The people and their cultures: POC and the movies
The Examiner’s Ed Moy inquires Does Hollywood ‘white-wash’ the casting of Asian characters in movies? Then he proves it…
After doing some research, I discovered that “The Last Airbender” wasn’t the only recent movie that cast white actors in roles that were originally created as Asian characters.
For example, the character of Kyo Kusanagi will be played by Sean Farris in an upcoming live-action feature based on the video game “King of Fighters”.
There’s also the casting of Jake Gyllenhaal as Prince Dastan in “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time” along with a British actress Gemma Arterton playing his love-interest Tamina. The movie was also based on a popular video game.
And then there’s the recent announcement that Leonardo DiCaprio and Joseph Gordon-Levitt are starring in a live-action version of the Japanese anime “Akira.”
And finally, there’s the casting of Keanu Reeves as Spike Spiegel in the live-action adaptation of “Cowboy Bebop.” (Although, I do admit that I think Keanu Reeves looks similar to the character.)
This all of course pales in comparison to the fact that last year, the producers of the movie “21” took poetic license in rewriting actual Asian American card playing MIT students as white characters.
The movie “21” was based on the best-selling book “Bringing Down the House”, about a real-life team of mostly Asian American students led by an Asian American professor John Chang and his teaching cohorts. (To read about the real “21” students and their professor click here.) MORE
21. Oh 21. See, 21 was when I first became aware that Hollywood was full of thieving, cultural appropriating assholes. This is a case where the fuckup is as bad as Avatar. It was Racialicious that brought this to my attention:Trans-Racialization in ’21’
Six MIT students band together to hoodwink Las Vegas casinos for millions. It sounds like the plot of a Hollywood movie — and it is. But before Jim Sturgess (Across the Universe), Kate Bosworth, Kevin Spacey and Laurence Fishbourne were cast in 21, Ben Mezrich wrote a non-fiction book called Bringing Down the House, upon which the film is based. In that book, Mezrich documents the infamous MIT Blackjack team, which was led by Asian American — not White — students.
Huh. Let me make that a standalone link:By the time Senor Kevin Spacey was done, the only Asian Americans were playing supporting roles, one being the goddamn girlfriend! (Pics at link) And as it turns out when you read that link, they fucked up the story too. For one thing, there was no romance in real life. For another:
Was an MIT professor really the leader of the Blackjack Team?
No. In the movie 21, an unorthodox math professor named Micky Rosa (Kevin Spacey) leads the team. The 21 true story reveals that the real MIT Blackjack Team was led by three individuals, none of whom were professors. Arguably, the most notable is Bill Kaplan, a Harvard Business school graduate who had also done his undergraduate studies at Harvard. John Chang and J.P. Massar were also very much the basis for 21’s Micky Rosa. “While [author] Ben Mezrich has been quoted as saying that Micky Rosa was a composite of myself, J.P. Massar, and John Chang, the fact is there is little, if anything, that resembles either of us except that he started and ran the team and was focused on running the team as a business,” says Bill Kaplan. John Chang graduated from MIT in 1985 with a degree in electrical engineering. An influential member of the original team, Chang would later re-team with Bill Kaplan as a co-manager in the early 1990s. J.P. Massar (“Mr. M” in the History Channel documentary Breaking Vegas) was an MIT alum who had helped Kaplan manage the original team in the early 1980s, shortly after the first casinos opened in Atlantic City. -Bill KaplanMOAR things they got wrong
Basically, Kevin Spacey decided that he wanted a star vehicle, and decided to completely erase the people whose story it is in the first fucking place!
Oh and the response to the concerns raised about this?
Several organizations such as Media Action Network for Asian Americans (MANAA) protested the movie and “Boycott 21” and other anti-“21” websites sprang up on the Internet.
According to MANAA, after the “white-washing” issue was raised on Entertainment Weekly’s website, movie producer Dana Brunetti wrote: “Believe me, I would have loved to cast Asians in the lead roles, but the truth is, we didn’t have access to any bankable Asian American actors that we wanted… If I had known how upset the Asian American community would be about this, I would have picked a different story to film.”MORE
No bankable Asian stars. And dammit, the Asian American population didn’t just sit down and take it, they protested!! Shock!horror! And instead of fixing the problem, I’m just not going to film anymore of their stories. See how they like that!!!! The article goes on to list the many bankable Asian stars. And to point out the fact that Jim Sturgess was not exactly a big name Hollywood actor. They have no trouble making films off unknown or not too well known white actors either.
(By the way. Please don’t read the comments. There be idjits bringing in Asian anime and claiming that the characters thereof all look like white people. Nobody needs head exploding at 9:20 in the morning.)
In the meantime, we go to Avatar:
glockgal makes a profound statement: Over the course of this protest, I really have underestimated how insular a LOT of Americans are, especially when you get into towns that don’t have a lot of multiculturalism, like. It’s just plain ignorance.
For people who’ve never learned/seen/been exposed to anything Asian beyond fortune cookies and sweet-and-sour chicken balls, I suddenly understand that when they watched the cartoon, all they see is ‘fantasy’. All the architecture, clothing, food, writing, names, movements – EVERYTHING that is so plainly and clearly Asian to us? Is just to them….a fantasy. It’s all made-up. They don’t know that so much of the world is based on real cultures, they don’t get how much attention to detail and research the creators put into the cartoon, because they’ve NEVER SEEN THESE CULTURES, IRL.
They simply don’t know. And they’ve never HAD to learn. Gyah, it’s so crazy and sad to realize that people have lived such insular lives.
Racebending links to the first in a series about how and why POC are placed in advertising: why and how People of color are included in advertising:Including people of color so as to associate the product with the racial stereotype.Part1
They also pose the question Is racebending legal?
