast only white actors in the lead roles of Exodus: Gods and Kings, Ridley Scott, the director of the film, replied, “I can’t mount a film on 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…”
And here we see, once again, Hollywood’s idea that films featuring any actors of color in lead roles will not make any money.
So, will Hollywood ever learn its lesson? Right now the answer seems like a harsh ‘no’, but there is hope stemming from the backlash these films have received, as well as their horrible box office performances. However, with the directors and producers of both Doctor Strange and Ghost in the Shell defending and praising their casting decisions, it looks like it might be a while before we start seeing some changes.