List of films featuring whitewashed roles

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White actor Mickey Rooney wore yellowface to portray a Japanese landlord in Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961)

Whitewashing is the term given to the casting practice in which white actors are cast in nonwhite roles. The practice is as old as the film industry. The BBC said African Americans "have long felt the full brunt of the 'whitewashing' of roles" and that Asians had experienced it as well.[1] In the early 20th century, white actors caricatured minority characters by wearing blackface or yellowface and exaggerating the perceived behavior of minorities. White actor Al Jolson wore blackface in The Jazz Singer (1927), and white actor Warner Oland played the Chinese detective Charlie Chan in Charlie Chan Carries On (1931) and subsequent films. Due to the lack of characters of color in the film industry, these roles were well received at the time by minorities.[2] Films became more racially integrated mid-century, and blackface mostly disappeared from the film industry with the key exception of Othello (1965), in which white actor Laurence Olivier wore blackface as the title character. The practice of yellowface extended into the 1960s, including Mickey Rooney playing a Japanese[3] landlord in Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961).[2] Professor David A. Schlossman said of Asian characters in particular, "Many of the Asian roles portrayed by White actors also contributed to the pantheon of racial stereotypes in US national discourse."[4] At the start of the 21st century, minorities were still under-represented in the film industry at different stages. While historically black roles mostly went to black actors, the practice of whitewashing applied to other minorities.[2]

The BBC said in 2015, "The practice of casting white actors in non-white roles is still prevalent in Hollywood – despite widespread condemnation and protest." A report in 2013 showed that 94% of film executives were white and that nonwhite people were under-represented as filmmakers and actors. The BBC explored two reasons for the casting practice: institutional racism and producers believing that white actors attract more audiences and maximize profits. Thomas Rothman, the chairman of Sony Pictures said about institutional racism, "I think the industry's improving but I certainly agree with those who say we haven't come far enough fast enough."[1] Jeffery Mio, author of Multicultural Psychology: Understanding Our Diverse Communities, hypothesizes that the film industry, mostly white, hires people of similar backgrounds. Mio said of the rationale that only the most qualified actors are cast, "That’s the argument that directors and casting directors make, but a lot of times ethnic actors will tell us that when they say we're just choosing the best actor, they mean we're choosing our friends, or people we're used to."[1] Craig Detweiler, professor of film history at Pepperdine University, said, "There are a shortage Template:Sic of African American, Asian and Latino stars. For all Hollywood's progressive politics, its casting decisions look remarkably retrograde."[5] In 2010, TheWrap ascribed the lack of racial diversity to institutional racism and a lack of bankable actors of color and that whitewashing in films like Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time and The Last Airbender aggravated the issue.[5]

On casting white actors to maximize profits, David White, National Executive Director of the actors' union SAG-AFTRA said black actors like Will Smith, Denzel Washington, and David Oyelowo refuted the casting rationale.[1] Assistant professor of telecommunications Andrew J. Weaver said, "There is an assumption in Hollywood that whites would avoid movies with majority black casts, or any minority cast for that matter. You see this whitewashing of films – even films that have minority characters written into them are being cast with whites."[6] Film professor Mitchell W. Block said studios adhered to casting norms as a matter of practicing business to appeal to investors and producers.[7] Director Ridley Scott said without the casting of big-name actors, his 2014 Biblical epic film Exodus: Gods and Kings would never have been made, saying, "I can't mount a film of this budget... and say that my lead actor is Mohammad so-and-so from such-and-such... I'm just not going to get financed."[7][8][9] USA Today noted with films like Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961), A Mighty Heart (2007), and Pan (2015), "White actors continue to be top of mind for plum roles, despite the under-representation of people of color at the acting, directing and producing levels."[7]

Media watchdog groups have sought more authentic representations on screen, taking issue with casting decisions such as actor Johnny Depp as a Native American in The Lone Ranger (2013).[1] With films from the United States showing in more global markets, the groups argue for roles that represent the diversity of audiences, who are seeking more authenticity. SAG-AFTRA's David White demurred on groups' opposition to casting white actors in non-white roles, "The laws insist that one’s race not be part of the qualifications for a job," but he recognized that there was a lack of diversity in roles available.[1] Law professor John Tehranian said, "Of course, there is nothing inherently wrong with race-blind casting, as long as it works both ways. But in reality, it never has; one rarely sees, for example, an African American, Latino, or Asian actor cast as a white character."[10]

List of films

Films in the list below have been described as whitewashed because they include at least one character whose ethnicity in the film's source material was different from the ethnicity of the white actor who portrayed the character.

