Still fired up about
Tilda Swinton's casting as the Ancient One in ? We get it. We also know that glossing over or changing a character's racial background is nothing new. Doctor Strange
Old Hollywood gave us Laurence Olivier in blackface as Othello and the American-as-apple-pie John Wayne playing Mongol chief Genghis Kahn. Today, we have
Scarlett Johansson in , Matt Damon as the The Ghost and the Shell "white hero" of , and the stench that still lingers over Ridley Scott's The Great Wall Exodus: Gods and Kings.
It's called whitewashing, and it's pretty freaking ridiculous. Directors throw up their hands and say they can't find Asian-American or Indian-American performers who can carry the film. They say it's all fictional, so it doesn't really matter. They say it's close enough.
And yes, many of these performances have fetched Oscars and achieved cinematic immortality. That doesn't mean that we don't still struggle with Ava Gardner being cast over Lena Horne as a mixed-race woman, or Rooney Mara and Johnny Depp playing Native Americans. Accuse us of being politically correct all you want. When Emma Stone is playing a half-Asian woman, something's wrong with the system.
Read on to see some of Hollywood's most egregious examples.
Acting legend Laurence Olivier wore blackface to play Shakespeare's Moorish general. Though some critics blasted the darkened makeup as insensitive, the performance earned Olivier an Oscar nomination. Olivier was just one of many white actors to claim Othello as their own. Orson Welles played the character in a 1951 adaptation, but favored dark lighting over actual Black makeup.
Pictured: Frank Finally and Laurence Olivier Photo: Moviestore/REX/Shutterstock. More
Critics objected to Rooney Mara's casting as Tiger Lily, who is traditionally portrayed as Native American. The actress later admitted that she "felt really bad" about the whitewashing.
Pictured: Rooney Mara Photo: Moviestore/REX/Shutterstock. More
(1951) Show Boat
The role of mixed-race leading lady Julie almost went to Lena Horne. However, studio executives shied away from featuring a woman of color in such a prominent role, and cast the white actress Ava Gardner instead.
Pictured: Ava Gardner and Howard Keel Photo: Moviestore/REX/Shutterstock. More
(1962) Dr. No
More like Dr. No Effing Way. Joseph Wiseman, a Canadian-born actor with Orthodox Jewish ancestry, was give a little makeover to play the first cinematic Bond villain, the half-German, half-Chinese Dr. Julius No.
Pictured: Joseph Wiseman Photo: Moviestore/REX/Shutterstock. More
Many, including Nina Simone's family members,
balked when Zoe Saldana was cast as the legendary singer in this biopic. Saldana, whose parents are Dominican and Puerto Rican, wore a prosthetic nose and dark makeup for the role, but defended her casting. "There's no one way to be Black," she told this summer. Allure
Pictured: Zoe Saldana Photo: RLJ Entertainment. More
Let's get this straight. You have the most famous Scottish actor on the planet (Sean Connery) starring in your film about a time-traveling Scottish Highlander, and you cast him as an Egyptian man posing as a Spaniard?
Pictured: Sean Connery as Juan Sánchez Villa-Lobos Ramírez, with Christopher Lambert as Connor MacLeod Photo: Moviestore/REX/Shutterstock. More
(2005) & Batman Begins (2012) The Dark Knight Rises
Why yes, Pride of Ireland Liam Neeson is
obviously the perfect choice to play an Arab character. Marion Cotillard, meanwhile, played Ra's Al Ghul daughter Talia, who is supposed to have Chinese and Arab ancestry.
Pictured: Liam Neeson Photo: Moviestore/REX/Shutterstock. More
(2010) Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time
One critic called Jake Gyllenhaal's casting as lead role Dastan
"insulting to Persians." The action film featured a mostly white cast, with British actress Gemma Arterton playing a Persian princess.
Pictured: Jake Gyllenhaal Photo: Moviestore/REX/Shutterstock. More
(1956) The King and I
Yul Brynner was a Russian-born man with Swiss and German heritage, which might be a surprise to fans who saw him as the King of Siam (T
he King and I), the Egyptian pharaoh Rameses II ( The Ten Commandments), and a Native American warrior ( Kings of the Sun).
