Daily 49er

The ‘Ghost’ of ethnic diversity

There’s no place for ethnic whitewashing in 2016.

Lauren Torres, Staff Writer

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Hollywood; the place where silver-screen dreams come true and you can be anything you want – that is, unless you’re Asian, Native American, African American or anything but white.

 

During a summer spent interning for a talent manager, I witnessed countless Caucasian actors being submitted for roles with descriptions like “ethnic” or “Hispanic/African American.” Hundreds of ethnically diverse actors’ headshots came through that office, only to end up in the trash can.

 

These aren’t choices made due to lack of options; these are deliberate, harmful choices made with no regard to their effect on the diverse populace of moviegoers.

 

Hollywood’s most recent whitewashing scandal stems from the casting of Scarlett Johansson, who is Danish and unmistakably white, as Japanese character Major Motoko Kusanagi in the live-action adaptation of anime “Ghost in the Shell.”

 

While Johansson’s feeling the heat of backlash for this now, she’s hardly the first. In 1937, “The Good Earth,” a film about a family of Chinese farmers, had white actors perform in yellow face and prosthetics to fit the Western stereotype of what a “real” Chinese character would look like.

No one can forget the disaster that was Mickey Rooney crashing through “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” as a bumbling caricature of his Japanese role Mr. Yunioshi. Last year’s “Pan” had the paler-than-snow Rooney Mara cast as the famous Native American character Tiger Lily, a move so offensively bold even Mara expressed regret in taking the role.

The excuse of old Hollywood, that there weren’t enough actors of color, has no room in the 21st century. Now, more than ever, there’s a plethora of ethnically diverse actors to choose from. So what excuse is Hollywood hiding behind now? Max Landis, screenwriter of films such as “American Ultra” and “Chronicle”, took to YouTube to express, in his professional opinion, why having Johansson as the star was more beneficial than problematic.

“The only reason to be upset about Scarlett Johansson being in ‘Ghost in the Shell’ is if you don’t know how the movie industry works,” he said. He then goes on to argue that there are simply no “A-list female Asian celebrities.”

This that’s-just-the-way-it-is attitude is the problem at the core of every Hollywood injustice. Studio executives with their money at stake would rather pick a safe, bankable bet like Johansson than take a chance on an unknown Japanese actress. Then, because Asian actresses don’t get the same exposure as their white counterparts, they aren’t considered as viable options for future projects. It’s a self-perpetuating cycle.

On top of that backwards reasoning, there are at least a handful of actresses that could have been considered, like Rinko Kikuchi (“Pacific Rim”, “Babel”), Karen Fukuhara (“Suicide Squad”), or Kimiko Glenn (“Orange is the New Black”).

Successes such as “Master of None” and “Orange is the New Black” proudly present a diverse cast and have become cult hits, and guess what? No one takes issue with the fact that the characters are from different ethnic backgrounds. In fact, sometimes that’s the reason they keep watching.

According to the 2015 Hollywood Diversity Report by UCLA, “Films with relatively diverse casts enjoyed the highest global box office receipts and the highest median return on investment.” Diverse casts highlight the variety of life experiences found in actual communities and give viewers higher chances of finding a character they can personally connect to.

Hear that, Hollywood? Stop casting Jennifer Lawrences as Pocahontases.

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