Surprise: Hollywood is Still Whitewashing POC Characters

Happy Asian American Pacific Islander Month!

Good news! The story of the Ni’ihau Incident is coming to the big screen. Bad news? Hollywood has learned nothing from the whitewashing outrage that has been in the zeitgeist for the last year.

If you’re not aware of the incident that happened on the island of Ni’ihau during World War II, you’re not alone. The Ni’ihau incident is a true story of an Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service pilot who crashed into the Hawaiian island after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Before learning of the attack, native islander Ben Kanahele and his people saved the pilot. But, after learning of the Pearl Harbor attack, the pilot, with the assistance from three Japanese locals, began taking hostages. Kanahele ultimately killed the pilot and was decorated for his bravery.

Kanahele’s story is now being told by director Gabriel Robertson in Ni’ihau. This is a picture of Ben and Ella Kanahele.

Deadline has reported that Zach McGowan (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.Black Sails, Shameless) has been cast to play the famous islander.

This is what Zach McGowan looks like.


The film about the Hawaiian hero is now being told through the eyes of a white actor. You would think Hollywood would have learned by now from the controversy that surrounded Ghost in the Shell, Death Note, Aloha, and Doctor Strange.

Unfortunately, 27 Ten Productions, Amber Entertainment, and Affirmative Entertainment, along with McGowan, will produce the film with the promise to keep the material with the “utmost care and authenticity.”

They’ve already failed with the casting of the main character.

It’s quite tiresome to mention how often Hollywood whitewashes the stories that belong to Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. With the poor sales from AlohaGhost in the Shell and The Great Wall, one would think Hollywood would have learned something. Unfortunately, this proves they have not.

The sad thing is that the story of Ben and Ella Kanahele should be told because it marked the heroism of the islanders during the Pearl Harbor attack. Ben Kanahele risked his life to put down the captors, who took his people as hostages.

Moreover, the Deadline announcement states this incident was considered a factor in President Roosevelt’s decision to sign Executive Order 9066 (it wasn’t), so there is the added dimension of using this whitewashed movie to justify Japanese American internment. Which is even more egregious considering 2017 is the 75th anniversary of this historical blight.

The story of Ni’ihau deserves to be told, but not with this actor as Kanahele.

17 thoughts on “Surprise: Hollywood is Still Whitewashing POC Characters

  1. What will it take for movie producers and directors to realize whitewashing is unacceptable? This is outrageous.

    1. Not just outrageous, but becoming creepily apparent that while Hollywood loves AAPI stories, it seems to hate Asian people in them.

      1. I’ve had it with movies like this, and I refuse to support them. I will not pay to see this movie, nor will I watch it for free. This is just unacceptable.

      2. Yeah, I’ve just gotten to the point where I won’t even watch them for free either. And some actors make a career out of doing this shit, so I fee like skipping all their movies too. (Scarjo! I’m looking at u!)

      3. I’ve seen all of her movies with the exception of GitS, and in my opinion she’s not a good actress. You won’t be missing out.

  2. There needs to be an Asian Dracula. I nominate the lead in Badlands, Daniel Wu, and Donnie Yen as Van Helsing. Fantasy list, anyone?

    1. Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula stems from a wave of “invasion literature” popular in late 19th century Britain, which provided fictional narratives based on British fears of foreign invaders (German/East European, occasionally Chinese “yellow peril”) undermining British society.

      Guy Maddin’s film Dracula: Pages from a Virgin’s Diary (2002), which references this invasion angle, features an Asian Dracula.

  3. I also think it’s a stretch to blame Executive Order 9066 (which affected hundreds of thousands of Nikkei on the mainland) on this incident in the islands (where mass evacuation most definitely did not occur). None of the political pressure from local politicians in California, Oregon, Washington, Colorado, etc. ever mentioned this, but built upon the decades olds anti-Asian sentiment.

  4. Can we call Hollywood elites white supremacists? Maybe not technically. How about white “we are the best, the greatest, the most capable, the best looking, most pure-bred, the most mainstream-marketable skin tone” kind of people. Yeah, white skin is superior because it brings in the most money right? It’s all about the money. Forget authenticity/character realism. A white guy can play a Pacific Islander. He might even portray the character well. It’s just that I am a visual person who has half a pea in my head. A story about a native Hawaiian who is of non-white ethnicity played by Joey White Boy Good Looks? Kind of stupid and . . . a definite slap in the face to non-white people. It justs irks me, but I’m white. I’m sure my non-white friends are much more than irked and rightly so.

  5. Urghhh this is why I’m walking away from hollywood films- indies have better stories, better casting and better acting.

  6. Sarah Crewe, a white English character who can speak Hindi and French from the novel “A Little Princess” was adapted into a a movie about 25 years ago and a TV series a few years ago with the main role being played by an Asian child actress.

    Do we call that “Asianwashing”?

  7. Do we know whether the character McGowan is playing is written as a native Hawaiian (in which case it would be akin to “yellowface”), or has the historical Ben Kanahele been replaced by a white character in the film’s script (“whitewashing”)?

Comments are closed.