By Divya Putty
Since the 1930’s, Hollywood has been guilty of whitewashing time and time again. The term “Hollywood whitewashing” refers to the casting of white actors for lead roles that are meant for non-white ethnicities under the assumption that Americans prefer to see a white actor on screen as opposed to any other. The place dubbed the “film capital of the world” has been caught red-handed once more as numerous recent films, which call for non-white roles, have cast white actors.
“Aloha” (2015) tells the story of Brian Gilcrest, a military contractor who returns to Oahu, Hawaii to negotiate a deal between the Hawaiians and a billionaire who wants to build a space center on the island. Gilcrest meets Captain Allison Ng who escorts him to see the king with whom he will negotiate. Captain Allison Ng is meant to be half Chinese and half Hawaiian but is played by Emma Stone, a talented but white actress. Countless critics had similar opinions about director Cameron Crowe’s poorly cast movie which contributed to its failure.
Stone commented on her understanding of Hollywood whitewashing after the release of “Aloha.”
“[I have] learned on a macro level about the insane history of whitewashing in Hollywood and how prevalent the problem truly is…There’s a lot of conversation about how we want to see people represented on screen and what we need to change as a business to reflect culture in a clearer way and not in an idealized way,” Stone said, according to Entertainment Weekly.
Other recent examples include Jake Gyllenhaal in “Prince of Persia: Sands of Time” and Johnny Depp in “Lone Ranger.” Countless films of the 20th and 21st centuries have been associated with Hollywood whitewashing. In fact, many have been guilty of using “blackface,” a form of theatrical makeup used to make a white actor look of African American descent.
For example, “Othello” (1965) saw Laurence Olivier, an English actor, play Othello in blackface. Similarly, “yellowface” is used to represent an Asian person. “Dragon Seed” (1944) tells the story of a Chinese peasant girl who rallies her community against Japanese invaders. Katharine Hepburn played the role of Jade Tan and put on yellowface to make her character more believable.
While blackface and yellowface are not as common today, whitewashing roles still occurs. However, the theatre industry can boast a couple of examples where directors have given lead roles to non-white actors.
“Hamilton” is a stage production of Alexander Hamilton’s life directed by Lin-Manuel Miranda. Miranda, an American actor with Puerto Rican parents, played the lead role of Hamilton while Leslie Odom Jr., an American actor of African American descent, played Aaron Burr, who kills Hamilton. The entire cast of “Hamilton” portrays America as it is today, a nation of numerous ethnicities.
“[Casting] is about getting the best person for the part first, and then the other things are factors that may tip them one way or the other…It’s a thorny issue, but I think that race and gender should be considered the same way height and age are. They’re a factor,” Miranda said in an interview on the Youtube channel, THNKR.
The success of “Hamilton” proves that the American public is eager to see actors of all races in leading roles.
Since America is a country of all races, actors attract appeal based on their talent rather than their race. Hollywood must acknowledge this before another “Aloha” comes along.