Hollywood Stop Whitening Characters! No Really! Stop It!

Okay I am too through with this mess. It is one thing to make a film with only white characters, or where the only POC are stereotypical caricatures. That’s fucked up all on it’s own. But to take something where in the source material the character is a Person of Color and then whiten them up for the movie! No, just No!

There was the Sci-Fi channel adaptation of Earthsea, author Ursula K. LeGuin personally responded to what she called the Sci-Fi Channel “wrecking her book” with it’s whitened up casting.

Then there was Angelina in A Mighty Heartplaying cuban Mariane Pearl, where they actually darkened her skin which is brownface and not technically whitening up the character but come on! Brownface really! ‘Cause there aren’t any actually Latina actresses who could’ve played that part.

The there was the movie 21, a true life story where in actuality the real players were mostly Asian-American and actually played on that fact in their scam. The movie comes out and who’s playing all these real-life Asian characters? White folks!

Now it’s Angelina (again!) in the soon to be released Wanted playing The Fox! She’s quite obviously a WOC in the comic  and also obviously based on Halle Berry so what the fuck?! In the link also find Angelina quoted when defending herself for A Mighty Heart, well what’s the defense here?

And Prince of Persia, the the four actors announced are Alfred Molina, Gemma Arterton, Ben Kingsley and Jake Gyllenhal (who’s playing the Prince himself!). As one commenter said (somewhere I can’t recall) “I was expecting a Prince of Persia, not a Prince of Caucasia”

Let’s not forget Mena Suvari playing a character based on a black woman, Chante Mallard, in the movie Stuck!But they gave her cornrows so I guess that makes it all okay, right? Right?!?

You know I was going to type “I’m sorry but I’m angry.” but y’know what? I’m not sorry not even the least little bit. This is some bullshit. I’m done with it. I making a decree no one is allowed to say the words “But Halle & Denzel have won Oscars so there’s no racism in Hollywood ” (yeah for playing on the “criminal” and “welfare ho” stereotypes, but that’s another post) or any other of that pseudo-liberal bullshit until this kind of hot mess comes to a motherfucking end! There is simply no excuse for this, you can talk about prime billing and bottom line all you want but when I can’t see myself in films that are based on/around/with people/characters that look like me that’s some fucked up shit.

It contributes to the erasing of People of Color in the consciousness of Americans, it makes sure that most of the roles offered to Nia Long, Zoe Saldana, Angela Basset, Sanaa Lathan, Gabrielle Union, Bai Ling, Michelle Rodriguez, Rosario Dawson et. al. are the ones where they get to play demoralizing and harmful stereotypes. It’s one of the reasons you don’t see actresses like Cicely Tyson, Phylicia Rashad & Ruby Dee is many films anymore because they simply refuse to play that role anymore.

It’s not enough to have POC in movie roles, those roles have to be three-dimensional fully fleshed out characters, we have to be allowed to be people in our own rights not just century-old steretypes with a new twist.

Maybe that’s why this is happening, maybe these characters are being written as people that are more than stereotypes and so “they” feel that the characters cannot be played by actual People Of Color. I mean we can’t have People of Color in roles that actually show more than one side of them or allow them to really show us what being of Color in America is about, right?

Oh and how about Neil Gaiman’s Anansi Boys and what he was told when approached by numerous directors?

Neil Gaiman: …and there’s other stuff… books that I own completely, things like the Anansi Boys or American Gods, where I take enormous pleasure in saying no to people who (pursue the rights). When Anansi Boys first came out, we got a number of very big directors going after it and all of them basically ended up saying the same thing, which was they had real problems with a story as black people as leads in a fantasy movie. They just loved the story… could they just lose all the fantasy elements? They’d want a guy and his long lost brother and their shady father and… but you can’t. It’s one of those strange moments when you go “I don’t know if it’s racist or if it’s just stupid…” and probably more stupid than it is racist, but…

Quint: Probably both…

Neil Gaiman: Probably a little bit of both, but mainly just stupidness. Well there aren’t any movies out there which are fantasies which works with black people and therefore you can’t do them, but whatever. They sort of remember the Eddie Murphy BROOKLYN VAMPIRE movie and decide to leave it at that. I just think that was stupid. It’s like “Fine, I will keep Anansi Boys until the right person comes along…”

I would argue that it’s racism plain and simple. The idea that POC are not interested in, cannot possibly like, and shouldn’t star in F/SF movies is a load of racist hooey. But it goes beyond that, we’re simply not allowed to play ourselves or see ourselves on the screen.

