In Defense For PoC Actors – Doctor Strange and Ghost in the Shell sparks controversy

April 19, 2016

Doctor Strange released a trailer that sparked a lot of criticism and controversy over casting. Surprised? There’s a constant battle of speaking up against “whitewashing” (choosing a white actor to play the role of a character originally non-white), and defending something for being fictional. We hear it all the time, and it’s certainly starting to get old. Are you sick of people crying over whitewashing? I assure you, we’re sick of it, too.

It’s no secret that money is a huge motivator for this billion dollar industry. What this thing we call “Hollywood” does is to try to make decisions that best bring in the big bucks, and often times at the expense of what we consider to be diverse actors. But they aren’t solely at fault.

 

Hollywood makes these decisions based on the likes and dislikes of movie goers. It’s the masses that ultimately influence these decisions. As an example: Romeo Must Die had to be rewritten because test groups were “uncomfortable with seeing an Asian man portrayed in a sexual light,” said The Debut Director, Gene Cajayon. And thus the movie’s ending was re-written.

 

We say things like “It’s Hollywood,” to justify these occurrences where people of color (PoC) are erased, either consciously or not, without knowing or understanding how important our voices are.

 

Doctor Strange stars Benedict Cumberbatch as Doctor Strange with an award winning actress to play the role of what originally a Tibetan male, The Ancient One. The studio defended their casting decision explaining the desire to remove Asian actors from the stereotype (and thus removing them entirely) and changing the character into a genderless or gender-fluid character, thus choosing the famously androgynous, Tilda Swinton.

 

I’ve heard two defenses for this:

 

  1. “Tilda Swinton is award winning and amazing. Why would they cast a no name?”

  2. “This way they step away from stereotyping Asian actors as an ancient mystic."

 

To which I say:

 

  1. There’s a vicious cycle going on here. There are no Asian actors because no one is casting Asian actors for these roles. There are no Asian actors for these roles because no one is casting Asian actors.

  2. There are plenty of ways to combat the stereotype. If they’re changing the character anyways, why not allow the character to be young and female or a middle-aged suave businessman?

 

Obviously, this doesn’t mean I have anything against Tilda Swinton, yet somehow that is always a defense (“You just don’t like Tilda Swinton”).

What could be considered poor timing was the release of the upcoming anime-based film Ghost in the Shell images. These images showed Scarlet Johansson as the lead, Japanese woman Makoto Kusanagi. Naturally, it elicited the same response. And people still think it’s just because we hate Scarlet Johansson (we don’t).

 

If you’ve read this far and are still trying to figure out why this is such a big deal, let me break it down for you:

 

  1. You are not the world. Thus, just because you are not offended doesn't mean no one else is.

  2. Even though Hollywood is the final factor of these casting decisions, it does not make it a right, just, or moral decision.

  3. Letting non-white actors play white characters is not the same, and thus not hypocritical, the other way around. Read this to learn why: http://timemachineyeah.tumblr.com/post/58648290519/this-is-a-jar-full-of-major-characters

  4. Despite being works of fiction, it matters. It matters because we are subconsciously told by media what is okay and what isn’t. The same defense in wanting to see more females represented, more body types represented, can be used to want to see more minorities represented.

Does this mean we hate white people? Of course not. Is that going to stop people from making such claims? Of course not.

If you’re sick of us talking about whitewashing, we’re just as sick of people doing it.

 

 

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