Hollywood’s uphill battle with POC

Illustration: Alex Gomez · The Sentry

Illustration: Alex Gomez · The Sentry

Hollywood has been a breeding ground for passing over the casting of minorities in film and television. Roles portraying minorities such as African Americans, Asians, and Native Americans are frequently subject to whitewashing and colorism in contemporary film and television.

Whitewashing is an umbrella term that is defined as the casting of white actors for characters originally written as non-white or of indeterminate race. Colorism coincides with whitewashing in that it utilizes actors of a lighter skin color than originally predetermined.

One major contemporary film, The Hate U Give, is facing major backlash after being accused of utilizing colorism with its cast. The controversy stems from the casting of Amandla Stenberg, who is lighter-skinned than many were expecting the role to be due to the illustration on the book cover. The illustrator, Debora Cartwright, spoke out on the issue and said, “I was hoping it would be a very brown-skinned actress, because there’s so little opportunities in these big movies for darker-skinned actresses.”

It’s the unfortunate fact that Hollywood has a major issue with whitewashing for the last 100+ years, and despite the backlash Hollywood receives from poor casting, minorities present in Hollywood are still fighting an uphill battle.

Presently on Wikipedia, there are more than 95 films from the years of 1915 to 2018 listed as “criticized” due to the whitewashing of their casting. Movies on this list include hit box office movies like Annihilation, with Natalie Portman playing a character originally written as Asian and part Native-American descent; and Ghost in the Shell, where Scarlett Johansson and other white actors played Japanese characters. Even Marvel movies are subject to the controversy of whitewashing their casts. For example, Doctor Strange casted Tilda Swinton in the role of The Ancient One, which was originally written as a man from the fictional Asian country of Kamar-Taj.

Despite the lengthy list of films and television shows that have participated in whitewashing, there are productions in Hollywood that are trying to break the cycle of not casting POC for their respective roles.

Yellowstone, starring Kevin Costner, is a new television series that is making waves in the casting department. Yellowstone tracks the hostility around a large cattle ranch, a Native American reservation, land developers, and Yellowstone National Park. Taylor Sheridan, director and writer of Yellowstone and other productions such as Wind River, presents Native American actors in roles that are respective for their actual ethnicity. Sheridan also shows the harsh realities of what life is like living on reservations. Due to Sheridan’s use of actual Native American actors, like Gil Birmingham—who also plays a Native American in an authoritative role—is helping shake the repetition of the constant whitewashing of roles that are originally meant for people of color.

While whitewashing and colorism in Hollywood has been a habitual problem for casting directors, shows like Yellowstone are transforming casting, and hopefully the rest of Hollywood will follow suit.


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