• (Warner Bros. Pictures, Columbia Pictures)
From Emma Stone playing a Chinese-Hawaiian woman to Mena Suvari playing an African-American woman, cornrows and all.
By
Stephanie Marie Anderson

15 Mar 2016 - 3:03 PM  UPDATED 15 Mar 2016 - 3:10 PM

In an interview with The Huffington Post, Japanese actress Tao Okamoto opened up about the difficulties facing Asian actors in Hollywood, calling them "the minority of minorities".

On the heels of the #OscarsSoWhite, the Batman Vs. Superman star said that when conversations about diversity in Hollywood do arise, Asian actors are often left out of the conversation entirely.

"People were talking about there's no black people for the [Oscar] nominees and all that, but we're not even in the game. People don't even talk about us, meaning Asian or Japanese or other ethnicities," Okamoto told Caroline Modarressy-Tehrani.

 

 

"We're still the minority of the minorities in Hollywood or acting field, but we are here and we are trying to be out for the people," she said.

Adding that Hollywood could be more inclusive of other races and ethnicities by having a more diverse range of people writing the scripts that get made into films, she also pointed out that when Asians are on-screen, it's often in fantasy worlds, and that one goal would be to cast Asian people in more "realistic movies".

Aside from not writing roles for different ethnicities, Hollywood is also guilty of whitewashing characters that were originally depicted as being minorities. Here's 16 times modern-day Hollywood cast white actors in roles meant for minorities.

 

Rooney Mara as Tiger Lily in Pan

Warner Brothers cast Rooney Mara, who is of Irish, German, and French-Canadian ancestry, to play Tiger Lily, a Native American character, a choice that was met with a lot of backlash. Of the film's whitewashing, Mara told the Telegraph that she regrets her decision to be in the film, saying: "I really hate, hate, hate that I am on that side of the whitewashing conversation. I really do. I don’t ever want to be on that side of it again. I can understand why people were upset and frustrated."

 

Noah Ringer, Nicola Peltz, and Jackson Rathbone as Aang, Katara and Sokka in The Last Airbender

Essentially, Paramount Pictures took Avatar: The Last Airbender, a highly popular Nickelodeon cartoon featuring a cast of Asian characters, and cast three white actors to play them. But hey, the villains remained dark skinned, so there's that. Despite the huge following of the TV series, the film was (unsurprisingly) a box office bomb.

 

Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games

In the book series, Katniss is described as having straight black hair, olive skin, and grey eyes. Jennifer Lawrence, for all her Oscar nominations, does not have straight black hair, olive skin and grey eyes, and fans of Suzanne Collins' trilogy took issue with the whitewashing of her character, who was widely interpreted as being bi-racial.

Collins defending Lawrence's casting, however, telling Entertainment Weekly that the characters "were not particularly intended to be bi-racial," but rather, that "it is a time period where hundreds of years have passed from now. There’s been a lot of ethnic mixing. But I think I describe them as having dark hair, grey eyes, and sort of olive skin. You know, we have hair and makeup."

 

Christian Bale as Moses in Exodus: Gods and Kings

The decision to cast English actor Christian Bale as the Egyptian Biblical figure was frowned upon by many, but director Ridley Scott was, for the most part, unapologetic.

Defending his decision, Scott told Variety that casting Bale in the lead role is what got the film made, saying: "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."

 

Emma Stone as Captain Allison Ng in Aloha

Emma Stone, who is of Swedish, English, Irish and Welsh descent, is probably as white as they come when it comes to human people. Still, Cameron Crowe, in a display of wisdom as sharp as his decision to make manic-pixie-dream-girl fantasy flick Elizabethtown, decided to cast her as Captain Allison Ng, an Asian-American character who is supposed to be of Chinese and Hawaiian descent.

Stone addressed the issue in an interview with Entertainment Weekly, saying that the backlash taught her “on a macro level about the insane history of whitewashing in Hollywood and how prevalent the problem truly is," adding that the silver lining is that “It’s ignited a conversation that’s very important.”

 

Mena Suvari as Chante Mallard in Stuck

Stuck is a little-known film from 2007 that is based on the true story of Chante Mallard, an African-American woman who hit a 37-year-old homeless man with her car, driving home with him stuck to her windshield and causing his death by leaving him to die in her garage. Complete with cultural-appropriating cornrows, the casting of Mena Suvari is... questionable.

 

Josh Hartnett as Eben Oleson in 30 Days of Night

Despite being an Alaskan sheriff of Inuit descent in the original comic books, Josh Hartnett was cast in the role, with producers changing the characters surname from Olemaun to Oleson.

 

Ben Affleck as Tony Mendes in Argo

If you only know one thing about Ben Affleck, it's probably that he's an Irish-American bro from Boston, because that's honestly how often he talks about being from Boston. Hell, Affleck's so Boston that when he was filming Gone Girl he literally shut down production for FOUR DAYS because he refused to wear a Yankees cap.

