Underneath my yellow skin

Tag Archives: whitewashing

Groundhog Day: A Lesson Movie Makers Refuse to Learn

When I first heard that there was going to be yet another Asian/Pacific Islander movie starring some rando white dude, I was incredulous. Hasn’t Hollywood learned its lesson yet? Their last several high profile movies involving whitewashing were epic flops, and yet, here we are again. The movie, Ni’ihau, involves a real-life story of badass Japanese immigrant/Hawaiian Benehakaka ‘Ben’ Kanahele and his heroism during World War II. The first article I read only said that Zach McGowan was going to star in the movie, and I flinched because the story is set in Ni’ihau, a Hawaiian island, and the antagonist is Japanese. In other words, there’s nary a white person in sight, so I was imagining the director cramming in the ‘best white buddy’ character so the audience would have a lens through which to view the dramatic events. The social media response was swift, with AAPIs condemning the movie with ferocity. Even mainstream media picked up on it, though they were aggravating me because they put whitewashing in scare quotes, and many of the headlines were phrased in a way to take the onus off the director. “Ni’ihau accused of ‘whitewashing’,” was a common headline, and while I understand why ‘accused’ is in there (I can do scare quotes, too!), it simply IS whitewashing to cast a white guy to star in an AAPI movie.

Whitewashing, in case you don’t know, is taking a story of a minority culture and changing it so that it centers around white folks. The hypothesis behind that is that Americans can’t handle movies that aren’t predominantly white, and while that’s true for some people, I think Hollywood is behind the times in this matter.

I quickly found out that this case was even worse than I previously thought. Zach McGowan wasn’t going to play some rando white guy who aids Kanahele as the latter performs heroic acts; McGowan was cast as Benehakaka Kanahele. What. The. Fuck. This isn’t whitewashing, it’s yellowface, and it’s arguably worse. It’s as old as time–and one of the most notorious and shameful incidents of in modern-ish time is Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

I can’t even watch two seconds of this without cringing and squinching up my face. You would think we’ve moved past this, but while the newer portrayals may not be as aggressively stereotypically offensive, they’re still as exasperating. What’s even more laughable in this case is that the producer is quoted as saying that since this is a movie based on real life events, “there is a weight to be shouldered, and the material requires the utmost care and authenticity.” Are. You. Fucking. Kidding. Me?!?

The base requirement for authenticity is to ACTUALLY CAST A FUCKING ASIAN/PACIFIC ISLANDER IN THE LEAD FUCKING ROLE. I cannot believe I have to say this in 2017, but that is the very least you can do for authenticity. If you don’t meet that very low requirement, I can’t take anything else you say about authenticity seriously. Speaking of which, Tamlyn Tomita, who is still amazing after all these years, has actually seen the script, and she said it was shit. No, seriously. In an email, her first words are, “I appreciate you setting this up, but this script is a piece of shit and I am not mincing words…” She then goes on to list several things wrong with the script, including the notion that this incident led to the Japanese internment camps.

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I. Cannot.

So, Hollywood has chosen yet again to cast a white dude in the role of an Asian (Hawaiian, this time)–a real person this time. They haven’t learned from their high-profile failures, and I’m done.

I’m also tired and grumpy today, and my effluvia isn’t getting any better. Therefore, here’s a video of Vienna Teng and Alex Wong singing Antebellum just because.

No Way in (Ghost in the S)Hell!

Ghost in the Shell opened this weekend–and bombed gloriously. The universal panning has been delicious, and I tweeted this:

Before you say it, no it’s not very mature of me, but I’m not feeling very mature about this issue right now. I have lots to say, so you better grab a can of your favorite beverage and buckle up because you’re in for a long ride.

Even though I’m feeling gleeful about the miserable failure of GitS, it’s tempered with the knowledge that Hollywood probably won’t learn the right lesson from it. Chances are, they’ll blame the fact that it’s a female-led action movie* and not because they didn’t grasp the core of the source material in the first place. It reminds me of the Marvel VP of Sales who blamed diversity for the slump in sales of their products rather than over-saturation or the watering down of their talent. The response of Hollywood to the bombing of these high-profile whitewashed movies is to double down on their idiocy, which I will talk about later.

One thing that has come up time and time again in the roundtables/thinkpieces discussing the failure of GitS is the phrase, “Whitewashing aside”. I want to address this from two different angles, starting with the straightforward one of putting the whitewashing aside. Now, full disclosure, I haven’t seen the movie and will not see the movie. I have seen the trailer, which, whitewashing aside, left me cold. While stylistic and slick, there was no heart to it. It’s all action with no core, and whitewashing aside, I still wouldn’t have wanted to seen this version of GitS. The anime movie was notable for its grappling with tough issues such as what it means to be human and how much personal agency should be sacrificed for expediency. Yes, there’s action in it, but that wasn’t the main point of the anime.  I knew from the minute it was announced that the live action movie was not going to be able to capture the essence of the anime if it wasn’t directed by and starring Japanese people.
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Hollywood is Donald Trump to Me Now

badass warrior woman
I will save you, Father!

Remember way back to last week when I gave Disney a modicum of praise for searching for a Chinese actress to play Mulan in the live-action version of the movie? I felt stupid for being so grateful, but that’s the low bar that I’ve set for Hollywood concerning Asian actors in movies. Well, I rescind even that modicum after the latest news concerning the movie has been leaked. A script has been written, and an Asian American insider has spilled the beans as to what it contains. I’m going to quote the money shot here because it’s just so fucking unbelievable. You can read the rest of the article here.

A white merchant’s business brings him to the heart of a legendary Asian conflict — he unwittingly helps save the day while winning the heart of the Asian female. Am I describing the plotline of the Netflix series Marco Polo? No. I’m describing the spec script that Disney bought for its live-action feature film, The Legend of Mulan, which is projected for release in 2018.


The man is a 30-something European trader who initially cares only for the pleasure of women and money. The only reason why he and his entourage decide to help the Chinese Imperial Army is because he sets eyes on Mulan. That’s right. Our white savior has come to the aid of Ancient China due to a classic case of Yellow Fever. In this script written by Lauren Hynek and Elizabeth Martin, more than half of its pages are dedicated to this merchant who develops a mutual attraction with Mulan and fights to protect her in the ensuing battles. To top it all off, this man gets the honor of defeating the primary enemy of China, not Mulan. Way to steal a girl’s thunder.

I had to read this a few times before what I was reading really registered. I was certain that somebody was punking me because no way it could be this bad, right?


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