It may feel like beating a dead horse, but I have some thoughts to share about the last seven days in Hollywood. It all started with the debut of the Doctor Strange trailer and our first look at Tilda Swinton’s Ancient One. That was quickly followed up with Paramount offering a sneak peek at Scarlett Johansson’s Major Motoko Kusanagi. (Even today, Lionsgate unveiled Elizabeth Banks as Power Ranger villain Rita Repulsa). Late last week, I posted the above photo on twitter as a joke about a Joy Luck Club remake.
The fact that so many people assumed this was real is both hilarious and depressing. Considering Hollywood’s track record, though, I wouldn’t be surprised if such a casting decision actually happened. And that’s where we are. Today. In 2016.
Screenwriter Max Landis tried to whitesplain whitewashing on YouTube, and was appropriately dragged by #OscarsSoWhite creator April Reign in a series of tweets that I like to dub “Screenwriter Refuted.”
Landis’ point is that critics were misplacing their anger at ScarJo and were ignorant about the inner workings of Hollywood. Basically, it was a return to the tired, old argument that green is the only color Hollywood sees, and if we wanted to do away with whitewashing, then we need to create more movie stars who are also people of color. Because right now, there apparently are no movie stars of color who can guarantee financial success.
That notion was bullshit when Aaron Sorkin and Ridley Scott claimed it, and it’s bullshit now. Stars like The Rock, Will Smith, Keanu Reeves, and Vin Diesel have generated billions at the box office. Hell, even no-names like John Cho and Kal Penn were able to triple the $40 million production budget of all three Harold and Kumar films in box office and home media sales. Lucy Liu’s combined films have garnered nearly $1 billion in box office.
That’s beside the point. When people like Landis and Sorkin claim that there no reliable Asian movie stars who can open a movie, they don’t realize they are fulfilling their own prophecies when they create projects that don’t star Asian actors (or any people of color, really). Meanwhile, white actors get to frontline blockbuster movies time and again without having to prove any box office clout. Who was Chris Hemsworth before (or after) Thor? Who is Garret Hedlund? Who is Charlie Hunnam? Why are they always in movies?
If you keep giving movie roles to white people, even when those movies fail, then how do you justify the absurd notion that people of color in lead roles are a risky financial gamble? How is it possible that the Fast and Furious franchise has grossed $4 billion worldwide with nary any white people in the cast?
It’s because people in Hollywood will ignore the proof in front of them. The industry is racist and will do whatever it takes to prop up whiteness even when no one wants it. I appreciate that people are saying we should boycott Strange and Ghost when they come out, but I doubt that will make a difference. Tell me, when was the last time a whitewashed film was a box office success anyway? Exactly.
Instead, we need to keep calling out the industry for being complicit. We also need to give credit where due and celebrate the successes of folks like Ava DuVernay, Justin Lin, Ryan Coogler, and others who are actually trying to change the industry from within.
Meanwhile, we’ll be over here keeping a tally of every time Hollywood fucks up. If you need the receipts, follow this thread on twitter. They’re all there.