On Whitewashing

by Devarsi Ghosh

I don’t see why people get their panties in a twist whenever a cinematic adaptation of any novel, anime or TV series is announced, where the makers of the novel do not want to stick with the “right” race or colour of a particular character or characters.

The context being a recent Indiewire article titled ‘Full Metal Alchemist: Iconic Anime Getting A Big Screen Adaptation, With No Whitewashing‘. The writers refer to the discontent of the fans at the “whitewashing” of the Ghost in the Shell movie and Tilda Swinton’s character in the upcoming Doctor Strange movie, that’s supposed to be Tibetian.

Now here’s the thing!

It’s a work of FICTION. The filmmaker has every right to make his own directorial choices, the way he sees fit, and if he decides that, say, an Asian character from a comic book will be white in his movie, because of creative reasons, or most likely because of market considerations, then well and good. For instance, if you are making GITS in Hollywood (US being the domestic market), it makes sense for the actors to be Anglo-American because 1. 78% of America is white. and 2. You need to have saleable, recognizable stars who can cut across markets worldwide, like Scarlett Johansson.

However, strangely enough, people do not seem to have a problem when white characters (James Bond) or characters (who have for long been presumed to be white, such as Hermione) are played by or are announced to be played by Black or Hispanic or any non-white actor. They look at it as Hollywood being inclusive. Okay, sure, Hollywood has to be inclusive — but is the only way to go about it is give off characters meant for white actors to non-white actors? Now, wait. I just said that if it’s a work of fiction, anything goes. By that logic, everyone has the right to play anything as long the casting choice is in spirit of the character in context of the director’s larger vision.

The thing is why are people so selective when outraging about “whitewashing” specifically and turning a blind eye and welcoming casting decisions like Idris Elba playing Roland Deschain in the Dark Tower adaptation (a terrific choice, by the way) or being all-welcoming to the all-female reboot of Ghostbusters (a totally unnecessary SJW-pleasing move)? Then we go into larger questions of “Is it a crime to be white?” and “white privilege”, topics too vast and beyond the scope of what I am trying to say here, which is that, filmmakers have complete freedom to do whatever they want with the source material and the only obligation that they have at the end of the day is to make a kickass movie…end of story.