Film Year Description
21 2008 The film about card counting features white actors Jim Sturgess, Jacob Pitts, and Kevin Spacey in the lead roles. The film is based on the true story where a group of Asian-American students and their teacher applied card counting to win significantly in gambling.[2][11][12][13][14]
30 Days of Night 2007 In the vampire horror film, white actor Josh Hartnett plays Sheriff Eben Oleson in an Alaskan town. The originating comic book mini-series featured the character as Sheriff Eben Olemaun, who is of Inuit descent.[11][12][13]
Aloha 2015 The romantic comedy-drama features an all-white cast and is set in the state of Hawaii, which is over 70% nonwhite. One of the actors, Emma Stone, portrayed the character Allison Ng; the character is stated as having a father of half Chinese and half Native Hawaiian descent, and a mother of Swedish descent.[15][16][17]
Anna and the King of Siam 1946 In the historical drama film, white actor Rex Harrison plays the Siamese king Mongkut.[18]
Apache 1954 In the Western film, white actor Burt Lancaster stars as an Apache warrior.[11][13][16]
Argo 2012 In the political thriller film based on a true story, white actor Ben Affleck plays Tony Mendez, a CIA technical operations officer who is of half Mexican descent.[11][12][17] Tony Mendez himself said he did not think of himself as Hispanic.[19]
Batman Begins 2005 In the superhero film featuring Batman, white actor Liam Neeson plays Ra's al Ghul, who is traditionally depicted in Batman comics to be of Arab descent.[20]
Template:Sortname 2001 In the biographical film about John Nash, white actor Jennifer Connelly plays Nash's wife Alicia, who was born in El Salvador.[2][11][12]
Breakfast at Tiffany's 1961 In the romantic comedy film, white actor Mickey Rooney plays Holly Golightly's Asian landlord.[2][11][13][21][22]
Charlie Chan Carries On 1931 White actor Warner Oland plays Chinese detective Charlie Chan in this film as well as others featuring the character.[2]
Cleopatra 1963 In the historical epic film, white actor Elizabeth Taylor plays Cleopatra, a queen of Greek and Egyptian descent.[2][11][17][23]
Template:Sortname 1956 In the epic film, white actor John Wayne plays the title character Genghis Khan of Mongol descent.[2][11][13][21][22]
Dragon Seed 1944 In the war drama film, white actor Katharine Hepburn plays the Chinese protagonist Jade.[11][13][24]
Dragonball Evolution 2009 In the film based on the Japanese manga Dragon Ball, white actor Justin Chatwin plays the main character Goku.[11][13]
Drive 2011 In the crime film, white actor Carey Mulligan plays Irene, who is depicted as Latin in the original novel.[11][12]
Elizabeth, Michael and Marlon 2016 The comedy television film based based on a 2011 Vanity Fair story about Marlon Brando, Elizabeth Taylor and Michael Jackson's road trip to New York City on September 11, 2001 features white actor Joseph Fiennes as Michael Jackson.[25]
Exodus: Gods and Kings 2014 In the Biblical epic film, white actors Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton, Sigourney Weaver, and Aaron Paul play Biblical figures who are of Middle Eastern descent.[16][23][26] Director Ridley Scott said about his casting, "I can’t mount a film of this budget, where I have to rely on tax rebates in Spain, and say that my lead actor is Mohammad so-and-so from such-and-such. I'm just not going to get it financed. So the question doesn't even come up."[27]
Fiesta 1947 In the musical drama film, white actor Esther Williams plays the Mexican woman Maria Morales.[13]
Ghost in the Shell 2017 White actor Scarlett Johansson stars as the protagonist in the US live-action remake of the Japanese anime.[28]
Gods of Egypt 2016 In the fantasy film, the principal cast of the Egyptian characters is mostly portrayed by white actors.[29]
Template:Sortname 1937 In the drama film about Chinese farmers, white actors Paul Muni and Luise Rainer play Chinese characters.[11][13][16]
Template:Sortname 1965 In the Biblical epic film, white actors play Biblical figures who are of Middle Eastern descent. White actor Max von Sydow plays Jesus Christ.[26]
