The FREQ Show: Hollywood Whitewashing – Feminist Frequency

The FREQ Show: Hollywood Whitewashing

#The FREQ ShowMay 4, 2017

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Ebony Aster

Operations Director and rogue snuffleupagus

Although we’ve just said goodbye to our long-running Tropes Vs. Women in Video Games series, here at Feminist Frequency, we’re staying busy! Today marks the debut of The FREQ Show, a series where we turn our lens to some of the highlights and lowlights of pop culture, and the fascinating intersection of current events with media representations.

Our first episode is a look into a discussion of “whitewashing,” cultural cannibalism, and the appalling history of ethnic stereotyping in movies and television. Join us as we take a look at the ways in which people of color have been written out of — or written horribly into — our media narratives.

We’ll be putting out four episodes between now and the middle of June, for what we’re calling “Season Zero” of The FREQ Show.  We’d love to hear what you think about each episode as it gets released! Hit us up on Facebook or Twitter and share your episode questions, guest recommendations, and format suggestions. We are tuned in and we are listening!

A new episode will be released every two weeks on our Youtube channel, so take a moment to subscribe to ensure that you get all of our videos delivered to you piping fresh!

You’ve reached the end of this piece – but there’s plenty more where this came from!

All of Feminist Frequency’s work – web pieces just like this one, videos, newsletters and interviews – is completely free to the public. But, everything we produce requires research, staff time and resources.

We need your help to keep our feminist media analysis and educational materials easily available and accessible to anyone with an internet connection.

Pitch in and donate now to make sure these pieces keep coming.

Read the full article…

Although we’ve just said goodbye to our long-running Tropes Vs. Women in Video Games series, here at Feminist Frequency, we’re staying busy! Today marks the debut of The FREQ Show, a series where we turn our lens to some of the highlights and lowlights of pop culture, and the fascinating intersection of current events with media representations.

Our first episode is a look into a discussion of “whitewashing,” cultural cannibalism, and the appalling history of ethnic stereotyping in movies and television. Join us as we take a look at the ways in which people of color have been written out of — or written horribly into — our media narratives.

We’ll be putting out four episodes between now and the middle of June, for what we’re calling “Season Zero” of The FREQ Show.  We’d love to hear what you think about each episode as it gets released! Hit us up on Facebook or Twitter and share your episode questions, guest recommendations, and format suggestions. We are tuned in and we are listening!

A new episode will be released every two weeks on our Youtube channel, so take a moment to subscribe to ensure that you get all of our videos delivered to you piping fresh!

You’ve reached the end of this piece – but there’s plenty more where this came from!

All of Feminist Frequency’s work – web pieces just like this one, videos, newsletters and interviews – is completely free to the public. But, everything we produce requires research, staff time and resources.

We need your help to keep our feminist media analysis and educational materials easily available and accessible to anyone with an internet connection.

Pitch in and donate now to make sure these pieces keep coming.


TRANSCRIPT

“What’s the matter with you, boy?! Shooting up that man’s henhouse!”
“I’ll shoot any chicken try to follow me home!”
“But why don’t you get a job and go to work?!
“Uhhhh, I almost had me a job this morning!”

CLIP: Tropic Thunder
“I can’t believe you people!”
“What do you mean, ‘you people?’”

America was founded on the physical exploitation of ethnic Others, from enslaved Africans to Chinese immigrants. But while their physical bodies were valuable, early American cinema was not in the habit of seeing them as fully human.

The history of cultural appropriation and whitewashing in western media — essentially, treating other cultures like a grab bag of Dollar Store toys — has its roots in blackface, yellowface, or brownface — that is, white actors darkening their skins and affecting stereotypical accents and behaviors to denote some other ethnicity. Some of the most iconic examples of early American cinema feature horribly racist portrayals of black folks, Native Americans, or Asians by white actors who exist purely to highlight the supposed savage, animal-like characters of non-white peoples.

CLIP: Apache
“You want us to kill you. That’d be a sweet death, wouldn’t it? A warrior’s death.”

CLIP: Breakfast at Tiffany’s
“Oh, darling, I am sorry, but I lost my key!”
“But that was two weeks ago! You can not go on keep ringing my bell! You disturb me! You must have a key made!”

Early cinema trafficked in a ton of these kinds of two-dimensional characters, and depending on the genre, most ethnic minorities got “the treatment.” Westerns were rife with white actors playing either noble savages, demure Indian maidens, or vicious “redskins;” while the spectre of the “yellow peril” brought us a number of thrillers predicated upon the perceptions of Asians — usually Chinese — as duplicitous, conniving, and malevolent. Add some makeup meant to suggest “slitted” eyes, and white actors were good to go.

