Guest Contribution by Montique David (@MontiqueD)
All the rage in Hollywood these days is race switching. Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One in Doctor Strange. Lawrence Fishburne as Perry White in Man of Steel. Scarlett Johannson as Motoko Kusanagi in Ghost in a Shell. Will Smith as Floyd ‘Deadshot’ Lawton in Suicide Squad. Characters that on the pages they are written on are different races than what studios put on the silver screen. But what’s the difference with casting Perry White as a black man and The Ancient One as Celtic? Is there even a difference?
The short answer- absolutely.
What on its face may be seen as a double standard (Switching race is switching race!) is actually much deeper. Chris Rock said something in his opening Academy Awards monologue that resonated with me and explains the difference perfectly.
“It’s just, we want opportunity. We want black actors to get the same opportunities as white actors. That’s it. Not just once. Leo gets a great part every year and, you know, everybody, all you guys get great parts all the time. But what about black actors?”
I’ll take that a step further and say, what about non-white actors?
The real issue is that there aren’t many parts for non-white actors in Hollywood. In 2014, the University of Southern California did a study about diversity in film aimed at the top 100 movies in Hollywood that year. Of those, only 17 of those movies featured a non-white lead or co-lead actor. To take that even a step further, 73.1% of film actors that year were white.
Which brings me to the point of whitewashing. When there’s almost a ¾ chance of a white actor having a role anyway, why then take a character that has history of being a person of color and then make that character white? Sure in a perfect world we would love to just cast the perfect person for the role but where we are now the opportunity for a person of color is only just over 25%. That’s why race switching a white character to a person of color is different than whitewashing. Opportunity.
In 2012 we got to see The Avengers grace our screen and it was a great experience. Some of our favorite comic book characters come together in one epic movie. Then there was the money shot- the one shot of all six Avengers side by side in a circular formation ready to save the world. One problem though- the only person who had any color in his skin was The Hulk. But times are indeed about to change. Justice League itself boasts a lineup of an Israeli, a Hawaiian, and an African American to its lineup. Half of the six members will be people of color.
So there is hope that the times are changing. With the hashtags on Twitter and work done by pages like @GeeksofColor and their brilliant #WhatAsianAmI hashtag, fans and actors alike are letting it known that diversity and representation in film is needed. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” So let’s keep making noise until Hollywood hears us.