Recently, my friend invited me to see Gods of Egypt, a historical fiction movie about Egyptian gods which stars Gerard Butler. However I immediately declined, telling her that there was no way I would give money to a movie that used a white actor to play an Egyptian role.
Whenever I turn on a TV or go to a movie theater, I can expect to see actors that look like me. However, not all people have this opportunity, and that is because of serious issues in the film industry.
Whitewashing in movies and television has existed since the beginning of video production. This is the practice of using white actors to play characters of other nationalities. It often involves dressing the actor in traditional clothing of that nation and using makeup to give the actor the characteristics of someone of that nationality.
This is extremely detrimental because it is taking away roles from people of color who are already underrepresented in the film industry. In addition, it leads to cultural appropriation.
In 2015, the movie Pan, a remake of the Peter Pan story, cast caucasian actress Rooney Mara as Tiger Lily, a character who should have been played by a Native American actress.
On Feb. 26, Gods of Egypt was released, starring 3 white men as lead roles. The argument has been made that these men are playing gods, which is why they are white. However, Brenton Thwaites, an Australian actor, plays a regular mortal Egyptian who is one of the main characters.
Many biblical movies centered around the origins of Christianity are also guilty of whitewashing. For example, the upcoming movie The Young Messiah, which tells the story of the childhood of Jesus, has an astoundingly white cast, despite taking place in Palestine during the first century.
Often, directors justify their choices in casting by saying that movies will only make a profit if they have a white cast. However, the stigma that movies with diverse casts do not succeed is entirely untrue.
The insane success of Star Wars: The Force Awakens shows that a movie with a black lead can still be high grossing. Although part of this success was due to the branding, having a black lead did not keep Star Wars from meeting its expectations. This invalidates the excuse that people of color cannot make popular movies.
The recent Broadway musical Hamilton is taking necessary steps towards further acceptance of actors of color. Its story follows the life of Alexander Hamilton, who lived during the late 18th century. Despite this, it features an incredibly diverse cast, poking holes in the excuse that movies have to have a white cast for historical accuracy. If we continue with these excuses, the white directors will continue to create European and Western productions with white actors and entirely exclude the people of color from the film community.
Movies have a huge influence on their audiences, especially on impressionable children. Kids are not born with stereotypes and stigmas embedded in their brain. They are easily influenced by culture and media, which is why it is important that we include people of color in media, so as not to lead kids to believe that they do not have as much opportunity and value in society. People of color on TV and in movies are necessary to encourage children to pursue their own interests of acting.
The upcoming Disney princess movie Moana is incredibly important for this reason. The movie is centered around a young Hawaiian girl, Moana, and a demi-god named Maui. It features a native Hawaiian girl named Alui’i Cravalho as the voice actress for Moana. This brings diversity to the screen while also giving recognition to an actress of the appropriate nationality.
If we continue to ignore the issue of whitewashing, nothing will ever be done about it. So I will not buy a ticket that is going towards a movie like Gods of Egypt. Instead, I will go see Moana, or The Jungle Book, and be happy knowing that these movies are making a difference.