It’s Time for Hollywood to Stop Whitewashing Asian Characters

If you’ve been incensed by the decisions of some casting directors in Hollywood recently, you will relate to this Care2 petition, and may even want to start your own petition.

Perhaps you have heard about the many thousands of people who have been outraged by Dreamworks’ decision to cast Scarlett Johansson as the lead Major Motola Kusanagi in the re-make of the classic 1995 Japanese sci-film “Ghost in the Shell.” If you have, you’ll understand why more than 12,000 people are demanding that DreamWorks Studios immediately reconsider the casting of Scarlett Johansson, a non-Asian actor, in this role.

According to the petition, a recent survey found that Asian characters made up only 4.4 percent of speaking roles in top-grossing Hollywood films in 2013.

Whitewashing Asian characters is not a new trend. Warner Brothers was set to produce a live-action version of the classic anime film, “Akira.” The story is set in Neo-Tokyo and features main characters named Akira and Kaneda, yet actors like Robert Pattinson and Michael Fassbender were on the list of potential actors to fill the roles. Luckily, an unnamed studio insider told the Hollywood Reporter that preproduction had stopped due to issues related to script, budget and casting, so the film may never see the light of day.

Care2 members have a history of tackling media representation issues. A different Care2 petition recently asked Warner Brothers to stop casting white actors as people of color following an announcement that the studio had cast white actress Rooney Mara to play Tiger Lily, a Native American character, in Pan, the studio’s adaptation of Peter Pan. That petition gathered more than 73,000 signatures.

Another Care2 petition targeted director Ridley Scott, who recently cast a slew of white actors to play Biblical Egyptian characters in his Dec. 2014 film “Exodus: Gods and Kings.” This one garnered more than 25,000 signatures.

Sadly, there is no shortage of similar examples. Educators have long lamented the almost total absence of Asian-American and African-American images in children’s literature. Just last year, American Girl killed off its Asian and Black dolls, while protesting the decision had nothing to do with discrimination; it was just business strategy. Cécile, an African-American doll, and Ivy, an Asian-American doll, were the only two dolls of color in American Girl’s standard collection.

“Ghost in the Shell” sadly follows a long Hollywood tradition of casting white actors to play Asians and Asian-American characters, according to Kent A. Ono, a professor of Asian-American studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. This used to take mostly the form of white actors playing stereotypical representations of Asian characters, such as Mickey Rooney’s portrayal of I.Y. Yunioshi in 1961′s “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” Rita Moreno as Tuptim and Yul Brynner as King Mongkut in the 1956 film “The King and I,” and Katharine Hepburn as Jade Tan in 1944′s “Dragon Seed.”

More recently, Asian characters have been replaced with white American versions played by big name Hollywood stars. One example is the 1960 western, “The Magnificent Seven,” which starred Brynner, Steve McQueen and Charles Bronson, and was based on the influential 1954 Japanese film by Akira Kurosawa, “Seven Samurai.”

As Japanese manga and anime have become more popular, there have been other examples, like “Dragonball: Evolution” and “Speed Racer.”

“Animation and anime are these interesting contexts, because casting directors, producers and directors can say, ‘Well, the anime character is fictional and not a real live body … and to cast them as another race is OK,’” Ono explains. As a result, there are fewer opportunities for Asian and Asian-American actors who want a shot at a powerful role.

Racebending.com, an international grassroots organization founded to protest the whitewashing of film roles, makes a good point that even in an American film, a “totally American” cast shouldn’t necessarily be entirely white.

“Certainly changes will be made to the story in adaptations, such as setting a story in the United States instead of Japan,” Racebending.com states. “What disappoints us is that when these adaptations are reset to America, they do not reflect the diversity of the United States. Many people are of Asian descent but are also totally American.

In the case of “Ghost in the Shell,” Dreamworks could be using this film to help provide opportunities for Asian-American actors in a market that has few opportunities for them to shine. If you agree, please sign the petition asking them to reconsider casting Scarlett Johansson and to select actors who are truer to the cast of the original film.

And if you have a cause that you care deeply about, you can be part of the change and start your own petition.

 

Photo Credit: Thinkstock

94 comments

Jack Y
Jack Y5 months ago

thanks

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Jack Y
Jack Y5 months ago

thanks

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Jack Y
Jack Y5 months ago

thanksthanks

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Jack Y
Jack Y5 months ago

thanks

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Roxane Connor
Roxane Connor2 years ago

Scarlet can not play the Major. The Major is a muscular 6 feet tall. She's also a cyborg.

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Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus4 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Colleen Prinssen
Colleen Prinssen4 years ago

i still think they are not 100% making this movie for orginal fans of the stories, but for a new group.

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Colleen Prinssen
Colleen Prinssen4 years ago

there is still nerdshaming stigma attached to the Anime and Manga, even if it is more popular, that it's still an eclectic interest. Like how some people that like the superhero movies have no intrest in reading any of the comics. So Americanizing the things makes it friendler. Because some of us will assume it is still to "forgin" to Americans. They are not making the movies for the orginal fans, I am guessing "most Americans" will find things "to Japanese", even if some Japanese things are "trendy".


they want to be entertained, not get a cultural education, they want to associate with the characters, advrage Joe American won't beable to.

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Colleen Prinssen
Colleen Prinssen4 years ago

are they doing this to caiter to the "alleged white majority" making the characters white, being played by actors they know, to make it more "palletable", and assume "well their animated versions look white enough" and so it dosen't look like a film that would be a niche audiance would like it.

yes, she is Japanese, she lives in Japan, http://cdn.superbwallpapers.com/wallpapers/anime/motoko-kusanagi-ghost-in-the-shell-stand-alone-complex-5199-1280x800.jpg even if she dosen't look it?

some of the people say "why are Japanese animations characters white" which is not true, they look that way due to, reasons of being animated characters and some being inspired by Disney films(I think)

also, DragonBall Revolution was horrible and they mangled the entire thing, i guess they complety westrenized it.

is this a case of also westrenizing everything, and not just whitewashing?

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Nellie K A.
Nellie K Adaba4 years ago

I'm signing

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