Whitewashing? Hollywood under fire

A blonde Emma Stone (left, with Bradley Cooper) plays Allison Ng in Aloha. PHOTO: TWENTIETH CENTURY FOX
Australian actor Joel Edgerton as Ramses in Exodus: Gods And Kings.
Australian actor Joel Edgerton as Ramses in Exodus: Gods And Kings. PHOTO: TWENTIETH CENTURY FOX

Many Hollywood films have been accused of "whitewashing", or casting Caucasian actors in roles originally conceived or meant for non- whites. Recent ones include:

Aloha, the Bradley Cooper and Emma Stone romantic comedy that bombed at the box office earlier this year. The film and its writer-director Cameron Crowe (Almost Famous, 2000) drew a lot of flak, especially for casting Stone, a white actress, as Allison Ng, who is supposed to be of Chinese and Hawaiian descent.

In response to the criticism, Crowe wrote an open letter on his website offering "a heartfelt apology to all who felt this was an odd or misguided casting choice". He explains that "the character was based on a real-life, red-headed local".

Stonewall, released in the United States last month and which opens here next month, has come under fire for its depiction of the 1969 Stonewall Riots in New York, where a confrontation with police outside a gay bar kick-started the gay rights movement.

Instead of portraying one of the gay and transgender minority figures credited with leading the fight in real life, director Roland Emmerich (The Day After Tomorrow, 2004) changed the protagonist to a handsome, fictionalised white gay man. This has prompted an outcry, with an online petition calling it "the newest whitewashed version of queer history".

The film-maker has responded by saying the film in its entirety does honour real-life minority activists.

Exodus: Gods And Kings (2014), the biblical epic where director Ridley Scott (Blade Runner, 1982) defended his casting of white actors in most of the main roles despite the story being set in Egypt.

"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. I'm just not going to get it financed,'' he told Variety magazine.

His unapologetic rationale fuelled accusations that both he and the film were racist.

Alison de Souza

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 07, 2015, with the headline 'Whitewashing? Hollywood under fire'. Print Edition | Subscribe