Template:Sortname 1993 In the period drama set in Chile, white actors Meryl Streep, Glenn Close, Jeremy Irons, and Winona Ryder play characters of Latin descent.[4]
Hud 1963 In the drama film, white actor Patricia Neal plays Alma, a housekeeper at a ranch, where in the original novel, Horseman, Pass By, the character was a black housekeeper named Halmea. The director said of casting a white actor for the character, "We would have loved to keep her black for the movie. She has moral strength, she's benevolent, she's tough-minded, and she's secure in herself. So we would have loved to say to the world, 'Look, here's a hell of a woman, and she's black,' but in those days you simply couldn't do it, and not because the talent wasn't there—there were at least a half-dozen powerhouse black actresses who could have played that role. But the times weren't ready for it yet, and it was, of course, further complicated by the attempted rape."[30]
Template:Sortname 2003 In the drama film, white actor Anthony Hopkins plays Coleman Silk, a former professor who is African-American and has been passing as a white Jewish person.[23][31]
Template:Sortname 2012 In the science fiction adventure film, white actor Jennifer Lawrence stars as Katniss Everdeen,[11][12][23][31] who author Suzanne Collins described to have the typical look of her district: olive skin, straight black hair, and grey eyes. Readers perceived Katniss and her people to be nonwhite; the film's casting call for Katniss specified a Caucasian appearance.[32]
Imitation of Life 1959 In the romantic drama film, Hispanic actor Susan Kohner plays Sarah Jane, a mixed ethnicity woman who can pass as white.[13][23]
Template:Sortname 1956 In the musical film, white actor Yul Brynner plays the Thai king Mongkut.[4][24]
King David 1985 In the Biblical epic film, white actors play Biblical figures who are of Middle Eastern descent. White actor Richard Gere plays the Biblical figure David.[26]
King of Kings 1961 In the Biblical epic film, white actors play Biblical figures who are of Middle Eastern descent. White actor Jeffrey Hunter plays Jesus Christ.[26]
Template:Sortname 2010 In the fantasy adventure film based on the TV series Avatar: The Last Airbender, white actors play characters that are depicted as Asian and Inuit in the TV series.[2][11][12][13][22][24]
Template:Sortname 1988 In the Biblical epic film, white actors play Biblical figures who are of Middle Eastern descent, including white actor Willem Dafoe as Jesus Christ.[26]
Lawrence of Arabia 1962 In the historical epic film, white actor Alec Guinness plays the Arab Prince Faisal and Anglo/Latino Anthony Quinn plays tribal chieftain Auda Abu Tayi.[18]
Template:Sortname 2013 In the Western film, white actor Johnny Depp plays the Comanche sidekick Tonto.[2][12] Depp has stated on several occasions that he has some Cherokee or Comanche ancestry, although Depp's Native American ancestry has never been verified.[33]
Lost Boundaries 1949 In the drama film based on a true story, white actors play members of a family that is partly African-American but passes as white.[34]
Template:Sortname 1961 In the comedy film, white actor Alec Guinness plays a Japanese businessman.[18]
Template:Sortname 2015 In the science fiction film based on the 2011 novel, white actor Mackenzie Davis plays Mission Control satellite planner Mindy Park, a character of Korean-American descent in the novel.[35] Author Andy Weir said he perceived Mindy Park as Korean but said he did not explicitly write her as Korean.[36]
Template:Sortname 2007 In the drama film based on the memoir of the same name, white actor Angelina Jolie plays Mariane Pearl, a French-born woman of Afro-Cuban descent.[11][13][14][17][23][31][37]
