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Whitewashing refers to the practice of casting White actors in historically non-White character roles in television and film.


According to the Online Etymology Dictionary,[4] the term "whitewash" was originally coined in the late 1500s to describe the process of washing a surface with a white liquid. The entry lists the earliest figurative use of the term in 1762 as "to cover up, conceal" or "give a false appearance of cleanness." The first examples of whitewashing in film are often cited as the blackface and yellowface caricatures of Black and Asian minorities portrayed by White actors in Hollywood films throughout the 1930s.


On March 29th, 2006, Urban Dictionary[2] user Ten10am submitted an entry for "white wash," defining the term as description of a non-white person who is perceived as "neglecting their culture and assimilating to a white, western culture." On January 2nd, 2009, the CommentaryTheMusical YouTube channel uploaded a song titled "Nobody's Asian in the Movies" (shown below).

On October 6th, 2015, the BBC[3] published an article titled "When White Actors Play Other Races," which explored possible causes of the continued prevalence of whitewashing in Hollywood. On February 23rd, 2016, the television show Last Week Tonight with John Oliver aired a segment on whitewashing in Hollywood films (shown below, left). On April 24th, YouTuber That Japanese Man Yuta uploaded a video in which he asks Japanese people what they think of White actors portraying Japanese fictional characters (shown below, right). On April 28th, the photoshop meme #StarringJohnCho was launched in protest of whitewashing and promoting the casting of Asian and Asian-American actors in film.


The Last Airbender Casting

In December 2008, Entertainment Weekly released the list of the cast members for the 2010 film adaptation of Nickelodeon's animated TV series Avatar: The Last Airbender, which drew much ire from the fans of the show for casting white actors in the leading roles that were of East Asian and Inuit descent in canon. The backlash led to the coinage of the satirical term "racebending,", playing off on the Avatar characters' ability to manipulate, "or "bend," the classical elements of water, earth, fire, and air.

Dragonball Evolution Casting

In April 2009, Dragonball Evolution, the live-action film adaptation of Akira Toriyama's Japanese manga and anime series Dragon Ball, premiered in North America. In the months leading up to its box office release, many fans of the series criticized the casting of Caucasian actor Justin Chatwin for the leading protagonist role of Goku, who is assumed to be of Japanese descent in canon, as random and untrue to the spirit of the original work.

Ghost in the Shell Casting

In January 2015, the casting of Scarlett Johansson as the lead role in the 2017 live-action film adaptation of the Japanese manga Ghost in the Shell was met with accusations of whitewashing. On April 14th, the first photograph of Johansson portrayal of the film’s protagonist was released online (shown below).

That day, actress Ming-Na Wen tweeted[6] she was "against this whitewashing of Asian role," gaining over 13,800 likes and 12,700 retweets in the following month (shown below). On April 15th, the blog ScreenCrush[5] reported that various sources involved in the film claimed that the studio had "commissioned visual effects tests" in post-production to make Johansson appear more Asian.

Ming-Na Wen @MingNa な 요. Follow Nothing against Scarlett Johansson. In fact, I'm a big fan. But everything against this Whitewashing of Asian role. Unamused face io9 @io9 Our first look at Scarlett Johansson as #GhostintheShell's Major Kusanagi on.io9.com/xj069EH RETWEETS LIKES 12,753 13,852 11:05 AM -14 Apr 2016

Steven Universe Whitewashing

On August 27th, 2015, a thread was submitted to 4chan which called for viewers to "make Tumblr explode" by digitally altering fan art of Steven Universe characters to "make everybody white" (shown below).

File: steven1png (2.64 MB, 1988x2717) Anonymous 08/27/15(Thu)23:40:13 No.637545039 637545366 2637545629637545851 637545890637546037 637547533637547641637551278637551927 Hey guys, I'm pretty sure we could make tumblr explode just by shooping Steven Universe fan art to make everybody white 9> Anonymous 08/27/15(Thu)23:41:20 No.637545280 bump >> Anonymous 08/27/15(Thu)23:41:42 No.637545366 2-637545480 Yes Anonymous 08/27/15(Thu)23:42:18 No.637545480 2:837545684 Give me a tumblr to post to Sort of a shared account maybe Anonymous 08/27/15(Thu)23:43:04 No.637545629 >637545039 (0P) No you have to give garnet white hair and then make amathyst and steven skinny also make them all have thin lips Anonymous 08/27/15(Thu)23:43:20 No.637545684 File: image.ipg (56 KB, 320x288) >2637557415 ERFECT This way it comes from one source instead of multiple accounts 9S Anonymous 08/27/15(Thu)23:44:09 No.637545851 File: Steven-goyum png (30 KB, 128x131)

