The presence of Americanization within the popular film industry
I was ecstatic when I found out that one of my favorite anime movies, Ghost in the Shell, would be getting a live remake. When I first watched the trailer, I was mesmerized by the fantastic visuals and special effects. But my heart plummeted when I saw that Scarlett Johansson was cast to play the protagonist, Motoko Kusanagi.
A white woman is playing a Japanese woman.
I trust that Johansson will do a fantastic job portraying Kusanagi, given her experience playing science fiction action heroines in the past, but it’s hard to overlook the fact that a white actress is playing a Japanese woman. What’s even more disturbing is that there were rumors of “ethnicity-altering” technology designed to make Johansson look more Asian, though Paramount quickly denied those claims. The recent announcement of the Ghost in the Shell remake has sparked debate and shed light on one of the most controversial problems with Hollywood: Americanizing.
Hollywood has a notorious reputation for Americanizing. One of the most controversial and notable examples is Mickey Rooney’s performance as Mr. Yunioshi, the Japanese landlord, in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Rooney’s heavy use of yellowface makeup and “comedic” portrayal of Japanese man has come under heavy scrutiny. The core issue of this isn’t the use of yellowface, but rather, the choice to depict someone in a stereotypical and frankly, racist light. Apache is another movie that uses makeup to disguise ethnicity. The movie tells the story of the last Apache Indian who happens to be played by Burt Lancaster, a white actor, covered in brown makeup to make him seem like a Native American. The fact that Lancaster portrays an Apache Native American shows a lack of sensitivity toward the history behind this culture.
What’s arguably even worse than incorrectly casting a fictional ethnic person is incorrectly portraying the ethnicity of a real-life person. A Beautiful Mind is based on the true story of Alicia Nash, a Hispanic woman from El Salvador, but is played by Jennifer Connelly, a white actress. 21 retells the true story of MIT student Jeffrey Ma, a Chinese person, as “Ben Campbell,” played by white actor Jim Sturgess. The problem is not a lack of competent and talented Asian, Hispanic and Native American actors and actresses; overall, the underlying problem in Americanizing lies within respect: respect for history, culture, original artistic content and the truth behind real-life people and their stories.
In last year’s Oscars, there was backlash on social media over the lack of African-American nominees, and some actors even boycotted the event. The lack of diversity in the Oscars is a long-standing issue that has yet to be resolved. In the past decade, 95 percent of Oscar nominations went to white film stars.
In response to the backlash, Hollywood has been developing more award-winning movies starring minorities or telling the stories of minorities. Moonlight, Hidden Figures and Fences all told stories centered around African-American and went on to receive Oscar nominations. Moonlight winning Best Picture of the Year is a bold statement showing how Hollywood has responded to the outrage and embracing African-American actors and actresses and acknowledging their talent.
However, Asian, Hispanic or Native American actors and actresses still aren’t equally celebrated or represented on screen. Overall, minority actors are cast in only 15 percent of top roles that get nominated for Oscars. The solution to the lack of ethnic minority Oscar nominees does not lie in simply handing out Oscars left and right. The solution lies within giving minority actors greater opportunities and having better representation of all ethnicities in movies and television. New television shows on the rise, such as “Black-ish” and “Fresh of the Boat,” have been giving minority actors more opportunities and greater representation. Progress has been made, but we still have a long way to go. Our society is beautifully diverse, and movies and television should reflect so.
By Natalie Jiang, News editor
Editorial cartoon by Amy Lo