Whitewashing in Hollywood: 2000 – 2019

 

Graph of whitewashed movies from Hollywood in 2000s.

 

Taking a closer look at whitewashed movies in the last 20 years

Lots of trends are making a comeback in Hollywood. From the live-action remakes of classic stories already processed and sold to the masses a generation before, to the rise of biopics once again, the industry is enjoying a bit of a throw-back phase. Unfortunately, there’s another long-standing trend in Hollywood rearing its ugly head in the 21st century: whitewashed movies.

Mickey Rooney as racist caricature, I Y Yunioshi in Breakfast at Tiffany's

Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany’s

Whitewashing in Hollywood is the well-documented practice of movie executives and other decision makers to choose white actors to portray people of color on film. One of the most famous cases of Hollywood whitewashing involves Mickey Rooney portraying an Asian character in 1961’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s. His makeup included buck teeth, slanted eyes and other over-the-top offensive features.

While the outlandishly racist portrayals of racial and ethnic minorities have been rightfully tossed in the dustbin of history, decisions to cast white actors as non-white people is far from over. In fact, whitewashing in Hollywood appears to be on the rise in the 2010s.

Graph of whitewashed movies in Hollywood in 2000s

Far from a thing of the past, 2017 saw the most whitewashed movies of the year, with a total of 5. These movies include Ghost in the Shell (Scarlett Johansson), The Beguiled (Kirsten Dunst) and The Post (Bob Odenkirk). For a full list of whitewashed Hollywood movies in the last 20 years, please scroll to the bottom of this post.

Examples of Whitewashed Movies of the 2000s

The Last Airbender

This 2010 movie is based on the Nickelodeon animated show set in Asian and Inuit-inspired universe. However, three of the movie’s four main characters are white. The fourth character, villain of the movie, is portrayed by an Indian actor. The film received harsh criticism from fans and non-fans alike for its casting choices. The film’s director, M. Night Shyamalan, defended the movie, saying “I don’t know what’s going on with me and the critics in the United States … they’ve never got me and it’s getting worse … The tonalities are changing. I always had a European sensibility to my movies. The pacing is always a little bit off for them, and it feels a little stilted, and they need more electricity and all that stuff.” The Last Airbender is currently rated 5% on Rotten Tomatoes.

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Stuck

Mena Suvari in Stuck

Mena Suvari in cornrows portraying Chante Jawan Mallard (Stuck changed character’s name to Brandi Boski).

Stuck is 2007 film based on the real-life incident involving Chante Jawan Mallard and Gregory Biggs. Mallard was convicted of killing Biggs by hitting him with her car, refusing first aid and leaving him to die still lodged in her windshield. Mena Suvari was chosen to play Mallard, an African American woman. Stuck faced criticism for whitewashing at the time of the film’s release.

The Dark Knight Rises

Bane, Batman’s nemesis in the 2012 film and the baddie who infamously “broke the Bat,” is Latino. Bane was born in Peña Duro, a prison found in Santa Prisca, a fictional Latin American island country. However, English actor Tom Hardy was chosen to portray the role. Though it shouldn’t have surprised fans of the DC movies: The character of Ra’s al Ghul in Batman Begins (2005) is Middle Eastern, but Liam Neeson was chosen to play the character, whose name is in Arabic.

The Impact of Whitewashed Movies

There are plenty of aruguments made by directors, executives and actors that seek to defend the decision to hire a white actor to play a non-white person. From “there were no good POC actors available” to “it’s just an acting job – no offense intended,” there is no shortage of excuses from moviemakers when faced with criticism or outrage.

For better or worse, actors are some of our nation’s most widely recognized storytellers. They’re the heroes in our favorite movies, they portray shared experiences that can make the audience feel a little less alone and a little more connected. When a POC actor is refused a seat at the table in favor of a white actor to portray a POC, it alienates huge segments of the movie’s audience and frankly betrays the underlying racism that’s still so pervasive casting process. And as movie executives are slowing beginning to learn, online outrage over a movie’s casting choices is very bad for business.

Hollywood would do itself a favor by catching up with the times here. With every instance of whitewashing that’s brought to the big screen, the industry betrays itself as an out-of-touch and increasingly irrelevant moneymaker that believes it knows better than its own audience. As 2020 brings the most racially diverse audience Hollywood has ever seen, the question of whitewashing will just have to be answered at the box office.

