Is everybody white? Whitewashing in film and TV

Can we talk about the disturbing trend for “fauxsian” characters in film & TV please? It’s the word I use for that godawful makeup they use on white actors to make them look ethnically Asian, and basically just another version of “blackface”.

Remember Mickey Rooney’s portrayal of Holly Golightly’s Asian landlord in Breakfast at Tiffany’s? John Wayne as Genghis Khan in The Conquerer? Katherine Hepburn in Dragon Seed? Let’s not forget casting Scarlett Johansson as Motoko Kusanagi in the upcoming film version of Ghost in the Shell.

I was chatting to my friend Rachel about whitewashing in the entertainment industry, where everyone from Disney Princesses to classic anime characters are given a white-over. To what end? 

What exactly has been achieved by using a Caucasian actress to play Mulan (in fact this one was the same person who also plays the part of Belle), a legendary Chinese woman warrior? Other than show a total lack of diversity in their theme parks, of course. Whilst it’s understandable that Disney World would hire someone who could play several parts, it shows a shocking lack of judgement that they find it acceptable to just paint a white girl with “Chinese eyes”.

The #OscarsSoWhite hashtag highlighted a distinct lack of African-American actors nominated, and even fewer Asian or Hispanic.

Is it any wonder that people still can’t see an Asian face in a leading role, when NOBODY FUCKING PUTS THEM THERE?? In almost every single film or TV show where I’ve seen an Asian actor, we are constantly reminded of their Asian-ness. Their ability to do martial arts. Their mathematical genius. Or that tired old trope, the exotic sexual siren who lures the innocent white man in with their patented oriental wiles. When can we have an Asian lead who is just called the lead? 

The entertainment industry is so influential, they have such a unique opportunity to teach people about acceptance. How many young people are now eager to learn about the Women’s Rights Movement since Suffragette came out last year? How about the way that Jessica Jones highlighted issues of physical, emotional and psychological domestic abuse? Then there’s my favourite, the Canadian TV show Murdoch Mysteries, which depicts gender equality in the setting of a Victorian police procedural. So why are we still enduring this ridiculous whitewashing in our films and TV shows?

Why is it still ok to pretend that everyone is white? 


  1. Hear bloody hear. It’s not like there’s some shortage of Asian actors out there. What’s more important – getting a big star, or actually having some bloody authenticity in your film (to say nothing of the fact that, the more you ensure diversity in casting, the more likely that non-white/disabled/LGBT actors BECOME recognisable?).

    Great post Lucie.

    Lis / last year’s girl x

  2. Bless. I agree with you 100% I was so, so upset to hear ScarJo took that role because I love her so much, but I simply cannot support that film. I refuse. Especially since Ghost in the Shell is a distinctly Japanese story. Ugh so upsetting. Especially since the actress who played Mako Mori in Pacific Rim would have been PERFECT. There are so many Asian actresses who deserved to get that role, and whose careers would have been hugely impacted by finally getting a lead. It is really upsetting that even when characters are meant to be Asia Hollywood can’t be bothered to cast Asian actors.

    On another note: have you ever heard of The Bletchley Circle? If you like Mudoch Mysteries you’ll probably love it too. Its about a group of women who worked in Bletchley Park during WWII as code-crackers, and they come back together years later to solve a serial murderer case that the police can’t work out. It really deals with the issue of gender in fabulous ways.

    Katie @

  3. You already know, but I agree with you completely and I’m glad you’re talking about it! We should all talk about it because while awareness is not enough to change the way things go, it is a necessary step. I watched Breakfast At Tiffany’s as a kid and I didn’t think TWICE about the Mickey Rooney character until years later, when I learned about yellowface from a ‘dear yuletide writer’ letter, of all things. Now I see those things, and it – god, I don’t want to say baffle, because I’m so used to it, but when you get shit like Ghost in the Shell where characters have actual-fact Japanese names and the story is, by all accounts (I’m not familiar, so I’ve just read summaries), incredibly Japanese at its core, that someone thought in the year 2016 having ScarJo there made sense? And you CAN turn those roles down. Didn’t Adam Lambert turn down a trans woman role recently? (I wasn’t actually sure how misguided that was, because was it a trans woman or a transvestite cis man?)

    …I’m going to shut up before I keep tossing ignorance at you. But for real. Thanks.

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