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What is Whitewashing?

Whitewashing is a phenomenon where white actors are cast into historically non-white roles or in roles that are scripted for non-white characters. Man major Asian characters on film have been played by white actors who often performed in yellowface--dressing in Asian clothing and makeup so that a white individual could play an Asian role, commonly including slanted eyes, sleek black hair, and heavy makeup. 

Why is Whitewshing a Problem?

One may wonder why is Hollywood taking People of Color like Asians and replacing them with Caucasian actors and actresses? A single argument is at the heart of this question: filmmakers assume that people won't watch movies unless the main character is white and that movies with non-white main characters won't sell well. 

Because there are few movies or shows with Asian leads, when there are shows and movies with Asian characters, there tends to be a lot of cricitsm. This phenomenon doesn't just apply to Asians but for other people of color as well. For instance, even though Rue in the Hunger Games was written to be black, a lot of people voiced surprise and anger by the young actress's skin color. 

Ultimately whitewashing is a major problem because whitewashing implies that non-white characters will not be opular with viewers.Whitewashing creates a culture where white people can portray anybody and everybody, while people of color cannot even be themselves. Whiteness becomes the default and the norm, setting the standard to which people should aspire to become. Truly, whitewashing cuts back the chances for potentially talented actors and actresses of color to have their time on the big screen.

The lack of Asian faces on the screen creates a cycle. Asian Americans are limited. The depiction signals to Asian Americans that they are to remain bit players in the background. That affects how Asian Americans perceive of the possibilities for themselves: martial arts master; geisha girl; technology expert; often waiter or delivery boy; maybe scientist or doctor. They possess all the smarts, but they lack soul. They are not leaders, rebels, athletes, or artists. In other words, they not fully formed as individuals or communities.In order to progress with the acceptance of other cultures, giving these actors and actresses of color a chance to star in films and movies is a major step. 

Whitewashing through History

Whitewashing has been a major problem throughout history. For instance, even as late as 1961, Mickey Rooney plays a horrible 'comic' impersonation of Asian buck teeth and all in The Breakfast Club. The white-washing phenomenon is not to seen as one from back in the days. Just recently in 2017, Scarlett Johansson was cast into a Japanese role for the movie Ghost in the Shell. Although Johansson denied of whitewashing in the film, the movie was from a Japanese manga where the main protagonist is Japanese with a Japanese name.

Even Kevin Kwan, the author of the novel Crazy Rich Asians, claimed that a producer reached out with an offer to make a movie adaption if he was willing to change Rachel, the main protagonist, to a white girl. Notably, white-washing is still a problem.


Below is a list of various examples of films with whitewashing or yellowface