Pictured: Yul Brynner with Deborah Kerr Photo: Moviestore/REX/Shutterstock. More
Patricia Neal won a Best Actress Oscar for her role as the housekeeper Alma, but there's a troubling backstory. In Larry McMurtry's novel, the housekeeper is a Black woman named Halmea. Studio executives didn't think viewers could handle Paul Newman's character pursuing a Black woman, so Neal was cast instead. Film critic Pauline Kael
called the portrayal "perhaps the first female equivalent of the 'white Negro' in our films." Chew on that.
Pictured: Patricia Neal and Paul Newman Photo: Moviestore/REX/Shutterstock. More
(2016) Doctor Strange
In the comics, the Ancient One is a wise old Tibetan man. In the film, the character is a Celtic mystic played by Tilda Swinton. Swinton and the filmmakers have
defended the whitewashing by arguing that other roles (such as Chiwetel Ejiofor's Karl Mordo) were made more diverse, and that they had sought to avoid Asian stereotypes.
Pictured: Tilda Swinton and Chiwetel Ejiofor Photo: Courtesy of Marvel. More
(2010) The Last Airbender
This M. Night Shyamalan fantasy film got called out when a casting call looking for Caucasian actors surfaced, despite the graphic novels' focus on Inuit and East Asian characters. Asian-American groups called for a boycott when a predominantly white cast was announced.
Pictured: Jackson Rathbone and Nicola Peltz Photo: Moviestore/REX/Shutterstock. More
The original script's Latina leading lady Irina became blonde Irene when Carey Mulligan was cast.
Pictured: Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan Photo: Moviestore/REX/Shutterstock. More
This Kevin Spacey film was criticized for casting mostly white actors, even though the card-counting students who inspired the book on which it's based,
Bringing Down the House, were predominately Asian-American.
Pictured: Aaron Yoo, Kate Bosworth, Kevin Spacey, Liza Lapira, and Jim Sturgess Photo: Moviestore/REX/Shutterstock. More
(2013) The Lone Ranger
Add this to Johnny Depp's many offenses: suiting up in face paint to play the Comanche Native American Tonto. He then doubled down and starred in Dior Sauvage's culturally appropriating fragrance campaign.
Pictured: Johnny Depp Photo: Moviestore/REX/Shutterstock. More
(2014) Exodus: Gods and Kings
Audiences weren't impressed with the decision to cast mostly white actors (including Christian Bale, Aaron Paul, Sigourney Weaver, and an eyeliner-wearing Joel Edgerton) as Egyptians.
Pictured: Christian Bale and Joel Edgerton Photo: Moviestore/REX/Shutterstock. More
Say aloha to Emma Stone's biggest movie blunder: trying to pass as a half-Asian woman named Allison Ng. Director Cameron Crowe
later apologized for the casting, while Stone admitted that she regretted the role.
Pictured: Emma Stone Photo: Moviestore/REX/Shutterstock. More
(2017) The Great Wall
Though Matt Damon's character in this upcoming action drama is actually written as a white man, many have objected to the "white hero saving all the Asians" stereotype. Don't expect Damon to back down, though. "To me, whitewashing was when Chuck Connors played Geronimo," he
recently remarked. "There are far more nuanced versions of it and I do try to be sensitive to that, but Pedro Pascal called me and goes, 'Yeah, we are guilty of whitewashing. We all know only the Chinese defended the wall against the monster attack.'"
Pictured: Matt Damon Photo: Moviestore/REX/Shutterstock. More
People have been debating for two millennia what Cleopatra actually looked like, and there's yet to be a definitive answer. As far as Hollywood is concerned, however, the Egyptian pharaoh had white skin, light eyes, and resembled Vivien Leigh (Caesar and Cleopatra), Elizabeth Taylor (Cleopatra), or Angelina Jolie (who has been itching to play her for years now).
Pictured: Rex Harrison and Elizabeth Taylor Photo: Moviestore/REX/Shutterstock. More
(2008) The Love Guru
The fact that Guru Pitka started out as the orphan of missionaries, and is therefore white rather than Indian, doesn't make up for this offensive stereotype fest.
Pictured: Mike Myers Photo: Moviestore/REX/Shutterstock. More
(1956) The Conqueror
John Wayne as Genghis Khan?! Who dreamed that one up?
