Film Forward

Hollywood Whitewashes Asian Characters All The Time — Now Asian Americans Are Fighting Back

Scarlett Johansson playing a character named Motoko Kusanagi? Nope.

Hollywood has long portrayed minorities through offensive caricatures, often erasing their voices completely (think black, brown and yellowface). The conversation surrounding its homogenous casting focuses mostly on the lack of black representation in the industry, but that unfortunately often leaves Native Americans, Asians and Hispanics out of the discussion.

The whitewashing of Hollywood's nonwhite characters has been an unfortunate practice in the industry, particularly when it comes to Asian roles. From Mickey Rooney's outrageously offensive stereotype of the Asian neighbor in Breakfast at Tiffany's to Emma Stone and Tilda Swinton picking up traditionally Asian roles in movies today, Hollywood has a long history of choosing white actors to play Asian characters.

Most recently, the casting of Scarlett Johansson as well as other white actors in the live action adaptation of Japanese anime Ghost In The Shell was met with strong backlash.


As Asian Americans push for proper representation in film, Margaret Cho, #WeNeedDiverseBooks founder Ellen Oh and Keith Chow of Nerds of Color launched a Twitter discussion on the whitewashing of Asian Americans under the hashtag #whitewashedOUT on Tuesday. 

Oh told A Plus that she first came up with the idea for this discussion after continuously seeing white actors being cast in Asian roles. 

"We've been speaking out on these issues for years, but Hollywood continues to steamroll right over us and create frequently horrific 'representations' of Asian and Asian American cultures on screen. It was really time to take a stand," Oh said, adding that the discussion led her to change her mind about never going back on Twitter after being harassed off of it back in December. 

"This was too important an issue to stay quiet," she affirmed. "I'll gladly deal with haters and trolls if it means this message goes as wide as possible."

That so many other Twitter users piped in on the discussion exposed the widespread discontent with one of Hollywood's most persistent problems.

"It is not just about movies and Hollywood," Oh told A Plus. "It relates to the bigger issue of systemic racism and erasure. For decades, Hollywood has whitewashed us, erased us, stereotyped us — and it has led to the widespread racism against Asian Americans. And because so many of us have stayed silent for so long, because we've been conditioned to conform to the #modelminority stereotype, the ability to speak [to a] crowd is incredibly empowering."

Other minorities jumped on the hashtag too, relaying their own experiences.

But Oh noted that she is hopeful the #OscarsSoWhite controversy has awakened Hollywood executives to this issue: 

These whitewashed movies have not been financial successes. So they can't use that as an excuse. They themselves need to recognize that they have a lot of internalized racism that is contributing to this ongoing problem. It's time for them to to do some serious rethinking. 


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