Understandably, then, eyebrows were raised when Boston's Irish-American king cast himself as Tony Mendez, an American of Mexican descent, in Argo, effectively whitewashing the cast and creating a false narrative of a white man saving the day once again.

Affleck, for his part, sought approval from Mendez, telling NBC that "I felt very comfortable that if Tony was cool with it, I was cool with it."

And Mendez was indeed cool with it. In an interview with NBC, he told the interviewer that his family had moved to the States around 1900 and he had never learned Spanish, saying  "I don’t think of myself as a Hispanic."

 

Carey Mulligan as Irene in Drive

Despite being written as a Latina woman in her late-20s, Carey Mulligan was cast to play Irene due to director Nicholas Winding Refn's belief that she was perfect for the role.

 

Jake Gyllenhaal as Dastan in Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

Generally, when you think of Persia, you think of, you know... Persian people. From Persia. You probably don't think of the actor-of-incredibly-Swedish-descent Jake Gyllenhaal, but that didn't stop Disney from casting him as the prince of Persia. The film bombed at the box office and is ridiculed to this day for its casting choices.

 

Angelina Jolie as Mariane Pearl in A Mighty Heart

Playing real-life journalist Mariane Pearl, who is of Dutch and Cuban descent, Angelina faced criticism for darkening her skin to closer resemble the wife of slain journalist Daniel Pearl in 2007's A Mighty Heart. The real Mariane Pearl, who hand-picked Jolie to being her memoir to life, defended her choice of casting, saying in interviews that “it is about who you are.”

 

Justin Chatwin as Goku in Dragonball: Evolution

Despite being a manga adaptation with characters who were clearly depicted as Japanese, producers of the flop film chose to cast Canadian actor Justin Chatwin as Goku for Dragonball: Evolution. Akira Toriyama, the creator of the manga series, spoke out against the film, saying that he felt producers ignored him and the ideas he put forward for the film adaptation.

 

Jim Sturgess as Ben Campbell in 21

Claiming that they didn't have “access to any bankable Asian-American actors," producers cast Jim Sturgess and Kate Bosworth as the leads in 21, a film based on the true story of a group of mostly Asian-American Harvard and MIT students who made millions card counting in casinos all over America.

 

Jim Sturgess as Hae-Joo Chang in Cloud Atlas

The English actor faced backlash once again as debate stirred about whether the make-up he wore to play Hae-Joo Chang, a character living in Korea, counted as yellowface.

The Media Action Network for Asian Americans criticised the film's casting choice. Guy Aoki, the organisation's founder, released a statement reading, "Cloud Atlas missed a great opportunity. The Korean story’s protagonist is an Asian man - an action hero who defies the odds and holds off armies of attackers... The message the movie sends is, it takes a lot of work to get Asians to look Caucasian, but you can easily turn Caucasians into Asians by just changing the shape of their eyes."

The Wachowskis released a statement, also, saying: "That's good that people are casting a critical eye. We need to cast critical eyes toward these things. What are the motivations behind directors and casting? I totally support it. But our intention is the antithesis of that idea. The intention is to talk about things that are beyond race. The character of this film is humanity, so if you look at our past work and consider what our intention might be, we ask that those people give us a chance and at least see the movie before they start casting judgement."

 

Jennifer Connelly as Alicia Nash in A Beautiful Mind

The real Alicia Nash, John Nash's wife, is from El Salvador. Jennifer Connolly is not.

 

Gerard Butler, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Brenton Thwaites as Set, Horus and Bek in Gods of Egypt

The backlash surrounding the whitewashing of 2016's Gods of Egypt gathered enough momentum that both Lionsgate, the film's distributor, and director Alex Proyas issued apologies before the film even hit the cinemas. 

Chadwick Boseman, the African-American actor cast as Thoth in the film, was not surprised by the backlash. In an interview with GQ, he said that he was "thankful" for the controversy, telling the interviewer "I agree with it. That’s why I wanted to do it, so you would see someone of African descent playing Thoth, the father of mathematics, astronomy, the god of wisdom... But yeah — people don’t make $140 million movies starring black and brown people."

Lionsgate's statement said that it would "strive to do better" in the future. Meanwhile, Proyas said that while the white-washing concerns were valid in general because "films need more people of colour and greater cultural diversity", that Gods of Egypt was "not the best [film] to soap-box issues of diversity with", due to the film's fantasy genre, citing "creative licence and artistic freedom of speech" as motivators for the casting decisions.

"To exclude any one race in service of a hypothetical theory of historical accuracy... would have been biased," he said in a Facebook post.

Stating that it was impractical to hire Egyptian actors due to the lack of English-speaking Egyptian actors, Lionsgate's demand for box office stars, and Australia's (where the film was shot) guidelines for "imported" actors all played a role in the eventual casting of the film.

"I attempted to show racial diversity, black, white, Asian, as far as I was allowed, as far as I could, given the limitations I was given. It is obviously clear that for things to change, for casting in movies to become more diverse many forces must align. Not just the creative. To those who are offended by the decisions which were made I have already apologised. I respect their opinion, but I hope the context of the decisions is a little clearer based on my statements here."