Whitewashing the Dishes



Everyday I often find myself between grilled-cheese sandwiches & chicken poodle soup and laundry runs thinking deep about the more philosophical and “real world” issues. Between scrubbing plates and rinsing drink ware are brisk moments of thought before my name is screamed.


And that is my name now, not Samuel or Sam or Sammy. It’s Daddy. My first world house issues are the composite of running out of milk or being down to the last egg or, heaven forbid, no more macaroni. But those other worldly problems inch their way back in from my news feed. Those small other world issues of war, politics, and equality.

The past year or so Hollywood has made headlines over casting calls. People have become down right offended over a black Johnny Storm in Fantastic Four and Star Wars Force Awakens teaser of a black Storm Trooper nearly made the internet implode. We’ve seen Oscar boycotts and Grammys racial issues. Race has suddenly become a hot topic again, or at least it’s no longer what’s talked about behind closed doors.

The Fantastic Four was doomed before a black Storm. At the inception of rebooting the cursed franchise there was talk of a female Doctor Doom. Can you imagine the backlash if that choice had followed through? Johnny Storm isn’t the first white-turned-black comic book character though. Marvel’s own Nick Fury, an old super soldier a la Captain America style, was once played by David Hasselhoff, who actually looked the part from the comic book. In the Avengers Samuel L. Jackson scored the role. Not exactly the fluff brunette with grayed sideburns. Johnny Storm and Sue Storm (notoriously played and drawn as a blonde-headed white girl) are also brother and sister. An easy explanation of adoption quelled that question.

In Cameron Crowe’s financial ruin Aloha Emma Stone, a blonde haired Caucasian played Allison Ng, a mixed Chinese, Hawaiian, Caucasian pilot. The film received a huge backlash. Cameron Crowe later apologized for the white washing and defended the film for having a lot of Asians and Hawaiians “before and behind the camera”. That’s not in major roles however. Of course, as Crowe stated, Allison Ng’s character isn’t suppose to look Chinese or Hawaiian. But the character is suppose to be knowledgeable of her ethnicity and it plays a major part in who she is. And here’s the thing, there are plenty of actors and actresses in Hollywood that could fit that role. Just ask Chloe Bennett of Agents of SHIELD fame who happens to be half Chinese. Didn’t know that? Hollywood did. She had to change her name from Chloe Wang after having problems landing roles. I guess “Wang” wasn’t white enough?

That’s not to say that every to-be-ethnic role in Hollywood must be played by a specific ethnicity. Cliff Curtis, a Maori actor, just played the white-centric-never-an-Arab-actor role of Jesus. And, another Hawaii noted movie, The Descendants featured George Clooney as Matt King, a mixed Hawaiian descendant. And it worked. It worked well. And the author of novel the movie was based off of wanted Clooney to play the part. There’s a line in the movie that sums Matt King’s character up well:

“I sign that document, it’s over. End of the line. Something that was ours to protect will be gone. Even though we’re haole as shit and go to private schools and clubs and can’t even speak pidgin, let alone Hawaiian, we still carry Hawaiian blood, and we’re still tied to this land. And our children are tied to this land. It’s a miracle that for whatever bullshit reason 150 years ago, we own this much of… paradise, but we do.”

It’s a statement from a character that is clueless to who they are culturally from an ethnic view, especially when that culture has been plagued with whitewashing and appropriation.The roles of Johnny Storm and Nick Fury aren’t fueled by their characters culture really. It could be argued that the character of Nick Fury, born 1910s, becoming a super soldier, couldn’t happen to a black man in that time period, but the movie universe adaption of comic books often blur lines.

Was Emma Stone whitewashing a character but not George Clooney? And on the opposite aspect, with the upcoming Iron Fist adaption from Marvel studios, of the classic white-man-playing-ninja story, should we not consider un-whitewashing a role?

Let’s consider Bruce Lee pitching the tv series The Warrior to studio executives according to a memoir. For whatever reason the executives didn’t cast Bruce Lee in the lead role and went on to whitewash cast David Carradine as Kwai Chang Caine, a half Caucasian, half Chinese orphan. Iron Fist follows the same mantra except Iron Fist aka Danny Rand is white. Totally white. His parents are both white even.  But that just makes the whole thing cultural appropriation at its finest. So why not own up to that? Why not cast an Asian actor in the role of Iron Fist, deviate from the exact culturally appropriated comic origin, and make a healthy statement. It might not be eliminating the racial inequality of roles in Hollywood, but it would be a kind gesture.

Although some would claim by not casting a white person in the culturally appropriated role would feed into Asian stereotypes. Talk about crabs in a bucket. So what is the answer? How does society stop cultural appropriation, especially in Hollywood, while balancing openness for roles, depending on the actor or actress’s ability while also feeding the greed machine?

The answers lie somewhere in our social morality. There are tell tale signs when a role is cultural appropriation or whitewashing or open to interpretation and a lot depends on art-that avante-guarde, new age,  Hollywood belief that describes every film made. Maybe it’s time the directors and producers, the actors and the artists took a stand in their products. whitewash