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Scarlett Johansson and White Faces in Non-White Places

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(Image credit: StoicLewy)

White people taking non-white roles, otherwise known as whitewashing, is as American as football—and is now a game that Scarlett Johansson is playing. It’s been done for years, with little to no mainstream backlash, because if the whitewashed communities voice their disapproval, they’re greeted with post-racial nonsense and prose advocating for color-blindness.

When you’re one community against the mainstream media’s arguably captive audience (read: army), there is little that can be done in a short period of time, especially in enough time to affect an upcoming film. This consistent whitewashing has occurred for years, and hurts all races, but for the purposes of this article I’m focusing on women of color (because just being a woman is enough to make you lose representation—check the Bechdel test).

Let’s not only focus on women of color, but re-focus on the white women that steal their roles, like Scarlett Johansson, who was recently cast in the upcoming adaptation of Ghost in the ShellThe anime, which takes place in a fictional Japanese city, follows the story of Motoko Kusanagi—the character whom Scarlett Johansson will play. It appears as though the character’s aesthetic, and name, as well as the setting within which her story takes place are not enough to suggest than an actress of Asian descent might best fit the role. The fact is that this is whitewashing, through and through, and the phenomenon has appeared in films throughout the years—particularly in adaptations of non-American anime.

Here is a list of just a few roles that have been whitewashed throughout the years, which show that the problem still exists today:

Despite any evidence or proof, there will always be folks that deny the importance of the media and representation. However, if someone adamantly argues that the representation of people of color is not important, and that it is wrong for those in said communities to rise up, you can call upon the examples learned from Twilight and 50 Shades of Grey. The casting of each novel’s respective male lead was not only a hot topic across mainstream media outlets, but was also fiercely contested by a clear obsession with mimicking the reality within the texts. For example, when Robert Pattinson was first announced as the (abusive and bleh-worthy) Edward Cullen, fans were up in arms. It wasn’t until promotional material for the film was released that fans began to put out their torches (which probably had more to do with the fact that the decision was clearly made than any sort of immediate positive reaction to Pattinson). The point is that people clearly take casting decisions very seriously, whether it’s an adaptation, remake, or re-imagining.

What’s ironic about the issue is that white people do not see color when they’re washing other colors away, but give a person of color one of their roles and they’re ready to break the Internet. Take a look at the recent revival of the classic musical, Annie. The reaction to the casting of young Quvenzhané Wallis as the titular character was not pretty, to say the least. While there was praise, there was even more anger, hate, and ignorance. Below are just a few examples:

There are PLENTY. MORE. EXAMPLES. IF. YOU’RE. NOT. CONVINCED. This reaction is not the first, nor will it be the last, of this kind. The Hunger Games character Rue also received similar treatment, particularly on Twitter. Ignoramuses bellowed over the fact that the character they’d imagined in the book, and/or what they feel was described in the book, was not matched by the film adaptation. The point, most simply, is that when faces of color take the places of white faces, white people lose their shit.

There is no naysaying powerful enough to deny this truth. These reactions on Twitter, and the countless others, do not exist in a vacuum, nor are they “exceptions” or rare occurrences. The tweets and stories above are just a few of many, and accumulating lists of them for the sake of proving wrong those who would deny the truth is a waste of time and resources. If people want additional proof, they can get it—Twitter is open to everyone.

What I will provide, however, is a brief which examines the incredible and growing struggles of women of color. The brief, by the Center for American Progress, concludes with the following: “women of color have different experiences in the workforce and political leadership. Each demographic faces different health disparities and advances in educational attainment, making it that much more important that we acknowledge their diverse perspectives, particularly in the national discourse on issues directly impacting their families and communities.”

In essence, we need to listen to women of color, and before we can listen to women of color we need to allow them to exist. The media is a tool that can bring about incredible change, as it has in the past and continues to do (hello Transparent), but only if it stops washing people away. Say no to Johansson’s Ghost in the Shell, and say no to any and all whitewashing in the future.

Header image credit: Richard Lewis

My name is Jayson Flores and I'm a rebel. I love Buffy, I love intersectional feminism, I love to love, I love vulnerability, I love imperfection, and I love fighting homonormativity. I've decided I'm either a sane person living in an insane world, or an insane person living in a sane world.

Founder of Gay on a Budget.

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