Whitewashing: A Hollywood Classic, Part 2

In Part 1, we looked at 3 examples of whitewashing in Hollywood classics. This post looks at more contemporary examples, and I have to say, it really does look like Hollywood just doesn’t know how, or want, to tell a nonwhite story without whitewashing it!

For the sake of keeping the post a bit more readable, I won’t look at anything made before 2010 and anything that isn’t currently in production with a set cast. Just let it be known there’s A LOT.

So without further ado, let’s jump straight into it!

  1. Johnny Depp in Lone Ranger (2013)
Depp’s incarnation looks nothing like the original.

Cultural appropriation! Haven’t we learned? In Lone Ranger, Johnny Depp plays the heavily stereotyped Native American sidekick to Archie Hammer’s John Reid. Maybe if they had an actual Native American play Depp’s role, it wouldn’t have felt so gross and stereotypical.

Johnny Depp said that he was part Cherokee… but, really? Look at the original actor, a beloved Native American, and look at Johnny Depp’s version. Why exploit Native American culture?

Left: Jay Silverheels. Right: Johnny Depp.


2. Jake Gyllenhaal in Prince of Persia (2010)


This one I remember feeling angry at before I knew what whitewashing was. Take a beloved video game, and cast a big Hollywood actor as the lead, and everyone’s happy right? Except they weren’t. And I’m sorry but Jake Gyllenhaal just didn’t do anything for me as the sword wielding, time-turning, beautiful PERSIAN, Dastan. According to the critics and audiences, he didn’t do anything for them either. I can only imagine the possibilities of a beautiful Persian man playing the prince… or any of the other Persian and Asian characters.


3. Basically every lead in Exodus: God & Kings (2014)

White leaders and black slaves. Entirely historically inaccurate.

Ugh. This one still makes me mad. I’ll just drop in a quote from director Ridley Scott, and his response to the whitewashing controversy that sprung up in the lead up to the film’s release:

“I can’t mount a film of this budget, where I have to rely on tax rebates in Spain, and say that my lead actor is Mohammad so-and-so from such-and-such,” Scott says. “I’m just not going to get it financed. So the question doesn’t even come up.”

WOW. Thank god it panned. What a message to send to minorities! “Your ethnicity makes you unbankable, but I’m going to make a movie about your history anyway!”

4. Tilda Swinton in Doctor Strange (2016)

Left: Comic book Ancient One. Right: Marvel Film Ancient One.

I took a more in depth look at why Tilda Swinton’s casting was problematic in a previous post, so I’ll paste in some words I’ve already written:

“The director literally said that they didn’t want to alienate China, their second largest market, by portraying the Great One as Tibetan. That made it obvious that they value money over nonwhite representation. They couldn’t be bothered trying to write a fully formed asian character so they cast Tilda Swinton, an amazing actress, in the role and expected us to love it because she’s a woman.”

5. Jeremy Irvine in Stonewall (2015)


In this film, blonde haired blue eyed Jeremy Irvine plays Danny, a gay man kicked out of his conservative home, who eventually helps start the Stonewall uprisings. His character completely sidelines the women (trans + poc + those who were both) who really started the fight for LGBTQ rights. In the film he is the first to throw a brick at raid officers, and starting the riot that followed. In reality, eyewitnesses state Sylvia Rivera, a Puerto Rican drag queen was the first to throw a bottle and upset the power dynamic. Of course there were white men present, but the film chooses to represent a white man as the main character, at the cost of the historically integral characters.

To be fair, this movie was universally panned. It was incredibly bad. But the fact that such an important moment in LGBTQ history could be so bold-facedly whitewashed gives off the impression that Hollywood can’t handle too many levels of diversity at once. Why bother even trying to tell the story of this moment in history when you have no intention of representing it truthfully?

6. Scarlett Johansson, Ghost in the Shell (2017)

This one hasn’t been released yet, but there is already criticism about the film’s whitewashing of the Japanese lead. Scarlett Johansson plays The Major, a cyborg police woman hunting a computer hacker.

Not much can be said apart from the obvious, as the film hasn’t been released yet. However, according to the trailer, the film goes to great lengths to recreate shots and scenes down to the very last detail in the film. Check out a side by side comparison below:


Well, whitewashing is as prevalent as it ever was. Perhaps even more so. Hollywood seems to the we’re all white, but we aren’t. What do you think? Let me and Hollywood know what you think by using the hashtag #wearentallwhite.




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