Hollywood faulted on 'whitewashing'

Updated: 2016-04-18 10:47

By Lia Zhu in Los Angeles(China Daily USA)

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The practice of casting white actresses like Scarlett Johansson in Asian roles was slammed by Chinese-American actors who are calling on the community to speak out against racism in Hollywood.

The recent release of a photo featuring Johansson as Major Motoko Kusanagi, the lead character in a 2017 live action film of Japanese manga comic series Ghost in the Shell, has caused a loud protest criticizing the filmmakers for casting a Danish-Polish actress as a well-established Japanese character.

"When I saw the image with her (Johansson's) Asian haircut, like they were trying to make her look Asian rather than hiring an Asian actress, I got fired up again," said Ming-Na Wen, a Chinese American actress who stars in the ABC action drama series Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and ER.

"I have nothing against Scarlet Johansson," Wen said at a panel discussion at the annual conference of the Committee of 100 on April 16 in Beverly Hills, "but I have everything against whitewashing an Asian role."

Critics said "whitewashing", the practice of casting white actors or actresses in roles of characters of color or ethnicity, is common in Hollywood, such as Tilda Swinton playing Tibetan mentor the Ancient One in Marvel's new film Doctor Strange and Emma Stone cast as half-Chinese-half-Hawaiian Captain Allison Ng in the movie Aloha.

Hollywood faulted on 'whitewashing'

Disney's announcement last year of a live-action remake of the 1998 animated film Mulan drew an online petition urging the company not to have a white actress play the role. The petition garnered 85,300 signatures.

Artists' vision of who looks like a hero is rooted in systematic racism and it's not bad for them to be challenged to think outside the box and it will not reduce their work, said Constance Wu, a Chinese-American actress known for her role as Jessica Huang in the ABC comedy series Fresh Off the Boat.

"We need to be vocal, to ask people to stretch their imagination so that we can start slowly breaking down the systemic racism in Hollywood," she said in the panel discussion.

Joan Chen, another panelist and actress and producer, disagreed. "If an American director adapts a Japanese cartoon into an American story, it's his creative freedom. There's nothing wrong with it. He only needs to buy the rights to make it," she said.

"We can create our own stories. It's just easier to protest than to create."

She said stereotypes in Hollywood were not always malicious but dangerous because they were one-dimensional and incomplete, citing as an example the recent Academy Award ceremony gag featuring Chinese children posing as accountants playing into the old stereotypes of Asians.

The scarcity of Asian roles in Hollywood was a factor, said Wu, but "getting that job is at the risk of losing moral integrity".