Noah 2014 The Biblical epic film features an all-white cast.[38] White actor Russell Crowe plays the Biblical figure Noah.[23][26] However, "fittingly for a Biblical story", two of the characters are played by Jewish actors (Jennifer Connelly, whose mother was Jewish, and Logan Lerman, whose parents are both Jewish).[39] Screenwriter Ari Handel said, "From the beginning, we were concerned about casting, the issue of race. What we realized is that this story is functioning at the level of myth, and as a mythical story, the race of the individuals doesn’t matter. They’re supposed to be stand-ins for all people... You either try to put everything in there, which just calls attention to it, or you just say, 'Let's make that not a factor, because we’re trying to deal with everyman.'"[40] Handel said the race of Noah's family was cast based on the foremost casting of Russell Crowe and that he avoided casting other races for people outside the family as not to show "racial differences between who lived and who died" and as a result make "a terrible, terrible statement".[41]
Not Without My Daughter 1991 In the drama film, white actor Alfred Molina plays Sayed Bozorg "Moody" Mahmoody, an Iranian physician.[10]
Othello 1965 In the film based on William Shakespeare's tragedy play Othello (c. 1603), white actor Laurence Olivier plays in blackface the character Othello, who is of Moorish descent.[2][11][13][16][17][23][31]
Template:Sortname 1961 In the biographical film, white actor Tony Curtis plays Ira Hayes, a U.S. Marine of Native American descent.[11][13]
Pan 2015 In the fantasy film, white actor Rooney Mara plays Tiger Lily, a character of Native American descent.[2]
Template:Sortname 1968 In the comedy film, white actor Peter Sellers plays an Indian actor.[11][22]
Template:Sortname 1984 In the historical drama film, white actor Alec Guinness plays the Indian character Professor Godbole.[18]
Template:Sortname 2004 In the Biblical epic film, white actors play Biblical figures of Middle Eastern descent, including white actor Jim Caviezel playing Jesus Christ.[26]
Pay It Forward 2000 In the drama film based on a true story, white actor Kevin Spacey plays teacher Eugene Simonet. In real life, the teacher is Reuben St. Clair, who is of African American descent.[2][12][31]
Pinky 1949 In the race drama film, white actor Jeanne Crain plays a partly African-American character who can pass as white.[34][37]
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time 2010 In the fantasy adventure film, white actor Jake Gyllenhaal plays the title character of Persian descent.[2][11][21][22]
Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins 1985 In the action-adventure film, white actor Joel Grey plays a Korean martial arts master who trains Remo Williams.[13]
Template:Sortname 1921 In the romantic drama film, white actor Rudolph Valentino plays the Sheik, a character of Arab descent.[10]
Short Circuit 1986 In the science fiction film, white actor Fisher Stevens plays an Indian character.[13]
Short Circuit 2 1988 In the science fiction film, white actor Fisher Stevens plays an Indian character.[42]
Show Boat 1951 In the romantic drama film, white actor Ava Gardner plays Julie, a character of mixed ethnicity. An actor of mixed ethnicity, Lena Horne, was originally cast to play Julie before the studio required a casting change.[4][34][37]
Template:Sortname 2010 In the drama film, biracial actor Max Minghella plays the Facebook co-founder Divya Narendra, who is of Indian descent.[2][43] Director David Fincher said, "we had read an enormous, probably a hundred, Indian actors who came in to read for Divya and I saw footage of the actual Divya Narendra who I've met now and he's kind of like Warren Beatty. There's nothing, aside from being incredibly tan, there's almost nothing that seems particularly ethnic about him.... and we couldn't find somebody with that sort of smoothness. I looked and I looked and I looked. We went to London, Paris, Montreal, we cast from everywhere and finally in the end I just felt that Max had the most, kind of, I just wanted to make sure that Divya was an equal. He was the most important third wheel in this triumverate."[44] Actor Aziz Ansari commented, "These days, Indian people, real Indian people, pop up way more in film and television, but fake Indians are still around more than you think. I loved 'The Social Network,' but I have a hard time understanding why the Indian-American Harvard student Divya Narendra was played by Max Minghella, a half-Chinese, half-Italian British actor."[42]
