What do you think of when you hear the name Genghis Khan? Legendary Asian conqueror and emperor perhaps? Well, I guess the filmmakers involved in the 1956 film The Conqueror didn’t think the Asian part was very important when they cast John Wayne as the historical emperor. It’s 1961. Breakfast at Tiffany’s is released. Although I absolutely LOVE this Audrey Hepburn classic, it features Mickey Rooney playing Mr. Yunioshi in yellow face and portraying the Japanese character stereotypically. Also in 1961, another film I adore, West Side Story. Maria, the main character who is supposed to be Puerto Rican, is played by Natalie Wood…a famous white actress. And there’s Christian Bale, a white Australian actor, playing the biblical figure Moses in Exodus: Gods and Kings…in 2014. If you haven’t guessed already, we’re talking about white-washing and how much we can’t seem to leave it in the past.
In recent news, actress Scarlett Johansson has been criticizes for being cast as the character Kusanagi in the upcoming film Ghost in the Shell which is passed on a Japanese anime series. To be super clear, Scarlett Johansson was cast in a role meant for an Asian actress. I’m a huge fan of Scarlett Johansson. I’ve seen most of her work and think that she makes really intriguing, but this disappoints me. To be fair, the blame isn’t only on her; it’s the executives and filmmakers problem too.
Another very disheartening controversy was Emma Stone’s casting in the movie Aloha. Her character is Asian-American, and Emma Stone is very much white. Emma Stone is another actress who I am a fan of, and the director Cameron Crowe as well, but it frustrates me and many others why for any reason it would be okay to place a white actor in role specifically meant for a person of color. It’s already hard enough for Asian actresses to find role made for them, and they aren’t even considered for characters actually made for them!
This is a time when we have so many (although we still need more) actors of color like Lupita Nyong’o, Michael B. Jordan, Gina Rodriguez, and Aziz Ansari that it’s simple not acceptable that white actors are cast in roles that are specifically not written for them! It makes the lack of diversity in the film industry so much more frustrating because even when scripts are written to show more racial diversity, filmmakers still seem to go straight to the white actors. If they would like to make the argument that they are casting higher-status actors, then why can’t they cast the acclaimed actors who aren’t white? There may not be as many but there are still many options to choose.
Film is supposed to send a message to its audience and hopefully impact society, but what is it telling people when not only are they rarely seeing actors who look like them but also seeing actors entirely unfit for the race or culture they are representing. It wasn’t right in the 1950s and it’s absolutely NOT okay today.
Through my eyes,