Whitewashing is sadly a very abundant act that Hollywood performs on a regular basis. You may never have heard of this term but if you have any remote interest in mainstream western cinema, then you will definitely have witnessed it. Some of this whitewashing can be subtle, such as Katniss Everdeen being a little lighter than the books describe to the downright ridiculous like Jake Gyllenhaal being cast as the Prince of Persia. Yes, that’s right, a white woman is playing one of the western world’s most notorious women of color.
As a youngster I was lucky enough to witness the animated and satisfyingly brown Tiger Lily in the Peter Pan Disney film, but considering such classics as this are becoming less and less relevant to today’s society, will our children grow up never knowing Tiger Lily’s true heritage? Ari Handel attempted to defend himself saying that “the world being created is multi-racial / international” and that Tiger Lily is “a very different character than previously imagined”.
Regardless of this, Tiger Lily is a Native American and to disregard her cultural identity, is to disregard the character entirely, so doesn’t that mean that there shouldn’t be a Tiger Lily at all? If we are going to deny her ethnicity, why not just cast Mara in a new and alternative role, because it’s not like Handel is sticking to the plot if he cannot acknowledge the cultural necessities of his characters. So it would be equally as feasible if an entirely new character was cultivated. Wright also attempted to defend his choices by advising Lupita Nyong’o and Adele Exarchopoulos were considered for the role. Now considered seems to be a very vague term and doesn’t determine whether they were even given the opportunity to audition. And again, Handel fails to hit the nail on the head by mentioning actresses who are women of color, not Native American actresses. While casting a woman of color would still be more justifiable than casting Mara, it still lacks historical accuracy. I realize that historical accuracy is a bit of a swing and a miss in regards to fictitious cinema, but if we apply that to Pan then what’s to stop us there. We may as well make Peter Pan the boy who can’t fly. He jumps out of Wendy’s window and lands flat on the ground below with blood protruding from his head.
Darren Aronofsky is a great director. If you mention Aronofsky to film fanatics, a majority of them will profess their love for The Fountain and Requiem for a Dream. He is a critically acclaimed director with an artistic license to kill. Apparently this also includes a license to kill off any possible notion of historical accuracy that tried to rear its ugly and unnecessary head. His latest cinematic debut ‘Noah’ has received widespread praise from critics across the board, but also there is understandably a lot of outrage surrounding his completely white cast. I’m fairly certain there isn’t even a token black person, at least then Hollywood were at least able to pretend they were diverse. Now if this were a film released in the 50’s I would be able to understand a little more as to why such casting choices were made, not that it was okay, it was just more socially acceptable, as was racially motivated lynching.
Darren’s poor justification – or lack of rather – is problematic at best. He says, “From the beginning, we were concerned about casting, the issue of race. What we realized is that this story is functioning at the level of myth, and as a mythical story, the race of the individuals doesn’t matter. They’re supposed to be stand-ins for all people. Either you end up with a Bennetton ad or the crew of the Starship Enterprise… You either try to put everything in there, which just calls attention to it, or you just say, “Let’s make that not a factor, because we’re trying to deal with everyman.” Looking at this story through that kind of lens is the same as saying, “Would the ark float and is it big enough to get all the species in there?” That’s irrelevant to the questions because the questions are operating on a different plane than that; they’re operating on the mythical plane.”
A mythical plane where white people and only white people existed and they make up the entire human race.
I find it impressive that most of the people who appear in Noah were able to have British and Australian accents during 2370 B.C.E. Also, I’m fairly sure that every film with an abundance of POC doesn’t resemble a Benetton ad, nor the Starship Enterprise, instead a more accurate depiction of context. Wright’s quote seems to imply that he sees cultural representation as a circus performance instead of a people.
What astound me further is the high appraisal of some noteworthy film critics. Jonathon Romney of Sight and Sound magazine writes, “I use the word ‘myth’ advisedly, because the film presents itself not as the retelling of a familiar Bible story, but as the presentation of a creation myth that has Biblical resonance but that isn’t limited in its meaning to simply expounding what we think we know about the Ark story. Noah seems determined to lift its narrative story up off the level of the flatness and familiarity of the scriptural page, and to restore to the act of Biblical storytelling the dimension of visionary exaltation, of hallucinatory vastness.”
It’s odd because he acknowledges the biblical resonance, yet fails to consider the lack of POC in his film. I am therefore forced to consider that due to himself being a white man, he doesn’t notice the lack of POC due to being a white man.
It reminds me of the ending of A Time to Kill where Mcconaughey is describing the awful events that happened to Samuel L Jackson’s daughter and then at the end he says “now imagine that girl is white”. This is what causes uproar and the release of Jackson. These people who were so used to being white and only having to suffer white problems had actually managed to distance themselves from black people to the point of not seeing them as human beings equals.
I continue to wonder if the reason white people don’t care about POC representation is that it does not affect them.
This disassociation is essentially caused by privilege, which until you start actively trying to teach yourself out of it, will lay dormant and manifest into something more belligerent. I have always searched for more Pocahontas’, Princess Jasmine’s, and Mulan’s to find someone to idolize who isn’t so aesthetically set apart from me. What also doesn’t help this issue is how widespread the acceptance of whitewashing goes. Hollywood has been at it for years, which I find questionable as many seem to believe that racism is a thing of the past and we are all now well represented. Hollywood is perpetuating this idea, and not only is it incorrect, it’s also damaging to children of today, because if they are raised in a completely or predominantly white community, the first time they will see a POC will be on the news. This is cinematic genocide.