Bleaching Hollywood

Photo Credit: NBC

Chadwick Boseman, Forest Whitaker, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyongo’o and Danai Gurira — all cast members of the upcoming Marvel film “Black Panther,” to be released in 2018, have already caught some heat from a few diehard Marvel fans.

The fans are angry that Marvel Studios assembled a cast that is 90 percent African American, even though the location of the film is based in Wakanda, a fictional country residing in Africa.  

While those fans scream in frustration, others cry in joy at the movie’s black representation. Aliyah Thomas said it best in her article “Racial Representation in ‘Black Panther.’ She believes the cast makes the narrative more progressive.

She applauds Ryan Coogler, who holds fast to the black reality (characters, spaces, etc.) of T’Challa’s story is significant in terms of contemporary representation. “Even Chadwick Boseman himself has implicitly said that ‘Black Panther’ will reflect a lot of the cultural and social constructs of black America.”

I, for one, am pleased to see the upcoming film — because the cast is filled with amazing actors!
The turbulent narrative over an all-black cast is reoccurring. When NBC aired their TV special “The Wiz Live!” in December 2015 featuring Shanice Williams, Ne-Yo, Queen Latifah, Mary J. Blige, and other African-American celebrities, their rendition of the classic was dubbed “racist” and the question everyone seemed to be asking was: “Where are the white people?”

According to an article on Daily, The Wiz Live drew in numbers for NBC. More than 11million viewers tuned in despite the show's all-black cast.

People turned to social media and twitter trolls with comments like “Minorities act like they’re the victims, but can you imagine if we made an all-white version of The Wiz?” and “@nbc why are there no whites starring in #TheWiz? This is racist! Can u imagine if it were the other way? #whitelivesmatter #TheWizLive.”

I guess everyone forgot that the motion picture “The Wizard of Oz,” (1939) featured an all-white cast. Or maybe it slipped their minds’ that “The Wiz Live!” is a reprise of the 1978 motion picture “The Wiz”, which featured an all African-American cast.

Hollywood films have whitewashed for decades and it is still a staple in movies. In 1937, the movie “Wang and O-Lan in The Good Earth” — a story based about a family of Chinese farmers — was portrayed by white actors caked in pounds of makeup and prosthetics.  

MGM studio executives did not think the film would garner success if the cast were of Asian descent, in turn, hiring white actors assuming audiences would be inclined to see the production.  

In 1944, Katharine Hepburn portrayed a Japanese woman in “Jade Tan in Dragon Seed’s.” Natalie Wood, another American actress whose descent did not match with their role, played “West Side Story’s” Maria –a Puerto Rican character –.  Time after time, white actors have been cast for minority roles: Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra (“Cleopatra” 1963); Laurence Olivier as Othello (“Othello” 1965); and Justin Chatwin as Goku (“Dragonball: Evolution 2009”)

In 2017 nothing has changed. An upcoming comedy TV show called “Urban Myths”, about the iconic Michael Jackson, is casting Joseph Fiennes, a white British actor, as Jackson. The artist’s family members responded quickly.

Jackson’s nephew, Taj Jackson tweeted “@soledadobrien — Unfortunately this is what my family has to deal with. No words could express the blatant disrespect.”  

Jackson’s daughter Paris-Michael Katherine Jackson followed up on Twitter the same day.

“I'm so incredibly offended by it, as I'm sure plenty of people are as well, and it honestly makes me want to vomit. It angers me to see how obviously intentional it was for them to be this insulting, not just towards my father, but my godmother liz as well”, and “Where is the respect? They worked through blood sweat and tears for ages to create such profound and remarkable legacies. Shameful portrayal.”

Fiennes defended his role by tweeting back, "I deal in imagination. I don't think imagination should have rules stamped on them.  If it promotes stereotyping, then it's wrong… One must determine if this portrayal is one that is going to be positive entertainment, and one that will not bring about division and put anyone's noses out of joint, so I went with the mind that this was a positive, lighthearted comedy."

Now flip the script and cast a minority as a white character. You might as well say that the world is ending!

The problem society has is not of whitewashing characters but it is of accepting the person who is playing the role.