Whitewashing in Hollywood

Okay, take a good long look at the title of this post, buckle down, and let’s get started because this is a big one.

If you know me in real life (I’m sorry) or you follow any of my social media (even more sorry), you might know of my strong hatred towards the continuous whitewashing in Hollywood. While I know that this applies to all different races, I am going to mainly focus on the whitewashing of Asian culture because I am Asian and that’s my only reasoning. This, however, can apply to all whitewashing out there.

Whitewashing has been prevalent in all of Hollywood. It has been ignored and “justified” by almost everyone. Going all the way back Mickey Rooney, the whitest guy to ever exist, playing an Asian landlord to comes off as the most racist thing towards Asian I have seen happen. This was just one of the many examples of yellowface that appeared.

Hollywood realized that it was probably racist (no duh) since blackface didn’t get the best reviews (for the most obvious reason in history) but they didn’t want to stop casting white actors to play Asian parts (for whatever ridiculous reason). So the best solution was to just put well-known white actors to play Asian parts without disguising them and just kind of look the other way. Okay, makes perfect sense, thanks. They leave the excuse of “well if we cast actually Asian people, no one will watch it” and then pretend that that statement isn’t a blatantly racist. EXCUSE ME? What kind of shitty excuse is that? That’s basically saying, “Asian don’t sell, white people are better.”

But of course, being racist against Asians isn’t the same thing as, say being racist against African Americans as I’ve been told, which just made me sit there in silence and wonder if these people have actually been in an accident that permanently damaged their brains.

Some people say that it’s up to interpretation much like popular animes getting turned into live-action movies with white actors. For example, Dragonball Z and Ghost in The Shell.

Let me explain why it is wrong to cast white actors in these movies.

Dragonball:

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  1. Dragonball is one of the longest, most popular animes in history. It started in 1984 and continues to run today. The story was inspired by a CHINESE novel called Journey to the West and the “West” in the novel was referencing the Western Regions which mainly consisted of Central Asia and India, NOT EUROPE OR AMERICA. I REPEAT NOT EUROPE OF AMERICA.
  2. While the races of the characters are not specified, the anime stems from (surprise) JAPAN. The characters were created and generally speaking drawn for a Japanese audience.
  3. Now, yes the movie was directed by an Asian person so it CAN’T possibly be racist. But MAYBE the director also thought that the movie wouldn’t sell in America if the main character was Asian which brings us back to Asian trying to cater to white people because of being told that as a race, we are inferior and not important.
  4. Only the main characters are white. While Goku, Bulma, and Piccolo are played by white people, the rest are Asian. This immediately puts Asians in the background of a franchise that was created and made popular by Asians. Do you see what’s wrong now? It’s like Asia taking Star Wars and making Luke Skywalker, Leia, and Han Solo Asian while everyone else is white. (Also Star Wars was racist too but whatever moving on).
    Or let’s take a popular western cartoon: Batman and turning him Asian while everyone else is white. DO YOU SEE WHAT I’M SAYING NOW? Also an Asian Batman would be awesome so shut up.
  5. Also the movie was terrible.

Ghost in The Shell:

  1. Okay so many things. A lot of the reasons are basically the same as the one above except for the fact that the series is literally SET IN JAPAN. The main character’s name is Motoko Kusanagi. Give me one white person with that name. TELL ME that is a viable white person name.
  2. Again only the main characters are white, everyone else is Asian.
  3. People even talked about how they wanted to make Scarlett Johanssen look more Asian and was like “oh too far, I guess.”
  4. Now getting into the concept of the series as a whole, yes the main character is technically a robot (in the simplest term) and can be interpreted in many different ways. That is totally understandable. Maybe the movie can be seen as a more futuristic take of it, not making it be set in a specific part of the world. Sure that’s fine but here’s the problem with that. The reason why this is insulting is that is the definition of whitewashing. It’s changing a prominently Asian franchise and saying “yeah but what if it was white people instead of Asians?” It’s saying that it will be better if white people were in it. This series is HUGE in Japan and anyone who likes manga/anime. It started in 1989. It’s pretty huge. That’s why when a big live-action movie comes along, it’s insulting to see a white woman play a character has been written as inherently Asian. Because we are systematically told that being Asian is ugly and not pleasing in Western culture. It’s insulting and annoying.

Changing long-standing originally Asian franchises and replacing important, main characters with white people is so insulting. It dashes the dreams of Asian children by telling them that they aren’t worthy. It dashes the dreams of Asian adults that we are also not worthy to play these roles. Some of us dream of becoming the live embodiments of these characters. Take example: Mulan. I’m not Chinese but I always looked up to Mulan because that was the one relatable Asian princess in the Disney franchise. I saw these characters and they looked a little like me and it made me feel important and special. Seeing Scarlett Johansson take on the role of a character who is supposed to be Asian is defeating. It opens doors for other big anime series that I enjoy to be whitewashed. Hollywood and entertainment cater to the biggest consumers, which brings Asian directors, writers, creators to make their characters look a little bit more westernized so that it will sell in Western culture. It tells Asian that our small eyes are not beautiful, that our dark hair is undesirable, and that we are not important enough. I used to hate being Asian. I thought I was the ugliest person in the world (now I only think I’m the second ugliest). I hated my small eyes and my overall Asian face. I hated my culture because I so desperately wanted to be white and American. I was fed through media and underrepresentation that my race was not important and ugly. Now I’m proud of my heritage and race. But it took years of self-affirmation and climbing out of the “white people are better” hole that was created for me by this massive underrepresentation that was occurring.

