Whitewashing of People of Color in Film
by Vaannila Annadurai
Many of the movies we watch and love depict fascinating moments from our world’s history. These movies tell all kinds of stories, from brutal wars, to brave heroes, to treacherous betrayals. Not only do they vary in genre, but they also showcase tales of people from vastly different countries and time periods. If this is the case, then why do the artists portraying these characters lack diversity?
Time after time we watch historical movies about people of color being portrayed by the same white actors. “Cleopatra”, “Exodus: Gods and Kings”, “Lone Ranger” -- these are just some examples of famous movies in which major characters have been played by white actors portraying characters of color. Producers of Hollywood films take stories and characters that have historical significance to various groups of people, pervert them to appeal to a western audience, and they then cast white actors who have no connection to these stories to play the lead characters.
Even worse, sometimes the creators of these movies will go to extra lengths to make these characters look like the people they portray. According to entertainment equality organization, Racebending.com, Makeup artists often use darker makeup on white actors to make them appear African or Middle Eastern; eye makeup is also used to make white actors appear East Asian, according to the Huffington Post. Producers will do anything to help white actors mimic the way people of color look, but they won’t hire an actor of that race, even though these actors would provide the most authentic appearance for that role.
In essence, the usually white producers of these movies capitalize on the histories of other cultures and then disrespect them by casting white stars. They rake in billions of dollars for their own gain, while leaving the marginalized groups they steal from in the dark. Actors of color can barely find work competing against white actors for regular roles, but for them to have them looked over for jobs portraying their own race is utterly insulting. So while produces accepts fortunes from the movies they “create,” the actors of the cultures these stories come from are left without jobs and without pay.
The film industry must stop stealing from and stepping over people of color to make profits. There are many well qualified people of color who would be able to portray a much more authentic version of historical tales, and it’s time we start utilizing them. Now, it’s easy to blame Hollywood directors for these racist actions -- and they are largely to blame -- but as the general public the responsibility falls on us too. Hollywood directors hire white actors because they think it sells tickets, and they will continue to do so if we keep endorsing white washed films.
Every time you buy a movie ticket or purchase a film with whitewashed characters we’re telling producers that not only are their actions okay, but that their actions are supported by audiences and will bring in profits. Our movies reflect the interests and values of their audiences. Only when we refuse to endorse whitewashed storytelling with our wallets and not just our words will Hollywood finally become a more respectful and inclusive place.