Now they’re making the comic Runaways into a film and I wonder if somehow Nico will be allowed to remain Asian or if they’ll cast Christina Ricci and call it a day. As for Alex, well he’s a villain so I’m sure they’ll be allowed to cast a black actor. 

I can’t wait for the remake of Roots, staring Jim Carrey as Kunte Kinte.

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20 responses to “Hollywood Stop Whitening Characters! No Really! Stop It!

  1. As if non-White actors don’t have a hard enough time getting good parts… to have parts that are written for them stolen by White actors is just cruel and unfortunately not unusual.

  2. I would argue that it’s racism plain and simple.

    Yeah, it seems pretty clearly so. I’m glad that Gaiman, even if he’s not unambigiously calling out the racism in the movie proposals, is at least refusing to give them the rights.

    As for Alex, well he’s a villain so I’m sure they’ll be allowed to cast a black actor.

    I thought having a black guy be the mastermind was a pretty cool challenge to stereotypes, but I was disappointed when he turned out to be secretly evil. Both in terms of the storytelling and because it seemed like, “Sure, you can be black and smart and a leader–if you’re evil.”

  3. ubuntucat:
    Exactly, as if it’s not hard enough for POC to find roles that don’t hurt the community now we have other POC roles being stolen by white actors. I wish some of the actors would just be called to task and asked to defend their actions.

  4. Willow:
    Yeah I really thought it was awesome that Gaiman didn’t sell them the rights and there’s actually another interview or journal entry (that I couldn’t re-find) where he says the reason he didn’t call it out is because a couple of the directors that approached him and said that were black themselves and so he was unsure of calling it racism out and out.

    Yeah, I really liked Alex in the beginning of the series for being an MMORPG playing geek, it felt amazing to have a young black man portrayed as intelligent and unashamedly geeky. Then we found out he was evil and a traitor and all that and it didn’t feel so amazing anymore.

  5. I agree: it’s racism.

    Gaiman’s writing is not my cup of tea, but I really admire his stance on the film rights to Anansi Boys. Although I note that he has the luxury to refuse such offers; not everyone necessarily does.

  6. Heh heh, I’ve actually been making a list of these sort of movies, for 2008 alone. I’m including released to cable movies like Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee and animation such as Kung-fu Panda. I can shoot you an email on it come December or January if you want.

    As for you post–HECK YEAH!!!

    from the link
    –“Molina will play Sheik Amar, a mentor to Jake Gyllenhaal’s prince.”–

    Gee, I didn’t see that one coming for his character. Wonder what will happen to him in the movie? *gags* And there’s some rumor that the latest Prince of Persian game will remotely look like the actor?! *spits*

    Gave up on Runaways after the trade paperback because of that nonsense and is part of one of the reasons I have a jaundiced eye towards Marvel–their treatment of young black and brown males. Makes me wonder if they’ll do one better than Christina Ricci and pick a white girl who’s half-Asian or ‘looks Asian’ …

    Yeah, you SHOULD NOT apologize to be angry and this year–year of the colorface it seems–makes me very very appreciative that Gaiman has his head and ass at opposite ends of his body.

  7. I love how “race doesn’t matter anymore” so much that everyone must be turned into non-colored peoples, but never the other way around.

  8. I’m just incredibly angry and flabbergasted by all this.

  9. Didn’t you get the memo? White is the new Black.

  10. Kate:
    It’s totally racism but what you say is very true Kate. Gaiman is in the enviable position of having enough money and clout that he can refuse offers whereas most of us would have to jump at some of the offers that came our way.