I’ve even been told that “being racist towards Asians wasn’t really racist.” Think about that for a second. I’ve been told that “being racist towards Asians was totally an okay thing to do because we didn’t have “negative” stereotypes.” You can take that bullshit and throw it right out the window because no, that is not okay.

Trying to justify the entire belittling and mockery of a race is fucked up and makes you a terrible human being. Just because our “stereotypes” aren’t negative, I’m supposed to be okay with you putting me in a box and labeling me?

I’m not good at math so people tell me, “wow that’s so not Asian of you.” Or when a math problem occurs, people turn to me and is like, “here you go, you’re Asian, go for it.” What kind of fuckery is that? Do you not know how insulting that is? How shitty that makes me feel? Being good at math is not an inherently Asian trait. We aren’t born knowing our multiplication tables and we don’t spend our time, solving math problems in the dark.

The reason why Asians are seen good at math or education in general is because it’s our culture. We are raised to believe that being smart and intelligent is the way to success. I remember my dad telling me that I had to get good grades and I had to be good at everything so that I wouldn’t get made fun of for being Asian. Let that sink in. My parents were so afraid that I would be mocked and ridiculed for my race that they pushed me to be intelligent. I don’t know if this is true for other Asian families in Western culture but it was true for me. We try so hard and we push ourselves in education because we know that being smart is a way of success because our skin color won’t do that for us. We don’t have the same privileges that white people do. Also the importance of being smart and intelligent is so big and SO stressed in Asian culture that it’s actually not a good thing. Students push themselves so hard that it becomes dangerous. I know people who killed themselves because they couldn’t get into college and was so filled with shame that they didn’ see any other way. I know the pressure of being pushed to the limit. You need to understand, family is everything in Asian culture and people laugh at the fact that we say “we are trying to bring honor to our family” but it’s true. Everything I do is scrutinized and reflected upon my parents in Asian society. If I mess up a little bit, my entire family is shamed. That’s why succeeding as an individual is important because it means your family succeeds, not only you. Sure that’s not the whole case and not every family is like that but it’s very cultural and I feel like a lot of different Asians understand this.

Now let me take this back to why whitewashing in Hollywood is a shitty thing to do. Also just the fact that I have to explain this is fucking ridiculous. Because movies like these exist:

Replacing characters that are supposed to be Asian with white people is just plain shitty. Also the white messiah complex in certain movies is ridiculous too such as The Last Samurai and The Great Wall. It shows that white people are superior to Asians. It shows us that we need white people to save us from whatever. It makes Asians watching feel slightly inferior. Like the Chinese can’t even defend their most well-known infrastructure, the Great Wall of China, without a white man swooping in and being like, “don’t worry, lower race, the white man is here.”

I think Constance Wu says it best here and here:

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While The Great Wall was directed by a Chinese man, the message still resonates the same. Asians are not important enough. Seeing that happen is heartbreaking. Considering Asians make up 60% of the world’s population, I still have to sit around and watch Emma Stone play a basically half Asian character or Tom Cruise restructure the Japanese Army for the “better”. I still have to be told that being Asian means not being seen as an equal to white people, that being Asian is basically equivalent to “not important enough to represent accurately.”
I’ve been told that I can’t take a fucking joke when people slant their eyes and tell me to say “Herro” instead of “Hello.” I can’t slip up a little bit without people mocking me for being Asian. I apparently become people’s definition of the Asian culture and have to “hold up my end” of their “Asian friend.” I am not token Asian so if you’ve ever said, “I have an Asian friend so it’s okay.” Go fuck yourself and we aren’t friends anymore.
I find it everywhere. I had someone ask me if I spoke English. Yes, I speak English. Probably better than you can. I had people judge me because I majored in English by saying, “shouldn’t you be majoring in math or trying to become a doctor or something?” They belittle me for what I want to do as an individual based on what they know about the stereotypes of my race. I had someone ask me if I was Japanese and I said that I was Korean and they had the nerve to tell me that, “Oh okay but it’s all the same, isn’t it?” NO. IT’S NOT because they are very different countries and we don’t even speak the same fucking language. I get it, we look similar. Sometimes I get confused but I don’t go up to them and start speaking Korean because I assume they are Korean. I don’t go up to white people and ask if they know this other white person because they are white. And no, I don’t know your Japanese classmate from your hometown of farawayville. BECAUSE THAT IS A SHITTY THING TO ASSUME. And for the last time, I don’t know Jackie Chan. WE AREN’T FROM THE SAME COUNTRY, YOU ASSHOLE.
They make fun of Asian immigrants who can’t speak English well enough while they only know one language. You try and learn another language at the age of 40 and come back to me. If I ever see you come for my parents, who literally lived in two countries that spoke two different languages that were not their native language and THRIVED, or any immigrant parents, I will fucking end you.

So to summarize, whitewashing is a big fucking problem in Hollywood and we need to acknowledge it now and change it.

Thanks for reading.

Peace out.

-jl