On September 3rd, Imgur user FLCrox posted a collection of whitewashed Steven Universe characters along with angry Tumblr reactions (shown below). On May 11th, 2016, Redditor ManPlan78 submitted the image gallery to /r/TumblrInAction,[1] which gained over 6,900 votes *88% upvoted) and 1,700 comments in the next 24 hours.

ARE YOU BEACH BODY READY? they do, it's illegal AND racist, transphobic, sexist, homophobic, and looks ike the unholy spawn of Donald Trump. They steal people's art and edit them without consent, so characters look caucasian and skinny!!!! #garnet #pearl #amethyst #steven #stevonnie

Great Wall Casting

On July 29th, 2016, Twitter user Constance Wu published a post criticizing the casting of Matt Damon in the Chinese-produced film The Great Wall, arguing that it perpetuated stereotypes that heroes are played by white men (shown below). On August 30th, Indiewire[7] published an article noting that Damon's casting was not controversial in China, where the film was being produced.

Constance Wu @ConstanceWu Follow Can we all at least agree that hero-bias & "but it's really hard to finance" are no longer excuses for racism? TRY look like Matt Damon. They look like Malala. Ghandi. Mandela. Your big sister when she stood up for you to those bullies that one time. Money is the lamest excuse in the history of being human. So is blaming the Chinese investors. (POC's choices can be based on unconscious bias too) Remember it's not about blaming individuals, which will only lead to soothing their lame "b-but I had good intentions! but...money! microaggressive excuses. Rather, it's about pointing out the repeatedly implied racist notion that white people are superior to POC and that POC need salvation from our own color via white strength. When you consistently make movies like this, you ARE saying that. YOU ARE. Yes, YOU ARE. YES YOU ARE. Yes dude, you fucking ARE. Whether you intend to or not. We don't need salvation. We like our color and our culture and our own strengths and our own stories. (if we don't, we should) We don't need you to save us from anything. And we're rtreally starting to get sick of you telling us, explicitly or implicitly, that we do. Think only a huge movie star can sell a movie? That that has NEVER been a total guarantee. Why not TRY to be better? If white actors are forgiven for having a box office failure once in a while, why can't a POC sometimes have one? And W COOL would it be if you were the movie that took the "risk" to make a POC as your hero, and you sold the shit out of it?! The whole community would be celebrating!! If nothing else, you'd get some mad respect (which is WAY more valuable than money) So MAKE that choice. I know that overcoming your own bias and doing something differently takes balis....Well don't you WANT balls? Look. I know there are lotsa POC who honestly don't care. Who think I'M being crazy. Well excuse me for caring about the images that little girls see, and what that implies to them about their limitations or possibilities. If you know a kid, you should care too. Because we WERE those kids. Why do you think it was so nice to see a nerdy white kid have a girl fall in love with him? Because you WERE that nerdy white kid who felt unloved. And seeing pictures of it in Hollywood's stories made it feel possible.That's 15,642 24,169 2:03 PM-29 Jul 2016

On February 10th, 2017, Redditor Nanowith submitted a post questioning "who do people care so much about Matt Damon being in The Great Wall?" to /r/OutOfTheLoop,[8] where it received more than 5,400 votes (86% upvoted) and 1,500 comments within 24 hours. In the comments section, many speculated that the backlash to Damon's casting was an example of virtue signalling.

Search Interest

External References

[1] Reddit – 4chan trolls Steven Universe Tumblr fans

[2] Urban Dictionary – white wash

[3] BBC – When white actors play other races

[4] Online Etymology Dictionary – whitewash

[5] ScreenCrush – Ghost in the Shell Producers Reportedly Tested Visual Effects That Would Make White Actors Appear Asian

[6] Twitter – @MingNa

[7] Indiewire – The Great Wall – Why Matt Damon Whitewashing is no big deal in China

[8] Reddit – "Why do people care so much about Matt Damon being in The Great Wall? ":https://www.reddit.com/r/OutOfTheLoop/comments/5t703i/why_do_people_care_so_much_about_matt_damon_being/

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