CLIP: Murder Over New York
“Oh, won’t you come in Mr. Chan?”
“Thank you very much. Most charming apartment. “
“Thank you.”
“Can only stay moment. Have found missing pearl?”

CLIP: The Conqueror
“By whose leave do you cross my lands?”
“The chief’s lands are those his men can hold with arms, Temujin.”
‘The market chief comes to dispute them?”
“Were we alone it would be easier, Targutai.”
“Blood brother speaks in riddles!”

CLIP: The Teahouse of the August Moon
“Okinawa very fortunate! Culture brought to us. Not have to leave home for it.”

One of the most insidious tools of white supremacy is its insistence on whiteness as the racial default, or as an ethnic “empty” category. White people manage to exist in a kind of invisible zone, where they are assumed to not have a race or ethnicity. This allows whiteness to wear the cultural, religious, or social signifiers of other ethnic communities as if they were merely accessories to be purchased at the mall. Oh, wait: they are!

It’s no surprise that a country founded upon the exploited labor of racialized others, would feel a divine right of ownership to both those bodies and their cultures. If you exercise total control over a human being, body and soul, then it’s not a great stretch to believe that you own their stories as well.

Cultural difference had to be repressed, denigrated, or contained. Part of this *containment* was accomplished by ensuring that opportunities for ethnic minorities in early cinema remained few and far between.

CLIP: Murder Over New York
“Pop! Hey, Pop! Pop! Gosh, I almost missed ya!”
“What are you doing in New York?”
“Got stuck in a cross-town traffic jam.”
“Inspector Vance, this is favorite offspring, Jimmy. Without whose assistance, many cases would have been solved much sooner.”

100 years later, and it’s no longer rare to see an actual person of color on screen —

CLIP: Two Broke Girls
“Oh, Han, Max and I have to do press for my movie, so we can’t work tomorrow.”
“Can you at least tell people not to put cigarettes out on my family photos? There’s a giant hole in my grandma!”

— but it’s also no surprise that the roles they get offered still often conform to 31 flavors of outdated, problematic archetypes: the pan-Asian martial arts expert, the inner-city thug, the spicy Latina — and everyone’s current favorite: the Muslim terrorist!

CLIP: Homeland
“No games, Mr. Lockhart!
“Oh, no, no!”

And the truly, utterly absurd thing is that it’s tempting to think of even those problematic roles as a small step up. Because things used to be — and sometimes still are! — so much worse.

CLIP: Prince of Persia
“I’m not letting you go!”

So it’s 2017 and we’ve moved away from many — not all, but many — of the most overt racist representations that clouded our media landscape, right?

CLIP: Ghost in the Shell
“Everyone around me, they feel connected to something I’m…not.”

Huh. Well, let’s just say that old-school blackface or yellowface are not quite so prevalent as they used to be. You would think that the race to cast white actors in roles that call for a people of color would have died a long-overdue death. But no. It’s still alive and kicking, and folks almost seem to be more and more insistent about keeping it afloat.

And depressingly there are so many more. Seriously — what’s so hard about, you know, actually casting people of color in stories that are, at least nominally, about them?

CLIP: A Mighty Heart
“You make me happy every time you smile. We’re going to create a beautiful world together.”

CLIP: A Beautiful Mind
“If I can ask you to dinner…you do eat, don’t you?

CLIP: Stuck
“I thought you said you hit a guy?”
“He’s the guy.”
“But you, you didn’t say you hit a guy and brought him home with you.

CLIP: How I Met Your Mother
“Are you Red Bird?”
“Are you sure you really know how to…?”
“What is the sound of one hand slapping?”
“I’m sorry, I don’t understand …”
“Wait. How did you–”

CLIP: Avatar: The Last Airbender
“You are the only one who can control all of the elements…and bring peace to our world.”

CLIP: The Lone Ranger
“The woman, Rebecca — you will fill her with child.”
“What? No!”

CLIP: Argo
“I need you to help me make a fake movie.”
“So you want to come to Hollywood and act like a big shot without actually doing anything.”
“Yeah.”
“You’ll fit right in.”

No sense making things hard for yourself by inviting actual people of color on-set who might reveal that your entire story is kinda racist, or super duper massively racist — a lesson learned by Adam Sandler during the making of The Ridiculous 6.

CLIP: The Ridiculous 6
“Morning, Never Wears Bra.”
“Good morning, boys!”
“You have no right to be here! This Apache land!
“And what you gon’ do, Beaver Breath?”
“How he know my name?”
“That’s her name!”

