Photo by Movie Pilot
We are told that “It’s not that big of a deal” or “White actors are just simply better” when it comes to the consistent whitewashing in popular culture. We are told that we can’t stay mad or that our bitterness is unnecessary and uncalled for. When we see characters like the Ancient One’s whole cultural background being erased, I think we have the right to be mad.
What’s the most frustrating about whitewashing in Hollywood is that the next time we hear about a case like this, most of us wouldn’t even be surprised. Recently, a surge of uproar came from those whose ethnic backgrounds consistently get erased from the media when the whitewashing of the Ancient One in Doctor Strange and Motoko Kusanagi in Ghost in the Shell hit the spotlight. In response to whitewashing of the Marvel character the Ancient One, a Marvel spokesperson released a statement to Mashable stating this:
“Marvel has a very strong record of diversity in its casting of films and regularly departs from stereotypes and source material to bring its MCU to life. The Ancient One is a title that is not exclusively held by any one character, but rather a moniker passed down through time, and in this particular film the embodiment is Celtic. We are very proud to have the enormously talented Tilda Swinton portray this unique and complex character alongside our richly diverse cast.”
If you didn’t catch it the first time— the Ancient One is now… Celtic? What a fine way to cover up the blatant whitewashing of a Tibetan character who is finally being brought to the big screen. Sarcasm intended. In my opinion, this was an extremely lazy way to shield Marvel from being further hounded with rightful accusations of whitewashing and erasure of a character’s rich cultural background. Asian characters already have such a small part in the media, either reduced to the token POC sidekick or the villain. The Ancient One serves as a mentor to Doctor Strange, teaching him the ways of mystic arts and various parts of Asian culture, which sounds like a huge way to incorporate a well written and well rounded Asian character into the majority white Hollywood casting system. On top of this, Marvel decided to gender swap the character, which sounded like a step forward for the diversity in the MCU, but suffered a blow to its progress when whitewashing a character of color.
The same problem exists in the casting of Scarlett Johansson in Ghost in the Shell. The repeated whitewashing of a character of Asian descent got old a LONG time ago, and it doesn’t seem to be getting any better. Motoko Kusanagi comes from a Japanese anime that is deeply rooted in Japanese culture and history, but the media’s instinct is to of course cast a white person to carry this role. On top of this, film producers decided that to make this action less obvious, they’d use CGI to transform Scarlett Johansson’s features to make her “look more Asian”. Again, a lazy way to excuse the racism deeply rooted in Hollywood’s casting.
The request is extremely simple and linear: Cast Asian actors or actresses for Asian characters. There is no valid reason to cast anyone but those of the proper cultural decent to play characters of color. There are plenty Asian actors and actresses that would have been better fit to play Tibetan character, the Ancient One, or Motoko Kusanagi in Ghost in the Shell, but Hollywood’s eyes are on profit. Believing that white people are the only way to gain profit in any production is not only false, but a whole different issue for another time. If Hollywood likes to portray the cultures of people of color, why won’t they cast people of color themselves?