Whitewashing in the Media

I recently watched a funny video featured in Last Week Tonight with John Oliver–although it was produced in 2016, the issues presented remain prevalent. It questions why whitewashing is still a thing, especially in major films.

Whitewashing is when white characters portray characters that are supposed to be depicting a person of color, or a recasting where white actors take the place of a character of color, perhaps from a book adaptation. Popular examples are white people playing Egyptians, Latinx characters, Asians, or even acting in blackface (in older years).

For example, The Last Airbender movie featured a white cast, to the dismay of audiences due to the series’ cultural Asian setting. Another example is the casting of Scarlett Johansson as a Japanese character in the live action version of Ghost in the Shell, an original Japanese media franchise.

Often the consequences of this whitewashing include offensive, stereotypical acting and cultural erasure. Whitewashing has been a common practice in Hollywood for decades, yet still is a significant issue in mainstream media despite racial progress that we may have made. When white actors portray people of color, these roles are taken away from potential actors of color. Racism is perpetuated through these practices.

In recent times, however, we have seen positive changes–like the Black Panther Marvel movie, or Idris Elba being chosen to be James Bond. As people produce media, we must be cognizant of cultural and social contexts when casting characters, in order to make beneficial progress in racial equality.

Watch the video for yourself here!




Student at the University of Michigan studying Art & Design and Communications, hoping to create meaningful design for social impact.

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