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To Boldly Go

The Mortal Instruments Author Takes Stand Against Hollywood Whitewashing

The deeply ingrained issue of whitewashing has been a part of public conversation a lot in the past year–there’ve been the complicated race issues of how people read the characters in The Hunger Games, the polarized audience of HBO’s Girls. It’s always been an issue worth discussing, but it appears to be particularly in the zeitgeist at the moment. Now Cassandra Clare, author of The Mortal Instruments, has jumped into the conversation, and in reference to the big-screen adaptation of her own work.

Clare was inspired to write the post in response to a question a fan had over why the casting directors of the upcoming adaptation indicated that they were looking for Asian actors to play one of the main characters, Magnus Bane. Here’s an excerpt from Clare’s response (bolding ours):

They want an Asian actor to play Magnus because Magnus is Asian. (Technically, Magnus is biracial. I would be perfectly happy with a biracial actor playing him — but otherwise the option is an Asian actor, not a white actor. It doesn’t matter if any of Magnus’ background is white. Casting him white would erase that part of his background that is Asian. And important. There are plenty of roles out there for white actors. Most roles are for white actors. This is not one of them. There is very little I have control over as regards casting. I cannot pick an actor for Magnus. I don’t have that ability. But I can say, and say strongly, that I want them to cast an Asian or half-Asian actor, and I did. It is pretty much the one ironclad demand as regards casting that I have made, i.e. : if you don’t cast an Asian actor, I’ll never talk about this movie again, nor will I see it.)…

Clare goes on to elaborate some different instances in her writing that state pretty clearly the races of different characters. Considering the examples she gives, it’s pretty telling that the author even had to answer such a question in the first place. Given the incredible amount of hoopla that is generated simply by the race of every character in The Hunger Games, we don’t live in a period of time where it’s easy to deny that people have very strong opinions about these things.

In some way both sides make sense; part of what makes reading so great is the opportunity to invest in and identify with the characters you let into your head. When it becomes hairy is when those investments start adding to the already monumental problems that people of color face when getting cast in Hollywood.

Here’s another excerpt from Clare’s post:

I have gotten many letters over the years from readers who are happy that Magnus is not white, that Jem is not white, that Maia is not white, that Aline is not white. The fact is that most parts in books are for straight white folks and even more so in films. There are not that many parts for actors who are not white — even less substantive ones. Taking those things away by casting Magnus as white and talking about him as white does cause actual pain to actual people — and to what end? Why? Why send the message you only want to read about white people and only want to see white people on your screens?

We issue a heartfelt congratulations to Cassandra Clare for so publicly joining the conversation.

In the end, more often than not I’m willing to give the benefit of the doubt to castings that have the backing of the author, if only because it was the vision in their head that they translated to the page originally. It’s especially rewarding when, as with Clare, the author happens to agree that the whitewashing needs to stop.

(Cassandra Clare via thinkprogress)

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  • Anonymous

    Thank you Ms. Clare, I appreciate you doing this very much.

  • Karesa Ross

    It is staggering to me that people would write letters to an author telling them that their characters should be white. It’s absolutely horrifying and disgusting. That shouldn’t be something you have to defend, but I’m glad she’s doing it. It would be nice to see people who look like me in real roles on television and in film.

  • Jose Rivera

    I love the Mortal Instruments and I’m glad that Clare is standing up to whitewashing. Can’t wait for the movie to come out.

  • Angelica Marie Mijares

    While I do not like her books (but really like “The Very Secret Diaries” series), I commend Clare for talking about this issue. :)

  • gia manry

    Ah, Cassie. I’ve followed your career since your fanfic days, and even if I was never a big fan (outside of The Very Secret Diaries of the Fellowship of the Ring- please finish it), you continue to impress and inspire.

  • gia manry

    The letter didn’t really say that the character should be white. I suspect it’s like when so many people flipped out about Rue being black- the book described her as “dark skinned” and a lot of readers didn’t make that connection. Plenty of the comments I saw didn’t even remember that part of her description, either. I bet this letter-writer just missed it, too.

