#HollywoodSoWhite: How Lack of On-Screen Diversity Perpetuates White Supremacy

Tilda Swinton as The Ancient One in “Dr. Strange” (Photo credit: YouTube).

By Guest Contributor: Martin Tsai

This post originally appeared on Medium.

By almost single-mindedly catering to a young, white, male audience, Hollywood has been complicit in fostering and perpetuating white hegemony.

The Hollywood Diversity Report by the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA found only 29 percent of films released in 2015 featured female leads and only 13.6 percent featured minority leads. A USC Annenberg study of the 700 top-grossing films between 2007 and 2014 (excluding 2011) and their more than 30,000 characters revealed that diversity in casting remained stagnant. White male moviegoers are seldom required to identify or empathize with female or minority characters, something female and minority moviegoers have little choice but to do with white male characters.

We learn from watching. If dramas are developmental exercises in identification and empathy in our formative years, one can easily surmise why many white men — such as those who take part in the alt-right movement — believe the world should revolve around only them, and women and minorities should be relegated to supporting roles or disappear entirely.

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#AStrangeWhitewashing Continues with New Images from Upcoming Ghost in the Shell & Dr. Strange

scarjo-ghost-in-the-shell
Scarlett Johansson as Major Motoko Kusanagi in the upcoming “Ghost in the Shell” film adaptation.

I know I’m about a week late on this news, but I’ve got something really important to say: ScarJo, you look absolutely ridiculous in yellowface.

When the news first broke that Scarlett Johansson had been inexplicably cast in Paramount’s film adaptation of blockbuster anime/manga series Ghost in the Shell, I wrote a scathing post declaring that ScarJo is #NotMyMotoko. Last week, that debate was rekindled when studios released a teaser image of Scarlett Johansson as Major Motoko Kusanagi. I think we can all agree: sporting a black wig styled into an asymmetric bob, Johansson looks unbelievably absurd in the role of a Japanese cyborg woman who has long stood as an icon of Asian and Asian American feminism, queer identity, and gender fluidity.

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Upcoming “Absolutely Fabulous” Film Will Feature Actor in Yellowface

Janette Tough, in yellowface costume as Japanese fashion designer Huki Muki in the upcoming "Absolutely Fabulous" film. (Photo credit: Twitter)
Janette Tough, in yellowface costume as Japanese fashion designer Huki Muki in the upcoming “Absolutely Fabulous” film. (Photo credit: Twitter)

The British 1990’s sitcom “Absolutely Fabulous”  is slated to return in 2016 after a 20 year run on British television that ended in 2012. Cast members will reunite in a feature length film, which will include show stars Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley reprising their roles as drug-abusing PR agent, Edina Monsoon, and magazine editor, Patsy Stone.

Fans of “AbFab” have long anticipated the reunion film, which was rumoured to be planned as early as 2011. However, the film is now making headlines for a not-so-fabulous reason: the movie will apparently feature an actor in yellowface.

In the film, comedian Janette Tough (aka Janette Krankie), who is well-known to Scottish audiences for her 40-year portrayal of her schoolboy character, Jimmy Krankie, will don a black wig and wing-tipped sunglasses to portray male Japanese fashion designer, Huki Muki.

Tough is neither Japanese, nor is she Asian.

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It’s Time to Reinvent “The Mikado” Without the Racism

Promotional image of "The Mikado" from an earlier performance by NYGASP.
Promotional image of “The Mikado” from an earlier performance by NYGASP.

Having learned nothing apparently from last year’s “Mikado” fiasco in Seattle,  the New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players (NYGASP)a more than 30-year-old professional repertory company devoted to staging performances of Gilbert & Sullivan works — announced this year that “The Mikado” would be included in their 2015-2016 season. Written in 1885, “The Mikado”‘s opening run was one of the longest of its time, and is considered one of the most popular works in the Gilbert & Sullivan repertoire. “The Mikado” is also highly offensive: intended to satirize British politics, the play is set in an Orientalist fantasy of Japan, and is typically staged by White actors in costumes and makeup designed to make them appear Asian; or, more colloquially, in “yellowface“.

The NYGASP’s show is no exception: judging by images from its 2010 and 2013 performances (see featured image above), NYGASP’s performance is replete with non-Asian actors donning black wigs, kimonos, and face paint.  This year, NYGASP’s version of “The Mikado”  is scheduled to appear at the Skirball Center for the Performing Arts at NYU December 26-January 2.

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Hollywood’s “Strange” Erasure of Asian Characters | #AStrangeWhitewashing

Marvel's Ancient One
Marvel’s Ancient One

A mere week after I wrote a post swearing off of sharing fan news, the fandom insidiously pulled me back in.

This week, rumours began circulating that Tilda Swinton was in casting negotiations for Marvel’s upcoming Dr. Strange film starring Benedict Cumberbatch in the titular role. Swinton is being considered for the role of the Ancient One, a nearly-immortal Tibetan sorcerer who becomes the young Dr. Strange’s mystic tutor and personal mentor.

That’s right. Tilda Swinton — a British actor whose Wikipedia article notes that she can trace her Anglo-Scot heritage back to the Middle Ages and who is about as far from “Tibetan” as one might get — may be cast to play a racebent and genderbent version of one of the few Asian characters of prominence in the Mystic Marvel world.

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