I am white, even whiter than the words you are now reading. However, I am not ignorant of whitewashing and I do not like it for many reasons, especially when it concerns animated and comic representations in the media.
I will warn you that I may be slightly bias on this topic as I tend to watch a lot of anime (Japanese animation media) and might feel strongly about source material being played by representatives of that source. I will try to limit my bias and I apologize for it in advance.
Whitewashing, for anyone who does not know, is when a white actor is used for a role meant to be played by another race. Sometimes, a white man will be literally painted black or brown to match the role he is supposed to play and sometimes a role will completely ignore race and be changed to accommodate white actors. Hollywood has a long history of whitewashing and while it is not as bad as it was in the past it is still a rampant habit.
One of the worst cases of whitewashing in the modern era was shown in the live-action version of Avatar: The Last Airbender. In the original animated version, created by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, the heroes were depicted as being of Asian and Native-American descent, while the villains were depicted as being of Chinese descent. However, in the live-action version directed by M. Night Shyamalan, all the heroes were white and all the villains were Indians. The entirety of the Fire Nation (the country where the villains in the animated series come from) was of Indian descent. Simply put, they took away the cultural diversity from the entire show and made it so that everyone good was white and everyone bad was not. Upon further inspection of the live-action movie, it came to my attention that all the truly evil characters, like General Zhao, were played by Indian actors while the characters that eventually switch sides from bad to good, like Prince Zuko and Uncle Iroh, were played by British and Persian actors that had a lighter skin tone than the rest of the Fire Nation actors. It is as if the movie blatantly says white is good, dark is bad and light dark can go either way because they are blessed enough to be a little bit lighter. This is the best and worst example of whitewashing.
I would think this image does the best to show this movie’s blatant whitewashing.
This live-action movie came out in 2010 and is, in my opinion, the worst case of whitewashing in the modern age.
There have been other and more recent examples of movies that participate in whitewashing.
Ghost in a Shell is an anime and manga made in Japan following the story of Motoko Kusanagi, a Japanese cyborg counter-terrorist officer. While Motoko is never mentioned to be specifically Japanese, it does not feel right for a Japanese produced media to have the main role taken by a white actress. In this case, Scarlet Johansson was cast as Motoko when there are a plethora of Asian-American actresses who could take her place. The story takes place in Japan and the fully augmented hero, Motoko should be played by a Japanese actor. While anime never designs its characters to “look” Asian it is assumed and mostly even directly said that the characters are of Japanese descent. While Motoko is fully augmented and is therefore racially null, she was created in Japan and I would have a hard time imaging that Japan would make a fully augmented officer white in a nation that is predominantly Asian.
I am sure that many people who watch and enjoy anime, and even those who do not, would agree on which image suits Motoko Kusanagi better.
In the anime she is depicted as this :
I would say that Scarlet Johansson is not the best fit for the role, especially if any Asian can produce something like this:While I personally did not really like Motoko being played by Scarlet, publisher Sam Yoshida of Kodansha did not seem to be bothered by it. He said that he never imagined Motoko to be played by a Japanese actress and that Scarlet has a nice “cyber punk” look that fits Motoko. He also said that Scarlet would bring nice publicity to Ghost in a Shell and might attract new people to the media of Japanese anime and manga. He did not have a problem with a white actor playing the main role in a Japanese created media. However, that might be because he knows that a non-white actress won’t make much people watch the movie and that an actress like Scarlet would bring viewers who have never heard of the original source material.
I have to say he has a point. If this movie did not have Scarlet, it would probably only attract people who are familiar with Ghost in a Shell and would therefore make the movie earnings less. He also makes another good point in that it will bring more attention to anime as a media. How can any fan of anime be mad at an idea that would make more people interested in anime?
While this case of whitewashing may have reason that benefit the source material, it is still a shame that an Asian actress could not be cast for a part that I, and most other people, think should be played by an Asian actress. While I do not like it, the reasoning keeps me complacent.
While many Asian-Americans get annoyed at whitewashing in Hollywood, Asians around the world are uncaring of it. They see it as something that is bound to happen. They even admit that the same happens in their own countries. They shrug of the “whitewashing phenomenon” and say that it is just a way to pander to “marketability needs” and that the same things happens in their own country; well known Asian actors are cast repeatedly in roles meant for other races.
While they make a good point that marketability depends on well known actors being a part of new movies, it does not mean that all roles designed for different races should completely neglect those racial backgrounds and be whitewashed.
PARADIGM THAT FITS?
This time I will use…..
FINALLY! A paradigm that is not Symbolic Interactionalism. Conflict theory fits whitewashing rather nicely. We can look at it from the perspective of the business behind the media.
Movies are mainly watched for one of two reasons. Either someone likes the story or someone likes the actors/ actresses. While a story might appeal to some people and not others, known actors appeal to a broader majority of people. If I had acting skills and was cast in a movie with an amazing story, the movie probably would not make as much money as a movie with Jim Carrey and a slightly less interesting story. That is because people know Jim Carrey while I am this unknown person with no fame to my name. Jim Carrey would attract viewers with his name alone. In the interest of making money, directors would hire Jim Carrey over an unknown person in a heart beat. Studios compete with other studios for the money of movie-goers. In order to get the advantage over another studio, directors hire actors and actresses who are well known to draw in a bigger crowd. Rarely will a studio risk profit by hiring someone unknown (no matter what the actual role calls for) and allow another studio to dominate the theaters because they hired someone more well known. This competition over the money of viewers would be a reason why less known actors/ actresses (including Asian actors/ actresses) are hired for roles that call for Asian descent.