Whitewashed Movies of the 2000s

Movie

Character

Race/Ethnicity Portrayal

Hollywood’s choice for actor

Year of film’s release

The Curse of La Llorona

Anna Tate-Garcia

Latina

Linda Cardellini

2019

Annihilation

Lena

Asian American

Natalie Portman

2018

The Post

Ben Bagdikian

Armenian American

Bob Odenkirk

2017

Jungle

Yosseph Ghinsberg

Israeli

Daniel Radcliffe

2017

The Beguiled

Edwina

African American

Kirsten Dunst

2017

The Ottoman Lieutenant

Ismail Veli

Turkish

Michiel Huisman

2017

Ghost in the Shell

Motoko Kusanagi

Asian (manga)

Scarlett Johansson

2017

The Promise

Ana Khesarian

Armenian

Charlotte Le Bon

2016

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (adapted from The Taliban Shuffle)

Fahim Ahmadzai and Ali Massoud Sadiq

Afghan

Christopher Abboytt and Alfred Molina

2016

Gods of Egypt

Egyptian gods, including Horus and Set

Egyptian

Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Gerard Butlet

2016

Doctor Strange

The Ancient One

Himalayan

Tilda Swinton

2016

Aloha

Allison Ng

¼ Chinese and ¼ Hawaiian

Emma Stone

2015

Stonewall

POC, particularly transwomen, drag queens and lesbians

Queer womxn of color

Jeremy Irvine, Jonny Beauchamp, Joey King, Caleb Landry Jones, Matt Craven, etc.

2015

The 33

Maria Segovia

Chilean

Juliette Binoche

2015

Pan

Tiger Lily

American Indian

Rooney Mara

2015

Exodus: Gods and Kings

Biblical figures, including Moses and Ramesses II

Egyptian

Christian Bale and Joel Edgerton

2014

Edge of Tomorrow

Keigi Kiriya (renamed Bill Cage)

Japanese

Tom Cruise

2014

Warm Bodies

Nora

Half Ethiopian, half white

Analeigh Tipton

2013

The Big Wedding

Alejandro Soto Griffin

Colombian

Ben Barnes

2013

Star Trek Into Darkness

Khan Noonien Singh

Indian

Benedict Cumberbatch

2013

The Lone Ranger

Tonto

Native American (either Comanche or Potawatomi)

Johnny Depp

2013

Argo

Tony Mendez

Mexian American

Ben Affleck

2012

The Hunger Games

Katniss Everdeen

Described as having “black hair and olive skin”

Jennifer Lawrence

2012

Cloud Atlas

Hae-Joo Chang

South Korean

Jim Sturgess

2012

The Dark Knight Rises

Bane

Latino

Tom Hardy

2012

Drive

Irene

Latina

Cary Mulligan

2011

I Don’t Know How She Does It

Momo Gumeratne (renamed Mom Hahn)

Sri Lankan

Olivia Munn

2011

Prince of Persia

Dastan

Persian (Middle Eastern)

Jake Gyllanhal

2010

Avatar: The Last Airbender

Ensemble, including Aang, Katara and Sokka

East Asian and/or Inuit

Noah Ringer, Nicola Peltz and Jackson Rathbone

2010

The King of Fighters

Kyo Kusanagi

Japanese

Sean Faris

2010

Dragonball Evolution

Goku

Japaense (manga)

Justin Chatwin

2009

Wanted

Fox

African American

Angelina Jolie

2008

Speed Racer

Speed Racer

Japanese (manga)

Emilie Hirsch

2008

Bringing Down the House (adapted to 21)

Kevin Lewis (renamed Ben Campbell

Asian American

Jim Sturgess

2008

A Mighty Heart

Mariane Pearl

Afro-Cuban and Dutch

Angelina Jolie

2007

30 Days of Night

Eben Olemaun (renamed Eben Oleson)

Inuit

Josh Hartnett

2007

Stuck

Chante Jawal Mallard (renamed Brandi Boski)

African American

Mena Suvari

2007

World Trade Center

Jason Thomas

African American

William Mapother

2006

Batman Begins

Ra’s al Ghul

Middle Eastern

Liam Neeson

2005

The Passion of the Christ

Biblical figures including Jesus, Mary and John

Middle Eastern

Jim Cavizel, Maia Morgenstern and Christo Jivkov

2004

A Beautiful Mind

Alicia Nash

Salvadoran American

Jennifer Connelly

2001

Bully: A True Story of High School Revenge (adapted to Bully)

Bobby Kent

Iranian American

Nick Stahl

2001

The Human Stain

Coleman Silk

African American

Anthony Hopkins

2000

Pay It Forward

Rueben St. Clair (renamed Eugene Simonet)

African American

Kevin Spacey

2000

 

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Whitewashing In Hollywood: 2000 - 2019
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Whitewashing In Hollywood: 2000 - 2019
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Taking a more in-depth look at whitewashed movies of the 2000s, from Pay It Forward to Aloha, The Dark Knight Rises to Dr. Strange, and everything in between.
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