CLIP: KRQE News 13
“Video posted online today shows what happened when a group of Native American actors walked off an Adam Sandler movie.”
“You trying to tell a Native what’s disrespectful to them?”
‘It’s degrading to women. Because you know, as a Native American person, we hold our women very sacred.”
“They said women had names like, ‘Beaver’s Breath’ and ‘Wears No Bra.’
“We don’t need to sell out our people, either.”
“I understand completely. But we’re not going to change ‘Beaver Breath.’”

It’s ridiculous that audiences of color have to keep raising their hands like kids in a classroom and demand to be heard, but here we are.

And it’s not as if the explanations for whitewashing are ever new, or particularly logical. They essentially boil down to three lackluster defenses:

China Won’t Let Us
The Best Guy Got the Job
My Black Friend is Ok With It

Laid bare this way, every one of these rationalizations is clearly absurd, but that doesn’t stop directors, producers, and casting agents from trotting them out every time they feel like co-opting an ethnic experience for the latest hot white actor du jour.

One: China Won’t Let Us: a.k.a. international audiences and funders are not as ENLIGHTENED as us, and won’t let us cast all the wonderful actors of color we’ve been just dying to hire.

The argument that audiences won’t go see a film with a lead actor of color is just factually untrue. Audiences are smart enough to know when they’re being served up a counterfeit version of the real thing, and by and large, they reject it. The films that have been called out the most recently for whitewashing have also been critical and commercial disasters. Meanwhile, minority-led projects are killing it on TV and at the box office.

CLIP: Get Out
“I ain’t never seen you like this before, bruh. Taking road trips…Don’t come back all bourgie, man.”

CLIP: Master of None
“We need you to do an accent.”
“You mean like an Indian accent?”
“You know, Ben Kingsley did an accent in Gandhi and won the Oscar for it, so…”
“But, he didn’t win the Oscar just for doing the accent. I mean, it wasn’t an Oscar for “Best Indian Accent.”

Two: The Best Guy Got the Job: a.k.a. Of all the white guys we auditioned, this was the best white guy

First of all, whether you are explicit or not with your casting calls, if you have an overwhelming amount of white talent available, it is your responsibility to widen the net. Secondly, think about what these creators are actually saying: that time and time again, it just happens to be the white actors who impress them more. Is this because white actors are inherently better than actors of color? That they show more range? That they disappear into a part more? Of course not.

What is true, is that these directors, producers, and showrunners, consciously or not, have defaulted back to whiteness. If a role calls for a lawyer or a doctor, unless the casting sheet specifically calls for a BLACK doctor, or an ASIAN lawyer, then they don’t even bring POC in to audition. The generic “every man” or “every woman” in our culture is still assumed to be white, and all positive characteristics they possess are wrapped up in that whiteness. So, of course, when white actors audition for a role, they seem like a more “natural” fit. So they cast the white actor, and trust that the ethnic background or racial heritage can just be an addendum – something incidental. Because that’s how they always saw it, anyway.

And three: My Black Friend is Ok With It —

Your black friend? Probably not okay with it.

Frankly, representations of difference have been messed up for as long as we’ve been telling stories — it’s just that the development of visual media makes those representations more visceral and potentially, more damaging. There’s whitewashing, sure — but there’s also a bumper crop of white savior narratives out there, too– and directors certainly don’t seem to be taking a break from making those.

And even though critical and commercial reactions to these epics is usually of the “thanks, but no thanks” variety, white media creators continue to trot out the same, tired hope that no one will notice that the worlds they create are full of white subjects, and racialized objects.

But we do notice. And communities of color have always noticed and spoken up — but increasingly, white audiences are responding in kind. Sadly, that’s probably what it’s going to take for Hollywood power players to stop recycling the same old tired projects, with the same old familiar white faces. It’s going to take more white people speaking up. So speak up. Stop giving these terrible projects your money, and stop writing people of color out of their own stories. Oh, and also, stop making excuses for your terrible racist Halloween costumes. Hey, Chad! I mean you.

This is our brand new Feminist Frequency show! If you like what we’re doing here, please share with friends, subscribe for more videos, and donate to help us continue making them!

 

You’ve reached the end of this piece – but there’s plenty more where this came from!
All of Feminist Frequency’s work – web pieces just like this one, videos, newsletters and interviews – is completely free to the public. But, everything we produce requires research, staff time and resources.

We need your help to keep our feminist media analysis and educational materials easily available and accessible to anyone with an internet connection.

Pitch in and donate now to make sure these pieces keep coming.

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