Casting nonwhite actors in white roles – is it reverse whitewashing?

What do these two beautiful women have in common?

With Zendaya being cast as Mary Jane in the upcoming Spiderman Homecoming, and Rihanna being cast as Janet Leigh in the final season of Bates Motel (a prequel series to Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 film Psycho), the ugly side of fandom has reared it’s ugly head.

You see, Mary Jane and Janet Leigh were, up until now, exclusively depicted as being white women.

Of the decision to cast Rihanna as the iconic Janet Leigh, the executive producers said, “We wanted to thrust the iconic role into a contemporary spotlight and redefine it in a meaningful and exciting new way.”

Despite my searching for it, I couldn’t find anything that indicated fans of the original film were unhappy at this casting decision.

However when it came to Zendaya’s casting as Mary Jane:

These are just the first three people I could find within 5 minutes of searching twitter, and I bet they all believe in reverse racism too.

Casting Zendaya and Rihanna in their respectively traditionally white roles isn’t reverse whitewashing! To be fair, I couldn’t find anyone complaining about Rihanna as Janet Leigh but for the sake of the argument, I’m going to include her.

If you look closely, race never plays a factor in the development of their characters or their arcs. Nothing resembling race has any bearing on their shaping their identities or personalities. Basically the only physical attributes she is given is that she is red-headed and hot.

If you look at Hollywood, there is a (very obviously) racially imbalanced power structure. As I’ve mentioned previously, over 97% of hollywood execs are white and mostly male. Characters represented on Hollywood screens were around 70% white.

Reverse whitewashing doesn’t exist for the same reasons reverse racism doesn’t exist. The structural, institutional, and social structures currently benefit white people.

In regards to Hollywood, white people have their pick of roles. Where one door closes because a nonwhite actor has been cast in a traditionally white role, ten more are already open, because roles are constantly being written for white people. Hollywood’s default setting is white.

Also it’s not reverse whitewashing because that term is stupid. Blackwashing? I don’t like that one either. They should have come up with a better term for being ignorant and racist – like colour blocking.


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