Template:Sortname 1926 In the adventure drama film, white actor Rudolph Valentino plays the main character, who is of Arab descent.[10]
Star Trek Into Darkness 2013 In the science fiction film, white actor Benedict Cumberbatch plays the villain Khan Noonien Singh, who is of Indian descent. In his previous cinematic and television appearances (Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and "Space Seed"), the character is portrayed by Mexican actor Ricardo Montalbán.[12][45]
Starship Troopers 1997 In the science fiction film, white actor Casper Van Dien plays John Rico. In the original book, the character was Juan Rico of Filipino descent.[13]
Stonewall 2015 The film about the Stonewall riots depicts a white male fictional protagonist, which members of the LGBT community contested as whitewashing that excluded the key involvement of transgender and lesbian women of color. Director Roland Emmerich, himself gay, said, "I didn't make this movie only for gay people, I made it also for straight people. I kind of found out, in the testing process, that actually, for straight people, [Danny] is a very easy in. Danny's very straight-acting. He gets mistreated because of that. [Straight audiences] can feel for him." He said he and screenwriter Jon Robin Baitz consulted historians and veterans and said, "There were only a couple of transgender women in the Stonewall ever. They were like a minority."[46]
Stuck 2007 In the thriller film based on a true story, white actor Mena Suvari plays Brandi Boski, who is based on Chante Jawan Mallardin who is of African American descent.[11][14][23][31]
Template:Sortname 1956 In the comedy film, white actor Marlon Brando plays the Japanese character Sakini.[4][11][13][21]
Template:Sortname 1956 In the Biblical epic film, white actors play Biblical figures of Middle Eastern descent. White actors Charlton Heston and Yul Brynner play Moses and Ramesses II, respectively.[16]
Template:Sortname 1924 In the swashbuckler film, white actor Douglas Fairbanks plays the main character of Arab descent.[10]
Touch of Evil 1958 In the crime noir, white actor Charlton Heston plays Miguel Vargas, a DEA agent of Mexican descent.[11]
Warm Bodies 2013 In the zombie comedy film, white actor Analeigh Tipton plays Nora, who is depicted in the book as half-Ethiopian.[11][23]
West Side Story 1961 In the romantic musical film, white actor Natalie Wood plays Maria, who is of Puerto Rican descent.[4][11]
Template:Sortname 1975 In the historical film, white actor Sean Connery plays Mulai Ahmed er Raisuni, a leader of Berber insurrectionists.[10]
World Trade Center 2006 In the disaster drama film based on the September 11 attacks, white actor William Mapother plays Marine Sergeant Jason Thomas, who in real life is of African American descent.[37][47]
Template:Sortname 1982 In the drama film, white female actor Linda Hunt plays a male Chinese-Australian dwarf.[13]


See also


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  2. 2.00 2.01 2.02 2.03 2.04 2.05 2.06 2.07 2.08 2.09 2.10 2.11 2.12 2.13 2.14 2.15 Scherker, Amanda (July 10, 2014). "Whitewashing Was One Of Hollywood's Worst Habits. So Why Is It Still Happening?". The Huffington Post. Retrieved August 26, 2015. 
  3. Weiler, A.H. (October 6, 1961). "The Screen: Breakfast at Tiffany's: Audrey Hepburn Stars in Music Hall Comedy". New York Times. Retrieved September 24, 2011. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 Schlossman, David A. (2002). Actors and Activists: Performance, Politics, and Exchange Among Social Worlds. Routledge. p. 154. ISBN 978-0-8153-3268-8. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 Lang, Brent (May 26, 2010). "Hollywood’s White Summer: Where’s the Diversity?". TheWrap. Retrieved September 6, 2015. 