  • John Wao

    Kudos to her.

  • Anna B

    I’ve always been a fan of Cassandra Clare and this is definitely one of the reasons why. Her inclusiveness in the stories she writes is a huge factor. Additionally, Magnus is an openly gay character with a very significant role in the books–in her entire series, since he’s in all of them, even the Infernal Devices one. He will also be in a wonderfully complicated relationship with one of the other major characters.

  • Anna B

    Well, bi-sexual, but this timeline, he is in love with a man.  (In the Infernal Devices timeline, it was clear that he once had a past with a woman)

  • Karesa Ross

    Damn, I should read more carefully.

  • Anonymous

    Standard issue Cultural Marxism.  Race doesn’t matter….unless it can benefit a non-White!

    Does she have any input of why a NORSE god was cast as BLACK in the movie THOR?   Oh, “race doesn’t matter” THEN, right? 

    Let’s see how this movie does in comparison to LOTR….care to place any bets?

    And let me know when they make a movie about the Zebra killings.  What, you never heard of that?  That isn’t by mistake.  If anything, Hollywood is flagrantly anti-White.  Note that all villians are White (can’t be otherwise according to the dictates of Political Correctness.)  I am by no means the first to notice such things.

  • Aaron Treat

    You are a buffoon.

  • Aaron Treat

    This is very nice to read. It makes me excited now for the adaptation in a way that I wasn’t before.

    Oh, and we should never forget the abominable travesty that was The Last Airbender movie. That is probably the prime, number one example of white washing in the last few years.

  • Willow

    so she is the same person? I was wondering

  • gia manry

    That’s my understanding! I first heard about her epic, novel-length Harry Potter fanfics, though I couldn’t really get into them myself. Later on I’d heard she got herself into original fiction, which wasn’t at all surprising considering how devoted her fanfic audience already was!

  • gia manry

    At risk of feeding the troll, there’s a very easy explanation on the Norse god question you’ve issued: the gods were supposed to have ruled the whole world, not just Norway, so why WOULD they be strictly Caucasian?

  • Cassy

    “Race doesn’t matter….unless it can benefit a non-White!”

    That is actually the point. Characters with unspecified or non-plot relevant races should be able to be cast as ANY race. But 99% of the time they’re cast as white people anyway. Your problem is that you assume that every character is white unless you’re told otherwise. It makes me sick when white people act like they’re being victimized.

    Also, are you seriously complaining that a Norse god was portrayed in a way you find “unrealistic”? Have you met any Norse gods lately?

    Who else thinks Morgan Freeman would have been a badass Dumbledore instead of that crazy awful angry Michael Gambon? As far as I know Dumbledore is never specified as being white, just that he has blue eyes…

  • Anonymous

     The villain in “Serenity” was played by the actor that played Heimdall in “Thor”, you git.

  • Jodie

    I have never read her books before, but now I will. Reading through this post as well as the tumblr posts that she links to in her blog, is literally bringing me to tears. I’ve gone through so much of my life trying to bring this issue to the people I know off the internet, but I’ve always been stonewalled by apathy or obliviousness. By people, I include a whole Chinese community in the city I lived for fourteen years in. White-washing is so ingrained. I’m ecstatic at seeing such well-articulated support, especially right now.

  • Deb Knight

    Unbreakable (2000) Villain, Sam Jackson

    Demolition Man (1993) Villain Wesley Snipes

    New Jack City (1991) Villain Wesley Snipes

    Highlander: The Final Dimension (1994) Villain,
    Mario Van Peeples.

    Big Trouble in Little China(1986) Villain, James Hong

    Lethal Weapon 4 (1998) Villain, Jett Li


    Those were the ones that popped into my in
    the first five minutes after reading the post.  I didn’t even want to list all of the cowboy movies I watched as a kid when the “damn dirty injuns” were the villains.  

