White-washing has been a thing in Hollywood since Hollywood was a thing. You would think that in 2016, with all the push for representation and equality, the part of the world that is meant to be the most liberal (i.e. Los Angeles) would be on the cutting edge of that. But no. Even in the past few years there have been Egyptians played by white people (Christian Bale, Gerard Butler), Hawaiians played by white people (Emma Stone), Native Americans played by white people (Johnny Depp), Iranians played by white people (Jake Gyllenhaal) and obviously countless more non-white people played by white people. How is this okay? Answer: it’s not.
Twitter is currently alight with Hollywood’s latest casting injustice: Matt Damon as the lead in a new movie called The Great Wall, which–you guessed it–takes place in China and should probably star actual Chinese people.
Uhh… Guys? Why is Jason Borne fighting monsters off the Great Wall of China? Has white washing gotten this glaringly obvious?
— Alex the Jerk (@AlexoftheSquid) August 2, 2016
— Janelle Lyn (@janellestravels) August 2, 2016
One celebrity in particular called out Hollywood white-washing and the number of excuses they use to justify it (like when Ridley Scott said, ‘I can’t mount a $140 million film and say that my lead actor is Mohammad so-and-so from such-and-such. I’m just not going to get financed.’ Cringe.). Taiwanese-American actress and Fresh Off the Boat star Constance Wu posted a long message on Twitter explaining plainly what is so deeply wrong with giving non-white roles to white actors.
Can we all at least agree that hero-bias & “but it’s really hard to finance” are no longer excuses for racism? TRY pic.twitter.com/mvNet5PrtH
— Constance Wu (@ConstanceWu) July 29, 2016
She asserts that people of colour don’t need the white man to step in and save them and that showing that is damaging, belittling and yes, racist. Whether you intend it to or not, it shows white superiority. She also addresses the fact that just because Chinese investors in The Great Wall make the same money excuse as Ridley Scott, it doesn’t make it okay. Movies are received well when people see themselves reflected in the characters. That shouldn’t be limited to the small portion of the population that was born white.
On the one hand, it’s sad to see how far we have yet to go before we’re anywhere near equal representation in cinema. On the other hand, it’s great to see that casting decisions like this are getting their fair share of backlash and sparking discussions about what (and who) we’re portraying in the media. The best thing we can do is keep talking about it.