Just in case you have been out of the loop, white actors were cast to play non-white characters in The Last Airbender and the Prince of Persia. I know, I know. The white actors did such a good job that none of us in the theater were supposed to notice that they weren’t white, right? Well, I’m sure that the Asians or Persians who went to these movies half expected to see an Asian or a Persian actor cast in the lead roles. I’m sure they could tell the difference. However, for those white audience members who are used to seeing themselves everywhere, I’m sure this faux pas this didn’t even register.
Whitewashing has a long tradition in Hollywood. Yet, since we are supposedly a post-racial society, race shouldn’t matter in a piece of entertainment, right? Wrong. I think it should matter, because white people aren’t the only ones who watch television or go to the movies. We like to see people who look like us on the screen, whether that screen is big or small. Imagine being a white person yet only seeing black or brown faces everywhere, including at the movies or on tv. That has largely been the story of my life. I thought I was the only one who felt this way until I read Sandra Cisneros’ House on Mango Street. The young character Esperanza doesn’t understand why white people look scared when they get lost and wander into her neighborhood. She sees “all brown all around” and knows “we are all safe.”
So, yes, I was angry that Katniss wasn’t brown. And as we speak, Lionsgate is engaging in whitewashing once again, casting actors for another film adaptation of a book, Warm Bodies, a zombie love story. I’m all for zombie love stories, but what irritates me is this tendency to whitewash their productions. By “whitewash,” I am referring to Hollywood’s tendency to cast white actors in roles that clearly call for races other than white.
Lionsgate is once again going to change the main character of a book so that a white actress can play her. I’m talking Katniss and Hunger Games all over again. Why is a Hollywood studio whitewashing another story?? Because she’s a great actress. Because the character’s personality is more important than her race or skin color. Cop outs, I say, cop outs!!
You can’t tell me that they couldn’t find any good mixed-race female actresses with the acting skills needed to portray Nora from Warm Bodies! Nora is described as being mixed race and of Ethiopian descent with brown skin and brown eyes. Here’s how Lionsgate whitewashed Nora:
Where is the brown skin?
Suzanne Collins approved of Jennifer Lawrence playing Katniss Everdeen. Likewise, Isaac Marion approves of Analeigh Tipton playing Nora. Why do authors even bother to create diverse characters if they’re going to let Hollywood whitewash their stories??!!
How many young girls of color would have liked to see Katniss look like them on the big screen? How many fans of Nora would have wanted to see versions of themselves in a movie?
Is it the responsibility of authors to make sure that Hollywood remains true to their narrative right down to the characters’ descriptions?