Whitewashing in Hollywood movies is pervasive and unnecessary. Whitewashing is when an ethnic or minority character is played by a white actor. In the Marvel Comics original Doctor Strange story, the character of the Ancient One is Tibetan, but is played in the movie by white British actress Tilda Swinton. A good research paper topic is to write about the causes of Hollywood whitewashing.
The Doctor Strange story is about Stephen Strange, played by heartthrob Benedict Cumberbatch, an ego-driven former neurosurgeon who becomes injured and goes to Kathmandu to learn the mystic arts from a powerful 500-year-old immortal sorcerer called the Ancient One.
Representation of minorities in film
A sociology topic for your term paper is to write about the lack of minorities in film. Hollywood is notorious for changing minority characters in original material (comic books, novels, real life events) into white characters with popular Caucasian actors. On the heels of “Oscars So White,” the film industry still feels the need to replace Asian, Middle Eastern, Indian or other minority characters with famous white actors, a practice called whitewashing.
For example, in the Doctor Strange comic book, the Ancient One is a Tibetan man. In the movie, the character is played by white actress Tilda Swinton. In the April 15, 2016, Hollywood Reporter article, “Why Did ‘Doctor Strange’ and ‘Ghost in the Shell’ Whitewash Their Asian Characters?” Graeme McMillan commented, “Wouldn’t a younger Asian actor have offered enough of a play on the trope — not to mention a play on the character’s name — while also avoiding the utter tone-deafness of having Strange head to Tibet in order to learn about enlightenment from another white English person?”
Changing a character’s ethnicity
The Marvel Company has explained that due to the lucrative Chinese market and the difficult political relations between China and Tibet, the studio changed the ethnic origin of the Ancient One character to Celtic, not Tibetan, and did not want to cause another faux pas of casting a Chinese actor as a Tibetan. Also, Swinton plays the role as an androgynous character. Marvel released a statement, published in “Tilda Swinton as The Ancient One in ‘Doctor Strange’: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know,” by Daniel S. Levine in Heavy November 3, 2016, saying: “Marvel has a very strong record of diversity in its casting of films and regularly departs from stereotypes and source material to bring its MCU to life. The Ancient One is a title that is not exclusively held by any one character, but rather a moniker passed down through time, and in this particular film the embodiment is Celtic.”
Race and gender in film
Race and gender are also altered, often to detrimental and insensitive effect. Although accurately based on the comic book, the film was also criticized for yet again employing the tired trope of Western white man finds enlightenment in Asia, used in many stories such as Wolverine and Batman. Moreover, the comic’s white character Baron Mordo was played in the movie by black actor Chiwetel Ejiofor, which helped Hollywood add more roles for people of color, yet invariably contributed to the “black sidekick” stereotype for movie superheroes.
Commenting in general about Hollywood whitewashing, Indian-American actor Aziz Ansari, from the show Master of None, said in “We Will Not Be Ignored; Asian-American Actors Call out Hollywood for ‘Whitewashing,” by Amanda Hess, published in International New York Times May 28, 2016: “The mainstream Hollywood thinking still seems to be that movies and stories about straight white people are universal, and that anyone else is more niche. …Everyone seems to be becoming slowly aware of how overwhelmingly white everything is,” said Ansari.
For more information, check out Questia’s library on Film Criticism.
Do you think Hollywood should cast ethnic actors for ethnic characters? Share your thoughts in the comments.