Hollywood and television’s habit of whitewashing roles is hardly new, but recent years have seen it explode as a topic of conversation. Part of it comes from a push to better represent the changing demographics of moviegoers, while others simply don’t want to see their few chances to see themselves as the hero erased. Last year had a number of such controversies, with Doctor Strange leading the pack. This year, it’s grown even larger, as the topic gets mixed with a number of other concerns involving representation and the erasure of quality roles for people of color.
In some instances, it’s egregious examples of whitewashing, as in Aloha or The Lone Ranger, where a white actor is cast in a role of color. Other times, it’s in the murkier waters, like the case of Ghost in the Shell or Death Note. While those don’t involve white actors playing Japanese characters, they take Asian media and add in white and Western actors. On the one hand, this could simply be seen as adapting media to a different region. On the other, many audiences feel it robs them of the few roles they could relate to and prevents actors of color from landing lead parts in films.
The argument we’ve often heard from studio execs and even creators like Ridley Scott is that without a white lead, a movie will fail to gain financing or an audience. New data, however, proves just how wrong that is. The Wrap is reporting that last year’s numbers from the National Association of Theater Owners shows the average Asian-American went to the movies 6.1 times on average. Below that, Hispanic-Americans went 4.6 times, African-Americans went 4.2 times, and Caucasian-Americans went 3.2 times. These changes have slowly grown over the years, reflecting just how much of the moviegoing audience is made up of non-white viewers.
Even when roles aren’t being whitewashed, the biggest issue in Hollywood and TV is still the white savior. Everything from Last of the Mohicans to The Great Wall have been criticized for this tired trope, as well as both the comic and Netflix versions of Iron Fist. Hopefully, however, these numbers will let the people behind the scenes realize that their audience has changed, and thus those moviegoers should have the chance to see themselves on the screen.
The good news is, things are changing for the better. Recent weeks have shown that Disney’s upcoming live-action adaptation of Mulan will feature a core Chinese cast, while their new Aladdin film promises to not whitewash the Middle Eastern cast of the film. As movies like Get Out and Moonlight and TV shows like Mr. Robot and Into the Badlands continue to excel with non-white leads, and audiences of color keep spending the most money at the box office, hopefully this positive change will only continue.
Source: The Wrap