  • Deb Knight

    I’m not convinced Freeman has the right edge of insanity that I associate with Dumbledore.  But I loved him as God in that Jim Carey movie.  

  • Anonymous

    True.  It’s said in the movie that they are simple a sufficiently advanced culture who came to earth ages ago, fought a war, and went back home.  The Norse people merely adopted them as their gods, but they themselves aren’t Norse.  They’re Asgardian.  They could be anything. 

  • Anonymous


  • Anonymous

    Just watched the trailer for the most recent one (over 10 years old) and Jackson doesn’t sound like a bad guy… Guess I will have to take your word for it. Rest are about 20 years old.

  • Anna B

    I think 360man’s main problem is that he’s racist, and that he’s a Man Rights dude.

  • Anna B

    Read them all. Loved her even then. :D

  • Anonymous

    Chiwetel Ejiofor played the Operative, Idris Elba played Heimdall.

    But yes, that dude is a serious git.

  • Eric Lindberg

    No, he wasn’t. Idris Elba was in “Thor.” The villain in “Serenity” is an actor named Chiwetel Ejiofor.

    The point stands though. There are non-white villains. And characters for whom race is not a defining aspect of their background don’t have to default to white.

  • Joy P

    Wondering why they cast a Norse  go in the Thor movie as black and why this “sacrilege” was considered ok? Here is a very succinct explanation that also can be used to answer all you other lovely arguments.  You’re welcome :)

  • Anonymous

     Thanks for the link–that’s a good one!

  • Anonymous

     Yeah, I realized my error later. He’s still a git.

  • Jill Peters

    Lots of Albinos around.  What about European-American or Caucasian actors?  Since we’re mentioning everyone elses cultural/racial background

  • Ashe

    This is incredibly refreshing to read. Every single day I come across another form of whitewashing, or find out about cases way after the fact, so to see someone not just stand up but demand that their books not be whitewashed is unbelievably inspiring. It’s easy to lose hope sometimes. 

    I hope more authors and writers follow in her footsteps. If they do, we might see change happen in Hollywood just a bit sooner. 

  • Ashe

    Going to second your comment. I understand firsthand the apathy and obliviousness you speak of when it comes to these issues, with a healthy dose of denial, entitlement and anger as well. Biracial woman who grew up in a 90% white environment speaking, here. 

    I’m ecstatic too. c:

  • Anonymous

    This is just another case of people using “white” as the default color/race when participating in fiction. It’s quite common. I’m not shocked by this story at all.

  • Tati Mesfin

    After reading about the controversy of Rue’s character being Black and the racist outrage it spurned a few months ago, I’ll admit, I felt really sad and defeated. It reintroduced insecurities about my skin color and how other people see me as a Black girl. People don’t realize how racist remarks affect its victims because there’s no scar, no evidence, but by simply reading those tweets and comments, I felt horrible about myself.  It’s not a happy place to be, and I don’t want to go back to that kind of mindset.

    Reading this made me smile. It gives me a some hope. Cassandra Clare is making a huge difference by just talking about whitewashing and getting people to realize that “omgz, non-white people can be major characters, too!”

  • Jerilyn Nighy

    The worst offenders would have to be the creators of the two Earthsea adaptations.  In 
    Ursula K. Le Guin’s own words:

  • Anonymous

    I’m torn on this– (I don’t read the books but came across Clare’s posting from a different link, then saw it here)– on one hand, I applaud any objection to whitewashing. It’s silly and astounding that people would try to get away with it. On the other hand, as a biracial individual, also white & Asian, I’m sick of being interchanged with “Asian” (by whites) and “white” (by Asians.)

    In a 50-50 situation, Clare is prizing the Asian, and it could be interpreted, however well-meaning, as rather Orientalist. I get the statement she’s making and stance she’s taking, but it smacks of the one-drop rule/hypodescent. That being said, she’s also the creator of the character and it’s up to her to determine how Asian or Caucasian her character appears.