  6. Staff (May 21, 2011). "IU study looks at why Hollywood blockbusters often lack minority characters". IU News Room (Indiana University). Retrieved August 27, 2015. 
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Thompson, Arienne (January 9, 2015). "When it comes to diversity, Hollywood's lost in the 'Woods'". USA Today. Retrieved September 6, 2015. 
  8. Scott Foundas. "‘Exodus: Gods and Kings’: Ridley Scott on Walking in Moses’ Sandels – Variety". Variety. 
  9. "BBC One – Film 2014, Episode 13". BBC. 
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 10.4 10.5 Tehranian, John (2010). "The Last Minstrel Show?". Whitewashed: America's Invisible Middle Eastern Minority. NYU Press. p. 98. ISBN 978-0-8147-8273-6. 
  11. 11.00 11.01 11.02 11.03 11.04 11.05 11.06 11.07 11.08 11.09 11.10 11.11 11.12 11.13 11.14 11.15 11.16 11.17 11.18 11.19 11.20 11.21 11.22 11.23 Ghahremani, Tanya (April 1, 2013). "25 Minority Characters That Hollywood Whitewashed". Complex. Retrieved August 27, 2015. 
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 12.3 12.4 12.5 12.6 12.7 12.8 12.9 Luttrell, Gina (February 25, 2014). "What if People Reacted to These 10 Roles Like They Have to Michael B. Jordan?". Arts.Mic (Mic). Retrieved August 27, 2015. 
  13. 13.00 13.01 13.02 13.03 13.04 13.05 13.06 13.07 13.08 13.09 13.10 13.11 13.12 13.13 13.14 13.15 13.16 13.17 13.18 Mandvi, Aasif (May 13, 2012). "Whitewashing, a history". Salon. Retrieved August 27, 2015. 
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  19. Rico, Jack (January 10, 2013). "Argo’s real Tony Mendez: "I’m not Hispanic"". NBC Latino. Retrieved November 19, 2015. 
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  21. 21.0 21.1 21.2 21.3 Boffetta, Elena (June 7, 2015). "Crowe's 'whitewashing' sparks criticism from advocates". (BBC). Retrieved August 27, 2015. 
  22. 22.0 22.1 22.2 22.3 22.4 Lee, Chris (May 22, 2010). "Hollywood whitewash? ‘Airbender’ and ‘Prince of Persia’ anger fans with ethnic casting". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved August 27, 2015. 
  23. 23.0 23.1 23.2 23.3 23.4 23.5 23.6 23.7 23.8 23.9 Anthony, Iva (December 18, 2014). "Films That Cast Non-Blacks In Black Roles". MadameNoire. Retrieved August 27, 2015. 
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  26. 26.0 26.1 26.2 26.3 26.4 26.5 26.6 Merritt, Jonathan (December 2, 2014). "Why does Hollywood keep barring minorities from Biblical blockbusters?". The Week. Retrieved August 27, 2015. "Whitewashing Bible films is something of a Hollywood tradition spanning decades, and it won't change until audiences demand better." 
  27. Foundas, Scott (November 25, 2014). "'Exodus: Gods and Kings' Director Ridley Scott on Creating His Vision of Moses". Variety. Retrieved September 6, 2015. 
  28. Child, Ben (January 16, 2015). "DreamWorks accused of 'whitewashing' Ghost in the Shell by casting Scarlett Johansson". The Guardian. Retrieved February 20, 2016. 
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  39. Miller, Gerri (March 21, 2014). "Hollywood Now: Divergent, Noah and It Felt Like Love". InterfaithFamily. Retrieved November 19, 2015. 
  40. Scheller, Christina (April 11, 2014). "Stewardship of Creation: An Interview with 'Noah' Screenwriter, Ari Handel". The High Calling. Retrieved September 6, 2015. 
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  45. Lee, Paula Young (June 1, 2015). "The whitewashing of Allison Ng: 'Aloha' isn't alone in casting white actors in Asian roles". Retrieved August 27, 2015. 
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