Disney has been on top of its game lately, releasing movies that feature characters of color, who are played by people of color. The company has come a long way from casting Jake Gyllenhaal as a Persian prince.
Last week, the finalized cast of Disney’s live action remake of “The Lion King” showed that 11 out of 14 cast members are black and portraying African characters. Disney has also stated that the upcoming live action “Mulan” will have an “all-Asian cast,” and have officially cast Middle Eastern and Indian actors in the majority of roles for the reimagination of “Aladdin.”
All this progress and representation by Disney might convince audiences that the problem of Hollywood whitewashing is over, but the truth is that Disney is simply the exception to the ingrained belief that white actors sell better in lead roles.
Most recently, the casting directors of “Ghost in the Shell,” a movie based on a Japanese manga set in Japan, decided to cast Scarlett Johansson instead of a Japanese actress.
The logic behind this horrible decision was that director Rupert Sanders said in an interview at a Tokyo event that Johansson is “the best actress of her generation,” and that he was honored to work with her.
Reading between the lines, it’s clear what he really means: She’s white and well-known, so she will make this movie more popular than an equally, if not more, qualified Asian-American actress who is less well-known.
Well, guess what, Sanders? “Ghost in the Shell” has a 45 percent on Rotten Tomatoes and is a $110 million budget film that garnered less than $19 million domestically on its opening weekend.
“Ghost in the Shell” is not the first whitewashed film to flop at the box office. Remember all the white people in “The Last Airbender” and “Dragonball Evolution”? How about Rooney Mara playing Native American character Tiger Lily in “Pan” or Emma Stone playing a half Hawaiian and Chinese character in “Aloha”?
It’s abhorrent that executives will push aside equal representation for a potential profit.
Korean actor Daniel Dae Kim said in a panel discussion on Asian-Americans in entertainment last May that at any level in the film industry, no one can show any data for proving that casting white actors is more profitable, according to NPR.
Not only should casting directors stop attributing the idea of colorblindness to movie roles that are clearly meant to be racially diverse, but white actors and actresses should stop accepting roles that would have them playing people of color.
Johansson’s excuse for accepting the lead role in “Ghost in the Shell” is that “having a franchise with a female protagonist driving it is such a rare opportunity,” so of course she had to accept, according to an interview with Marie Claire magazine. That’s actually a poor excuse, especially for an actress as accomplished as Johansson who could definitely afford to turn down a role.
Actor Ed Skrein — who is relatively unknown but got his big break playing the villain in “Deadpool” — recently withdrew from playing the role of Major Ben Daimio in the upcoming “Hellboy” reboot because he is a character of Japanese heritage in the original comic books.
Skrein effectively brought attention to the issue of whitewashing and put pressure on the “Hellboy” casting directors to cast the role appropriately.
“If you take a character written as Asian or black and cast a white actor in that role, you’re effectively saying that there was no Asian or black actor good enough or clever enough or talented enough or capable enough to play that part,” said British-Chinese actor and director Daniel York in his article for Time magazine.
There’s really no excuse anymore for either party involved to be excluding actors and actresses of color. The people who create the media that America consumes, producers and directors, need to keep up with the public’s desires – and the public wants proper representation.
Disney and Skrein are good examples to go off of, so hopefully actors speaking on the topic and Disney’s forward thinking will be a wake up call that Hollywood sorely needs.