    Still– in the atmosphere and environment that is today’s media– I always enjoy being exposed to new (to us) talent that would otherwise not have gotten exposure, especially in such a huge venue.

  • Anna

     She is!  She just dropped the I from her name and deleted all of her old work right before she got published to cut her ties from the Harry Potter / Lord of the Rings community. 

  • Nat

     Pity that they were all plagiarized and that mortal instruments is just a modified Ron/Ginny story she wrote.

  • Nat

    While I have *many* issues with Cassandra Cla*I*re, props to her for standing up for her creations.

  • Anna B

    Old, silly, and hater argument.

  • Carmen Sandiego

     This is all so very Fifty Shades of Grey.

  • Brian

    He is British, though, so that still doesn’t work. And Gambon was awesome.

  • Pungahead

    You’re still an idiot for those LOK posts you made though. 

  • Ashe


  • Anonymous

    It’s nice to see that Cassandra Clare has matured a bit, she came off as quite insufferable brat during her fic writing days (although Very Secret Diaries were hilarious) and that and the  plaigarism bit kind of turned me off from reading her YA stuff. I am glad she is willing to talk about race and why whitewashing isn’t cool. 

  • Boredlizzie

    yeah, what about whitey? At least the Albinos have “Powder”! Seriously, this comment is hilariously missing the point.

  • Paula

    Not a hater argument if it’s true and documented.

  • Paula

    Thanks for saying this better than I could. I felt she was almost fetishizing his ethnicity, but I couldn’t put my finger on it.

  • Katie Luke

    Meh. I like to see her being vocal about this issue, but it kind of moots itself when all of the POC in her books are half-white, and secondary. All of the main characters, the Shadowhunters, the “heroes”, are whiter than white. I’m bored of white heroines, bored of their white love interests, bored of the love triangle full of white people, and bored of the same sense of woman-on-woman rivalry that her books smack of (there is absolutely no sense of female solidarity anywhere in her books). Sure, she talks loudly about race and gender issues, but do any of these things come into play in her published works? Not really. We’re still following five white heroes, and then to top it off, we are expected to nod our heads along to the sound of racial representation? No, thanks. I’ll pass.

  • Andre

    That is not all. She actually wants us to believe in the second book of the Bane Chronicles that Magnus was welcome in all of Parisian high society, in 1791 I might add. Marie Antoinette was as pale as could be and she already had problems due to her Austrian birth and someone with cat eyes (supposedly people thought it was a fashion trick) and “Asian features” is just welcome everywhere?

  • Andre

    Don’t worry, you are not the only one who noticed that. I mean all her “non-white” characters who have more than extra status are all mixed with white. And that can’t be a coincidence. Especially since there are no other mixes. Also the kid on the cover for Clockwork Prince looks nothing like Jem. And speaking of him all her mixed characters have fully European names. This also cannot be a coincidence.

