Hollywood Still Whitewashed, Limited Opportunities for Minority Women

Scarlett Johansson plays The Major in Ghost in the Shell from Paramount Pictures and DreamWorks Pictures in theaters March 31, 2017.

Scarlett Johansson plays The Major in Ghost in the Shell from Paramount Pictures and DreamWorks Pictures in theaters March 31, 2017. PC: Business Wire.

Just this year, the Academy Awards faced extreme controversy over there not being any people of color nominated within the acting categories, inspiring the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite to trend on twitter. After many celebrities, such as Spike Lee and Jada Pinkett Smith, decided to boycott the ceremony, high hopes remain for Hollywood to include more diversity within the industry.

The fact is that the film industry is lacking when it comes to diversity, especially for women of color. According to the Representation Project, only six of the top 500 box office films of all-time feature a protagonist who is a woman of color. Out of six of these films, five are animated (Pocahontas, Spirited Away, Mulan, Lilo & Stitch, and Princess and the Frog), and they don’t even crack the top 200.

Not including women of color in film is not a matter of “political-correctness,” but a matter of representation. Many young girls of color around the world are heavily influenced by who and what is represented in film. When they only see white men and women on screen, this leads to insecurities about their skin color, which goes as far as self-hatred.

The lack of representation is also in part due to whitewashing of characters that are originally women of color. One famous example is the 1963 film Cleopatra, with Elizabeth Taylor playing the titular Egyptian character.

Not much has changed since the 60s, with there being controversy over Scarlett Johansson playing Major Motoko Kusanagi in the upcoming sci-fi film Ghost in a Shell, based off of the anime. Despite the character having a clearly Japanese name, many point out that the character doesn’t really look Japanese, so it’s okay for Johansson to play her, even though this might only be a matter of animation style.

Of course, Johansson is a prestigious Hollywood actress whose name will surely help bring in profit in the box office. Many will argue that there aren’t any Asian actors with enough prestige to play the character of Major. Not only does this ignore the talent of Asian actors in the film industry, but it’s the reason why they don’t have enough prestige in the first place.

The film industry broadcasts to massive audiences of all colors and genders, and failing to represent all of these people leads to unequal opportunities for minorities aspiring to become actors. It’s difficult for actors of color to gain credibility when there are so few roles available to them. On the occasion where there are roles available to them, a lot of the time it’s based off of harmful stereotypes.

So if it’s wrong to whitewash characters of color, isn’t it the same visa versa? Why is it okay to give the parts of white characters to people of color, such as Zendaya being casted as  Mary Jane in the new Spiderman film?

Because white people are already well represented within film, where as people of color are not. Casting a character of color to a white person only makes the problem worse, while casting an originally white character to a person of color helps with representation.

It is perplexing to me that in the year 2016 that Hollywood still has a problem with casting minorities, especially for women of color. As a women of color myself, I’m gravely disappointed in this lack of representation, but I look forward to there being rapid change within the industry, and for minorities to have equal opportunities in showcasing their talents.

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Natalia Gevara

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