Pictured: John Wayne Photo: Moviestore/REX/Shutterstock. More
(1961) Breakfast at Tiffany's
Mickey Rooney's squint-eyed, stereotypical portrayal of Holly Golightly's cranky neighbor, I.Y. Yunioshi, is regarded as one of the most offensive onscreen portrayals of all time. Though the late Rooney claimed to have received continued praise for his role, which involved wearing yellowface, director Blake Edwards and producer Richard Shepherd expressed serious regret.
Pictured: Mickey Rooney (center) Photo: Moviestore/REX/Shutterstock. More
(1986) & Short Circuit (1988) Short Circuit 2
Fisher Stevens' tone-deaf portrayal of Indian inventor Benjamin Jahrv inspired an episode of Aziz Ansari's
Master of None last year.
Pictured: Fisher Stevens Photo: Moviestore/REX/Shutterstock. More
(1961) West Side Story
As much as we love Natalie Wood, she was an unconventional choice to play Maria Nunez, the Latina leading lady. George Chakiris, who won an Oscar playing Maria's protective brother, Bernardo, was the son of Greek immigrants.
Pictured: Richard Beymer and Natalie Wood Photo: Moviestore/REX/Shutterstock. More
(2007) A Mighty Heart
Mariane Pearl, who has a Dutch-Jewish father and an Afro-Chinese-Cuban mother, selected Jolie to play her in this drama about the death of her journalist husband, Daniel Pearl. The casting was still met with controversy, with people objecting to Jolie's coloured contacts, curly hair, and darkened skin. Her performance did, however, earn her Golden Globe and SAG nominations.
Pictured: Angelina Jolie Photo: Moviestore/REX/Shutterstock. More
(1966) The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
Long before he warmed hearts as Kate Winslet's charming elderly neighbor in
The Holiday, the late Eli Wallach was the go-to guy for playing Mexican bandits and baddies. The New York City-raised son of Jewish immigrants famously played Tuco in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and Calvera in The Magnificent Seven.
Pictured: Eli Wallach as Tuco Photo: Moviestore/REX/Shutterstock. More
Darren Aronofsky's Biblical drama rocked the boat when it cast white actors, prompting criticism that it had omitted people of color from the story. Co-screenwriter Ari Handel's defense wasn't particularly helpful. "From the beginning, we were concerned about casting, the issue of race,"
he explained. "What we realized is that this story is functioning at the level of myth, and as a mythical story, the race of the individuals doesn’t matter. They’re supposed to be stand-ins for all people. Either you end up with a Bennetton ad or the crew of the Starship Enterprise. You either try to put everything in there, which just calls attention to it, or you just say, 'Let’s make that not a factor, because we’re trying to deal with everyman.'" Oh, okay, then.
Pictured: Jennifer Connelly and Russell Crowe Photo: Moviestore/REX/Shutterstock. More
(2010) The Social Network
Max Minghella, who has Italian and Chinese heritage, was chosen to play real-life Winklevoss collaborator Divya Narendra, the son of Indian immigrants. Sony, which produced the film, denied claims that Minghella's skin was darkened for the role. “The person who loves Max in the movie the most is the real Divya Narendra,” a spokesperson
told the . Wall Street Journal
Pictured: Max Minghella and Arnie Hammer Photo: Moviestore/REX/Shutterstock. More
Tony Mendez, the real-life CIA exfiltration specialist who inspired the film, has said that he didn't mind that Ben Affleck wasn't also of Mexican descent. Meanwhile, Clea DuVall played hostage Cora Amburn-Lijek, who is half-Japanese.
Pictured: Ben Affleck (center) Photo: Moviestore/REX/Shutterstock. More
(2013) The Big Wedding
English actor Ben Barnes played the Colombian groom in this rom-com, because apparently there's a shortage of Latino actors.
Pictured: Ben Barnes and Amanda Seyfried Photo: Moviestore/REX/Shutterstock. More
(1993) The House of the Spirits
Isabel Allende's novel about a Chilean family was adapted into this film starring mostly white actors, including Meryl Streep, Jeremy Irons, and Winona Ryder. We know Meryl's great, but... really?
Pictured: Meryl Streep and Jeremy Irons Photo: Moviestore/REX/Shutterstock. More
(2000) Pay It Forward
The teacher eventually played by Kevin Spacey was originally written as a Black man. Denzel Washington turned down the role, prompting a rewrite and casting reconsideration.
Pictured: Kevin Spacey and Haley Joel Osment Photo: Moviestore/REX/Shutterstock. More
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