  • Andre

    Well after reading this article and the comments I must say that I a) don’t agree with the article and b) am happy that I am not the only one noticing what is wrong with it.
    First Clare is actually not making a “huge difference” as the commenter Tati Mesfin stated; that non-white characters can be major characters as well is not new, far from it and also Magnus is only a secondary character, actually he doesn’t have much to do, especially in City of Bones. Only in his Bane Chronicles is he a major character, but more on that in a moment.
    I personally agree with the statements of the commenters Katie Luke, b_clerks and Paula DuPont. Clare’s statements seem rather hypocritical in my eyes and far from progressive or anything, cheering about her statements because she wants Magnus to be Asian is in my eyes the equivalent of cheering at seeing buckskinned half-naked Apaches on the screen just to see them.
    Clare seems to rather promote what she is attacking. First Magnus is not actually Asian, his mother is Indonesian/Dutch mixed and considered that his father is a demon, Magnus’ human traits come from her (which Clare herself stated). So Clare’s statement is very hypocritical, since casting Magnus as fully Asian would eradicate his white background, which apparently doesn’t seem to matter to Clare. And I am not surprised, all her main “non-white characters” are actually mixed with white and only that, no other mix there, ever. None of them is so to say a full blood or e.g. mixed Asian and African. And that is weird. Not to mention that nearly all of her main characters are pale whites. So her “Magnus is Asian/non-white” statement is to me very reminiscent of the practice to assign mixed bloods to the non-white part of their heritage. And that is not all, she does the same with Jem (who looks and acts rather like a guy from a Japanese manga than someone of Chinese and British ancestry from the 19th century), with Maia, with Aline (who has barely any role at all). Also her let’s say Asian/Caucasian mixes that are fully human are the result of a Caucasian man and an Asian woman and that is total cliché. Even Magnus’ maternal grandfather was a white man. Not to mention that she describes Aline’s eyes as black, despite the fact that there are no black eyes. Also all of them had only relationships with people that are fully white by appearance. And all of her mixed characters had fully European names: James “Jem” Carstairs, Aline Penhallow, Magnus Bane, Maia Roberts. Actually they don’t simply have European names, they are all sound like names you would typically come across in America and Great Britain.
    So again she was showing white people as the epitome of attractiveness and culture. Seriously their names aren’t even mixed.
    Clare is not doing a good job in my eyes, not even remotely. Especially Magnus who was seen more often than anyone else of these has been handled very poorly in regard to his background.
    So I think it is no wonder people might not get what background Magnus has. Clare barely gave us anything. Just putting in some description, which already wasn’t much, of his skin and eyes and of his “Dutch and Batavian” blood (in the first book of the Bane Chronicles) is not enough. So it seems Magnus is from what is today the city of Jakarta (which was called Batavia back then, albeit CoLS can easily be misunderstood in that “Batavia” refers to Indonesia and whether Camille is a bad person or not it is weird that she wouldn’t clarify that). But he shows no traits of non-American habits, not even remotely. In the first book of the Chronicles we are only told that he doesn’t speak his native tongue because the memories are too painful, but what is his native tongue? In her thumblr Clare said that Magnus supposedly spoke to Alec in Indonesian in City of Lost Souls, but I checked it and that Magnus stated something in Indonesian is only stated in the Acknowledgement section, something many readers won’t even bother to check. We know next to nothing. The books don’t tell us where he grew up exactly, what food he ate, whether he had friends, supposedly Magnus is not even his real name (according to rumors I heard), so what is his real name? What little she tosses in here and there is so short and random and especially doesn’t show in his character or anything related to the plot that it is pretty hard to remember. This is a problem with all of her characters, despite all the books their backgrounds are very poorly developed and rarely show in their behavior, but since Magnus is usually not a big part of any main plot people tend to forget about him.
    So, I am not surprised when people would forget/overlook his background. And it’s not as though Clare didn’t have plenty of opportunity to give us information. Just one book or chapter would have been enough, just one, but so far not even the Bane Chronicles deal with that topic, instead she just let Magnus run around in Peru and Paris and later it seems in London. So Clare has only herself to blame in this regard and not anybody else.

    And just one thing more: If the “race” of her characters is so important to her, why is Magnus played by a full Asian and not a Half-Asian, why does the guy on Clockwork Prince look nothing like Jem and why is Magnus on the cover on the first part of the Bane Chronicles displayed so ambiguously? I read her thumblr entry where her upper comments were from and damn, she makes it sound as though she is the victim. As a matter of fact she reminds me of Eric Cartman from South Park.
    As a matter of fact I doubt that Clare even bothers to actually write characters from other cultures beyond the surface. When she had Magnus be in Berlin she made him wear Lederhosen, for which I could smack her in the face. Let’s say it this way: Being dressed like Ru Paul would cause less attention than being dressed in Lederhosen up here in Berlin, we don’t wear those things, only the southwest does and even they usually don’t.