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Color of choice in film industry remains white

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Some may claim it as a gross exaggeration, but Hollywood has been, and continues to be, a racially biased club operating under the assumption that only white actors can make blockbusters.

Leornado DiCaprio, Ben Affleck, Brad Pitt, Domhnall Gleeson and more — what Hollywood thinks are A-list actors contains predominantly white men who regularly make headlines for their love lives, haircuts and, yes, even biking habits.

Seems like minority performers only get on the page to be praised for being a minority performer.

The new Bond debacle

Even for casting major roles, none other than white movie stars are considered. Tom Hiddleston, Charlie Hunnam or Tom Cruise seem to have the advantage over Gael Garcia Bernal or Michael B. Jordan.

Anthony Horowitz, author of the new James Bond novel Trigger Mortis, told the Daily Mail that actor Idris Elba was too “street” to be the iconic secret agent, who has never been played by a minority actor before. Elba, despite the descriptor, is probably the best-dressed man on the planet next to David Beckham.

Horowitz might as well hold up a sign saying, “It’s because he is black.” He must have been convinced that the “The Wire” actor is a major drug dealer and a traitor who slept with the girlfriend of a character who is imprisoned.

Whitewashing is more than just about keeping minorities out of the industry — it’s Hollywood showing the world that a savior of all things is white, character’s ethnicity be damned.

Whitening things up

In the biblical epic Exodus: Gods and Kings, Moses, Ramses and Joshua were all played by white actors.

Director Ridley Scott’s film, which underwhelmed at the box office, chose white actors instead of those who better represent the culture and have acting abilities like Riz Ahmed or Rami Malek.

“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,” Scott said, regarding the film’s cast. “I’m just not going to get it financed. So the question (about whitewashing) doesn’t even come up.”

From John Wayne’s rendition of Mongol leader Genghis Khan in “The Conquerer” to Marlon Brando turning Japanese in “The Teahouse of the August Moon”, pushing racial boundaries has been a norm in Hollywood for all the wrong reasons.

Even when the public has pointed out over and over, February saw the release of this $140 million film depicting a whole cast of white actors playing Egyptians and gods. The movie proceeded to bomb at the box office and separate apologies were issued.

Upcoming films still somehow see casting white performers in historically ethnic roles. Most recent controversies involve the casting, and unsuccessful digital alteration, of Scarlett Johansson to be a Japanese heroine and Tilda Swinton as a Tibetan sorcerer.

Actors have got to act

David Franzoni, the Oscar-nominated screenwriter of Gladiator, spoke with the Guardian his plan to pen and produce a film about the 13th century Muslim poet Rumi. He wanted Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert Downey Jr. in the lead roles.

Franzoni wanted the film to break racial and religious stereotypes despite wanting to, as of now, cast two white men to play two very Persian people.


Jane Ciabattari of BBC in 2014 wrote an article detailing why Rumi is the most popular poet in the U.S. | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

I wish producers would be more willing to break racial barriers by actually casting a Persian. The white actors that accept these roles despite the obvious racial difference are as much a part of the whitewashing as the major studios.

Whether it’s the money or the want to break stereotypes, rarely, if ever, does it work for a white man or woman to play someone from a drastically different ethnicity.

It’s time Hollywood starts representing America appropriately as the giant melting pot it has become, and stop casting white actors in roles that are meant for ethnic minorities.

Until then, the beauty of a diverse film industry continues to be lost footage.

Opinion editor Frank Campos is a media production senior and can be reached at [email protected]

1 Comment

  • Okay, let’s break down the tremendous irony of this article:

    First, you suggest that the casting of James Bond should be relegated to a minority casting even though Ian Fleming’s iconic character is always depicted as white, and then you gripe about how Scarlett Johansson is playing a Japanese character.
    This is literally self-contradicting…

    Also, the insistence of recasting historically white characters with non-white alternatives only hurts said actor. Instead of people saying “look how well this actor portrays this role” the discussion becomes “look at how well [insert non-white race here] can do in this role” which sounds inherently secondary and self-defeating. That shouldn’t be the discussion surrounding any actor’s performance but when you do something so jarring at the behest of “social justice” that is the discussion. Always.

    At the end of the day, I don’t believe anyone should mess with someone’s artistic vision especially when it comes to big screen renditions of someone else’s work. That goes for Scarlett Johansson’s role in Ghost in a Shell as well. Nor do I believe that artists and storytellers should cave to the demands of someone who has no right to make such demands. You as the consumer have the absolute and total right to consume their work, and better yet, you have the capability of making your own with your own vision of how things should be. That’s what is great about art.

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