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Hollywood & whitewashing

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Quartz: Over the last decade, whitewashed movies lost nearly half a billion dollars


In particular, over the past decade, there have been 18 major studio releases that prominently feature “racially dysmorphic” casting, from 2008’s 21 (which re-imagined a team of mostly Asian-American blackjack players as white characters played by Jim Sturgess, Jacob Pitts and Kevin Spacey), to last year’s Doctor Strange (featuring Tilda Swinton as a white, female Ancient One) and Gods of Egypt (with Gerard Butler as Set, an Egyptian god by way of Scotland), all the way to this year’s Ghost in the Shell. (For the purpose of this analysis, only films that feature white performers in culturally inexplicable settings or depictions, or made to look nonwhite through cosmetics, have been included—not remakes that effectively relocate the narrative into a new setting or situation.)


Of these 18 films, only six were profitable. Of the profitable ones, only three—21, Doctor Strange and Star Trek: Into Darkness (featuring Benedict Cumberbatch as Khan Noonian Singh)—could be rated unqualified hits. But even given these successes, the 18 films will have collectively lost nearly half a billion dollars for their studios, accounting for production and marketing expenses—a staggering amount, even in today’s go-big-or-go-home Hollywood economy.




...i do so love that Tropic Thunder is somehow on there, haha

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Yeah, Khan threw me as well. From his wikia page:


He was the product of aselective-breeding and genetic-engineering scientific program, based on the eugenics philosophy that held improving the capabilities of a man improved the entire Human race. Augments produced by the program possessed physical strength and analytical capabilities considerably superior to ordinary Humans, and were "engineered" from a variety of Earth's ethnic groups. Khan's background was suspected to be Sikh, from the northern region of India.


That aside, it seems if you want to "whitwash" a character, just throw Cumberbatch in there as well, and you're golden.

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  • 4 months later...

This popped up just today when I read that Ed Skrein (Ajax from Deadpool) pulled out from the Hellboy reboot due to the character he was cast as being Asian. Got me thinking about whitewashing in general... it doesn't bother me as much as it should, probably. Talent is as talent does. I also appreciate some of the creative ways writers/producers will tackle the issue or justify their decisions (It's fun to watch the BS fly). Poking fun at pointless or misplaced outrage is also quite entertaining.


My take on the usual suspects:


Tropic Thunder (the joke went over the offended people's collective heads),


Doctor Strange (The Ancient One was a huge offensive stereotype to begin with, and so is the basic origin story, so they manufactured a different outrage as a bait-and-switch to cover the cliché of the white savior, again),


The Great Wall (Not a whitewash, it was a contrived and soulless money grab, but Damon's character was clearly conceived and written as an out of his depths European and clueless foreign barbarian),


Thom Cruz's The Last Samurai (Not a whitewash either, the last samurai from the title wasn't Cruise's character but the actual samurai played by Watanabe, I'd almost say it was cultural appropriation but Cruise's character stayed IN japan and found life there to be better than his experience in western culture, I'd say it was cultural assimilation),


21 (total whitewash, take a plot based on a true story, market the film as such, and use a bunch of white actors for "marketability" because there wasn't a Caucasian in the real story, ugh),


Gods of Egypt (this was just an all around offensive movie, like a whole cast of star wars Gungans doing Shakespeare; could have just re-named everyone and everything and had it as just a generic fantasy movie, but they had to latch onto some random pantheon and the Greeks were played out, sad),


Ghost in the Shell (Scarlett Johansson's Major, not so much; she's a full body prosthetic, she can look like whomever, and they went that angle too with having her pre-prosthetic self played by a young Japanese actress; it would have been an awesome Easter egg to have had a line in the film specifically state that her appearance is based off a popular movie actress from the turn of the 21st century; however, absolutely every other character that isn't a full body cyborg in this film being white, yeah, that's a whitewash),


Finally, Star Trek Into Darkness (Difficult to say for this one with Cumberbatch's Khan; the original series they had a Mexican with a ponytail portraying a superman from India, not too PC there, and they did infer that Cumberbatch's Khan had his appearance surgically altered to help hide his identity and the tie-in comic actually has his original appearance resembling Montalban; lets just say that the deus ex sanguis thing was really, stupid stupid and move on).

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In fairness to the folks making the new Hellboy I don't think they realized that the character was Asian. It's not a super big part of the character's past (I only dimly remember it being mentioned maybe once) and the art style of the B.P.R.D. comics at the time the character was featured coupled with his prominent facial wound make it difficult to tell that he is meant to have Asian features. I had completely forgotten he wasn't just a white guy myself and I've read every issue of B.P.R.D. from start to present so it was an easy mistake to make. Hopefully they'll fix it now that it has been brought to their attention.


I did have the ancient one controversy in my head whilst watching Doctor Strange and that scene where she died would have had a much more uncomfortable undercurrent if the character had been anyone other than a white person. I still wouldn't have been bothered if they'd cast an asian actor to play Doctor Strange, personally. It might have gotten everyone to calm down over The Ancient One and Danny Rand whilst also hiring an Asian man to not only star in a movie but play someone other than a Yakuza member or a businessman.

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