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Hollywood Producers and Insiders Defend Whitewashing



Remember when Ridley Scott excused the unrecognizably whitewashed Egypt he presented in Exodus by saying he couldn’t hire “Mohammad so-and-so” for “a film of this budget?” Seems like it’s that time of year again.

Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter for the article “Hollywood on Alert: Actors’ Ethnicities Under Scrutiny Amid Heightened Sensitivities,” (poor white Hollywood!) a Pan “insider” addressed the controversial choice to cast Rooney Mara in the role of Tiger Lily, saying:

There’s a misconception about the ethnicity of the original character and we felt no obligation to perpetuate that misconception. We looked at Native American actresses. We looked at African-American actresses. We looked at African actresses. We looked at Middle Eastern actresses. White actresses. After a very exhaustive casting process, we ultimately went with the best actress for the part.

THR goes on to call it “ironic” that Warner Bros. “has been branded as insensitive for attempting to offer a color-blind, modern Pan,” which, I mean…

Why would casting a white woman to play a Native American character make Warner Bros.’ Pan “modern”? Productions of Peter Pan have a long history of whitewashing. And using “I don’t see color!” as the defense for casting Mara as Tiger Lily also rings hollow when every single iconic character in Pan‘s supposedly post-racial world is white.

It's the world's smallest violin, Warner Bros.

It’s the world’s smallest violin, Warner Bros.

Another producer who “declined to be identified” told THR that “much of the controversy surrounding off-race and off-ethnicity castings is naive because studios are putting faith in proven stars rather than excluding particular types of actors.” Presumably referring to Aloha, the producer went on to say

If you’re going to wait around to find the perfect actress who is a quarter Asian, and not just a quarter Asian but a quarter Hawaiian Asian, you will never cast your movie.

Memoirs of a Geisha producer Doug Wick, recalling the controversy that arose when Chinese actress Ziyi Zhang was cast to play the lead Japanese character in the 2005 film, told THR:

There is certainly a history of insensitivity. And you have to ask if it’s part of a dangerous pattern. But you can’t throw down the DNA gauntlet, and you’ve got to be able to cast for artistry and in the spirit of the character.

It’s telling to see a push for diversity as “throwing down the DNA gauntlet” rather than a necessary and vital step in people of color receiving the respect and representation they’ve long been denied in mainstream Western media. Sure is a crazy coincidence that Rooney Mara, Emma Stone, Scarlett Johansson, Christian Bale, and Adam Sandler “just happened” to be the best fit to play characters of color.

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