  11. Juan:
    I would totally like an email of the list once it’s completed because I know there are instances of it happening that I’ve missed in this list, like Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee & Kung-Fu Panda. Also I forgot about Speed Racer where all the characters are Asian in the anime!

    It does seem to be the year of Colorface. I just turned to a co-worker last week and asked if it was just me or if this seemed to be happening more and more often. They always wanna talk about colorblind casting or argue about MCD playing ther Kingpin in Daredevil but the frequency of which POC are made white is increasing and is in so mucgh greater than when white characters are made POC that the comparison is truly laughable.

  12. bankuei:
    I mean it does happen occasionally like with MCD as Kingpin but when it’s done it’s very obviously for shock value and to mock the idea whereas these white folks play POC as a completely serious endeavor and as supposedly “true to life”.
    Such bullshit.

    Angela:
    It’s all so rage inducing and as I write these comments I’m remembering other instances I forgot to include like Brokeback Mountain where in the original story Heath Ledger’s character was Latino.

    Jackie:
    Le sigh. The same old memo it’s always been.

  13. This is one of my primary pet peeves with Hollywood. A Caucasian Prince of Persia (and almost everybody else in the film) It’s just frustrating. This is a movie guaranteed to make money because of the subject matter. Why not give an undiscovered actor of color a chance?

  14. Brian:
    They don’t want to give it to an Actor of Color because they don’t think white folks will go see the movie if the lead is brown. Even if they had had a big name Persian actor on tap he would have to fight and scratch and claw to get the part all in the name of “colorblind” casting which as I understand it means “We can now cast white people as any race because we’re all so equal and we don’t have to deal with POC at all!”

  15. I can’t wait for the remake of Roots, staring Jim Carrey as Kunte Kinte.

    Have you read Steven Barnes book Lion’s Blood? It’s an alternate history South, with black plantation owners and their fair-skinned Anglo slaves…

  16. Lis Riba-
    I have heard of those books and they sound really interesting. I’m only stopped by my own inability to connect with male protagonists which is something I should work through for this book especially if they’re as good as folks have said.

  17. If they do the “Avatar:The Last Airbender” movie with a wall-to-wall white cast I don’t think I’ll be able to go see it. It’s just… wholly antithetical.

  18. Mac-
    Yeah if they cast it like that it’ll be, at best, something I watch when it hits TV not soemthing I’ll pay them for in the theater because that’s not the story I love.

  19. And six months later, they announce the “Airbender” cast. Four main characters, originally Asian and Inuit. Of course, all the roles go to white kids.

    More details here: http://aang-aint-white.livejournal.com/

  20. Naamen, you named exactly what has bothered me my entire life in regards to Hollywood and the movies out there.

    Btw, did you know that Mickey Rourke is slated to act in the Genghis Kahn biopic? At the rate things are going, I wouldn’t doubt if Jim Carrey gets the lead in the remake of ROOTS!

    The problem lies with these stupid, “money-is-King” (i.e. money translates to white people being happy) movie gatekeepers who can’t see outside the box and their own continued prejudices. And the audiences satisfied with the status quo (and this includes POC, such as my brother, who would doesn’t want to see Asian Americans on screen because “that would be weird,” showcasing his own very internalized racism).

    So we, as writers of color, need to step up the game and saturate the market, and somehow infiltrate the gatekeepers and the market.

    Justin Lin, the Asian American director of BETTER LUCK TOMORROW maxed up all of his credit cards and borrowed from countless relatives and friends to make his film. The venture capitalists and Hollywood execs were interested, but they asked him to change the cast to white actors instead. Justin would not sell out. He refused. Those “gatekeepers” lost out, but in the end, MTV distributed his movie instead — with an all-English-speaking-Asian-American cast.

    Anyhow, so glad someone out there feels the same (check out my Facebook page where I had gotten all hot and bothered about this very subject 🙂

    –Lily

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