The Missing Diversity: “White Washing” in the Movie Industry

Box Office failures are not uncommon and should always be looked at as a possible outcome of a movie, regardless of whether you have an A-list celebrity cast or a big budget. There is no guarantee for success. However, as bad as it already is to have a box office bomb, add on a controversy and it doesn’t look too good for you. This is the case for Aloha directed by Cameron Crowe. The movie received much criticism on their choice of casting.

Emma Stone plays Alison Ng in the movie “Aloha” Image: Columbia Pictures

This article from Huffington Post analyzes the key points of the movies central themes, and the movie’s representation. Big name stars, a love story, and beautiful scenery, it sounds like the perfect movie, there’s one problem however, the movie is an example of an extremely “white-washed” representation. It is a movie about Hawaii, without any Hawaiians, an inaccurate representation. In addition to there being no Hawaiian actors, Emma Stone was given the role of a quarter-Chinese, quarter-Hawaiian character. The director responded by saying Stone’s character was meant to not look Hawaiian or Asian. Prior to the release there was a buzz of reactions on social media. It is not just the movie Aloha that is guilty of white washing movies. Unfortunately, white washing is all too common, and definitely not the first time it has happened.

Image: 20th Century Fox

Another example of white-washing includes the 2014 movie Exodus: Gods and Kings. The four white lead actors played rich, upper class royal Egyptians, while the lower-class and degraded characters like thieves and slaves were played by black actors, representing an all too common cast list. The director of the film stated with the proposed budget of the film casting those famous white actors over lesser known non-white actors was the only option for him to get the funds to go on with the movie. Social media attempted to start a boycott for the movie, however, unlike Aloha the movie ended up making money.

So why is Hollywood so obsessed with choosing to cast white actors over non white actors? There are plenty of talented non white actors out there in today’s industry. But when it comes to lead roles it is rare to see a non white actor casted. Minorities are either portraying supporting and often degrading roles, or simply not there in the first place. There is so much diversity in America that I find it frustrating that producers are making up excuses like financial reasons as to why they don’t choose to take advantage of the diversity in the society.  The true image of America isn’t portrayed as it should be in media. When a minority is represented in the media some people see it as a huge step in Hollywood, but, it shouldn’t be seen that way because statistically media still has a long way to go in representation.

-Elena Sayasen


6 thoughts on “The Missing Diversity: “White Washing” in the Movie Industry

  1. MIke says:

    Good opening to the post. So why do you think Hollywood does “whitewashing” — you think they believe that actors of color won’t be a draw at the box office?


  2. kathyyangnx says:

    Just as what you mentioned, the reality of things going on in USA is not accurately represent in Media. Instead, the Media is a “fractured of glasses” that distort reality for purpose. In my opinion, the main character in film mostly is white people because that is what the majority people in USA belongs to. Compared to other minority people in USA, there are more white people, and white people tend to have more money to consume the entertainment media. In order to make profit, media use white as main character in order to target their potential white audience.


  3. Alex Nieman says:

    I think this problem of whitewashing goes all the way back to an actor’s journey to becoming famous. As we can all see in the states, there are many more extremely famous white actors than non-white actors, and if the actors that keep being chosen for roles are white, then we are setting ourselves up for this endless loop of white-only casting! And I totally agree with you — America is an extremely diverse country, moreso than others, and it is not fairly represented in the media as it should be.


  4. kevinpenaloza says:

    Great analysis of what Hollywood has become. I do remember hearing a lot about the “Aloha” movie before it even came out. I believe that this is not just a recent problem because this problem started during the golden ages. In reality society is used to see big white actors that when they do are in a movie it is a blockbuster. Would you say that a non-white actor cannot generate a blockbuster movie?


  5. kseniyasovenko says:

    I am not the least bit surprised that this is happening in the movie industry, as the same kind of white washing is rampant in television programming. As I’m sure is the case in film, my examination into the portrayal of Latinos in television revealed that many times production companies also brownface by casting actors or actresses of color to play the roles of other people of color (for example: and Indian-American playing a Latina woman). I completely agree with you that the lack of diversity is frustrating. Though I’m sure you were able to find plenty examples of whitewashing in film, another example is discussed in this article ( about casting Jake Gyllenhaal as the Prince of Persia. “They’ve constructed a film that is contrary not only to what fans expected to see but is also contrary to what America expects to see in a film released in 2010 featuring Asian culture and Asian and Native American characters as heroes,” said Michael Le. And truly, by avoiding casting people of color to play those parts, we are creating a deficit of minority role models and heroes and the big screen.


  6. Madison says:

    Great analysis of the movies you provided for examples. I really enjoy the topic you chose and how you decided to analyze it through certain films.


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