Bleaching Hollywood: Where is the Representation?

Scarlett Johansson Discusses Whitewashing in “Ghost In The Shell”

Scarlett Johansson has responded to accusations of whitewashing in the upcoming “Ghost In The Shell” movie.

Posted by BuzzFeed News on Saturday, February 11, 2017

Next month, a film adaptation of the popular Japanese manga series Ghost in the Shell will hit American theaters. Although the heavily anticipated action movie has yet to be released, it’s already been the subject of a growing racial debate for years. The casting of Scarlett Johansson as the lead role, a character clearly depicted as Japanese in the original books and cartoons, has made the film yet another example of “whitewashing” in Hollywood.

Whitewashing is not a new trend, nor are there signs of it disappearing anytime soon. Casting directors often choose to star white leads in traditionally non-white roles, regardless of the availability of  actors of other races and ethnicities. This practice ultimately depicts actors such as Johansson, a thin, blonde, white actress, as the “ideal.” Not only does this promote racial inequality and white supremacy, it undermines non-whites’ views of themselves and their culture.What message is a movie such as this, in which a strong, Japanese female is replaced by a caucasian actress, sending to young Asian girls? Are they required to conform themselves to white American expectations of beauty? Are they lead to believe that their opportunities in this world are limited by the color of their skin or the texture of their hair?

The enforcement of caucasian superiority over other cultures is not limited to films and television. A prominent example in history can be found within personal accounts of the 19th century removal of Native Americans by white settlers. Young Indian children were forced to strip themselves of their culture and adopt the language and appearances of “civilized” whites. A Native American woman, named Zitkala Sa, recounts the day her hair was cut by whites in American Indian Stories. She writes that her friend “had heard the paleface woman talking about cutting [their] long, heavy hair” and that their mothers had taught [them] that only unskilled warriors who were captured had their hair shingled by the enemy”(93).Accounts such as this one demonstrate the idea forced upon Native American people that their culture and ethnicity were inferior to what white settlers considered acceptable.

Because America was founded and built upon multiculturalism, it is important to restructure the idea of standardized, caucasian beauty norms. In the keywords essay, “Multicultural,” Debra Dudek suggests that many literary and cinematic works are beginning to “gesture toward an acceptance of cultural difference but reinscribe an ideological position in which one culture has superiority or power over another,” (155).  In order to allow children of all ethnic backgrounds to take pride in their ethnicity and appearance, media and film industries must become more open spaces for multicultural representation.

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