The costumes have been whitefied Roman and Greek armour. Roman and motherfucking Greek armour. With a bit of samurai on the side. Lovely. JUUSSSST LOVELY. More carrying through of teh myth that only goddamn Europeans had any innovations.
In the same vein:Chinese calligraphy cut from movie, replaced by gibberish language Perfectly interchangeable, gibberish and the CHINESE LANGUAGE.
Chaobunny’s Guide to Casting Failis in Hyphen Magazine Blog. Which also has the headline of the day in And you shall know us by the trail of whitewash Goddamn! I cannot believe that I have been missing this mag! *heads off to subscribe and link website to blog*
And I just saw a review… GI JOE? The good ninja is actually…white? And is a street rat in Tokyo? And somehow gets taken in and treated as a favorite over his Japanese classmate? ANd said Japanese classmate then murders master in retaliation? Really?
As an aside: District 9 needs to go up in the hottest fire known to man. And I am freaking done with Peter Jackson. In the meantime, I noticed one blog call it “progressive.” Alien cockroaches in the slums of Johannesburg are freaking PROGRESSIVE. Also, note the treatment of the actual people of color in the movie. Here, have a Cluex4. To wit…[IBARW] It’s not murder, it’s a metaphor.Abstract: If you’re going to argue about a text’s metaphorical or allegorical representations of race, you may want to take a look at how it treats actual people of color before forming your conclusions about the subversion of racial stereotypes.
Everyone should find some time to watch this. Reel Bad Arabs Documentary
If you want some new blogs, you could do much worse than these, by the way: Fiqah at Possum Stew rolls out an essay for the ages:
Jihadis”*, Skinheads and Film Representation In which Arabs are relentlessly evil, but white superemacists are not only 3 dimensional, they are shown as sexy and misunderstood, too.
Muslim Reverie. is the new blog of Jehanzeb, a Pakistani Muslim American who writes kickass essays, beautiful poetry and features astonishing art on his wordpress.
I had read his takedown of that vile, racist, waste of film, 300, when it first came out. He has updated the piece since then:
In the following essays, he focuses on the Hollywood penchant for whitewashing; this is…stealing our stories and retelling them with white people. Dressed in what our cultures. Which are then considered exotic.
What’s Wrong With This Picture? takes on Prince of Persia, a Disney movie based on a video game. The guy behind this one is Jerry Bruckheimer. You remember him. He did the The Pirates of The Caribbean. Which featured a rather…”interesting” portrayal of a lady named Tia Dalma who was supposed to be a Jamaican “obeah” woman. Except that according to Wikipedia she was originally the nymph Calypso from Greek mythology???? Sooooo, the character aint really black, just a white woman impersonating real Jamaican obeah women? What the … And then of course, there were the Caribs. Who were portrayed as savage Cannibals out to eat Jack Sparrow. Except that, well, they weren’t savages, and the cannibalism thing? Is something of a dispute. Naturally, Disney thoroughly ignored the Modern-day Caribs demands for accurate representation. Who gives a fuck about the movie’s reinforcing of stereotypes on Carib children? There are white people to give adventures to! And the trope is easy and familiar enough, escaping the primitive and savage POC for a laugh! *sigh*
Seeking Avalon saw the above link, and offers her own thoughts on the whitewashing of Sinbad. Like her, I find it astonishingly disturbing that I too, completely missed said whitewashing. Ai yi yi. They get you coming and going.
From IBARW comes:A night at the movies Which for a POC, is fraught with BS at practically every turn
Moving on to comics turned movies: On the Green Lantern Movie casting
ANNNDDDD then we come to the problem of Non Native Americans being cast in movies. Seems lots of people wanna claim various fractions of Native heritage so that they can play Native characters on the silver screen. Friday, Tonto, Jacob Black, et al. The additional links there are pretty good. Meantime :Tinsel Korey, Ben Kingsley (my my my, he DOES seem to get around, doesn’t he? First Iranian father, now Half Native American), Johnny Depp (yeah, I didn’t know he had Native ancestry either.Funny that.) That Twilight annoyance are some of the non-Natives whom Hollywood has decided are better at playing Native than real Natives are. Speaking of Twilight both book, and by extension movie got it rather wrong about the Quileute tribe. Then again that’s not surprising. She admits to knowing nothing about the Quileute Tribe before she wrote the things. *eyeroll*
At the beginning of this article we promised some bad news, and here it is: With the exception of a handful of actors and actresses, Latinos and Latinas are rarely offered principal roles. And the roles they get typically portray the same fatigued and fatiguing stereotypes: Latinas as exotic, sexually hot, passionate “spitfires,” for example, or language-mangling comic relief. Beltrán says that, for the most part, Latinos seldom play fully realized characters. Although there may be more jobs available, they are basically the same roles that Latinos have assumed for the last 80 years.
“Look at Salma Hayek in ‘Fools Rush In’ (1997) or John Leguizamo in ‘Empire’ (2002),” Beltrán says. “Hayek plays the sultry girlfriend of Matthew Perry — she’s an ultra-sexed Latina like we’ve seen in Hollywood films for decades. And Leguizamo’s role as a drug lord hearkens back to bandito characters that first appeared in early silent films in the 1910s.”
To understand the scale of this, Hispanics purchased 297 million movie tickets in 2007 compared to 150 million for African Americans. Hispanics also go to the movies more often purchasing 10.8 tickets per person vs. 7.9 for the general population.
In fact, here’s a Nielsen article breaking down the Latino movie habit
Is Zoe Saldaña The Mainsteam Latina Star We’ve Always Hoped For? Related: Yes Virginia, Black Latinos exist. In fact:Black, Latino and Gifted in Hollywood
Have a good weekend!
*Collapses in exhaustion*