Is White Washing Really Still A Thing?
May 24, 2016
(The shortened opening)
NC: Hello, I'm the Nostalgia Critic. I remember it so you don't have to. Let's talk about white washing.
(Immediately, a comment in the comments section below the video is typed in: "YOU'RE WRONG!" in capital letters over and over again)
NC: (holding up both hands) STOP!! (the typing stops) Obviously, this is a subject everybody has a strong opinion on, especially given the news recently.
(Cut to clips of the upcoming film Doctor Strange)
NC (vo): Two big movies have just done previews: a trailer from Marvel's Doctor Strange...
(Cut to a still shot of another upcoming film, Ghost in the Shell)
NC (vo): ...and a still from Paramount's remake of Ghost in the Shell.
(Cut to a shot of George Takei's negative review of Doctor Strange via Facebook)
NC (vo): The Internet flipped...
(Cut to a shot of Scarlett Johansson as Kusanagi in Ghost in the Shell compared side-by-side with the original anime version of Kusanagi, along with the message "White washing??")
NC (vo): ...as both films were accused...
(Cut to a shot of Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One from Doctor Strange along with a message that the director reacted to the criticism of the film)
NC (vo): ...of white washing.
NC: Which, for those who don't know, is when a person who is supposed to be of a certain ethnicity is suddenly played by a white person.
(Cut to the same shot of Scarlett Johansson in Ghost in the Shell)
NC (vo): In Ghost in the Shell's case, people were upset because Scarlett Johansson was playing what was originally an Asian character.
(Cut to a clip of Doctor Strange)
NC (vo): And in Doctor Strange's case, a Tibetan man is now being portrayed as a Celtic woman, played by Tilda Swinton.
NC: This is a touchy subject that's making many people feel enraged. White washing is an art that... let's face it, white people have mastered bullshitting for years. (shows a chart, comparing the animated characters from Avatar: The Last Airbender to the movie characters)
NC (vo): Which is all the more reason to get upset. People can't believe that it's still going on. (shows a poster of Rooney Mary as Tiger Lily in Pan) Is America, home to so many different cultures and races, still resorting to the same offensive tricks? (shows an image of Michael Fassbender as Etzio in the upcoming Assassins Creed movie) Have things really gotten better (shows a picture of an actor doing blackface) or have we just disguised our hypocrisy even more?
NC: Well, for Ghost in the Shell, originally a Japanese property, there is one group of people that, for the most part, doesn't seem to have that big a problem: the Japanese!
(Cut to clips from three different interviews with Japanese citizens. The comments are as followed: "She [Scarlett Johansson] looks like the character, so it's not a bad choice," "Yeah, it will more like anime-ish if actors aren't Japanese," "Beautiful, right?", and "Beautiful.")
NC (vo): Now, granted, we obviously can't speak for all of them, but when asking random Japanese people on the street what they thought on the casting of the film, most of them seemed pretty okay. Not only did they...
(Cut to a split screen image, comparing Kusanagi from the anime and Kusanagi from the movie)
NC (vo): ...say she looked liked the character, but they also knew it was an American film, and American films have mostly white actors.
NC: (looking up in thought) I guess, in hindsight, if Japan did their version of, say, Superman...
(Cut to a shot of a Japanese magazine advertising the Superman movie, with a Japanese person, who looks suspiciously female, in Superman's outfit)
NC (vo): ...and they cast a Japanese actor in the role, Americans probably wouldn't care.
(Cut to a shot of the original Ghost in the Shell anime cartoon)
NC (vo): I think most people are assuming, too, that because the film is made by Americans, it probably wouldn't take place in Japan. (shows posters and shots of The Ring and The Grudge) The same way The Ring and The Grudge were Asian properties, but clearly weren't filmed in Asia and didn't star Asian people. Or the same way they remade...
(Cut to shots of Seven Samurai and The Magnificent Seven, shown side-by-side)
NC (vo): ...Seven Samurai in the Old West. Eh, the first time.
(Cut to a montage of posters comparing old and new versions of films: Godzilla (2014) and Godzilla (1954); La Cage aux Folles and The Birdcage; The Departed and Infernal Affairs; Old Boy (2013) and Old Boy (2003); and Let the Right One In and Let Me In)
NC (vo): In fact, there's tons of remakes of foreign films that have done this, as well as replaced the actors with white Americans, but have never gotten criticized, even to this day.
NC: (the image of Scarlett Johansson as Kusanagi appears in the corner) So why is this one getting so beaten up? Well, there could be a couple of reasons.
(Cut to more shots of the original anime series and the remake)
NC (vo): One could be the character struck such a chord with anime fans that (shows another shot of Johansson with a message: "Would YOU Think Her Name was Kusanagi?") the identity was so tied to her Japanese heritage. Or, most likely, too, America has so many Asian-American actors, (shows a list of the movie's cast, which includes many Asian-American actors) some of which are even included in the film, (one more shot of the anime) that it seems pointlessly silly not to cast one in the leading role. They are still, after all, Americans.
NC: I also keep hearing that there's no Asian-American actors big enough to guarantee a good box office. First of all, there's tons of...
(Cut to a rapid-fire montage of Asian-American actors, as follows: Tamlyn Tomita, Daniel Dae Kim, Lucy Liu, Masi Oka, Sandra Oh, Ken Watanabe, Nichole Bloom, Keiko Agena, and John Cho)
NC (vo): ...Asian-American actors, and many of them are very successful.
NC: But I know what they mean when they say none of them are (makes finger quotes) "as big as Scarlett Johansson".
(Cut to a shot of a group of famous celebrities)
NC (vo): Sure, star power is important, but guess what: (shows the poster for Captain America: The First Avenger) some of the highest grossing movies and franchises (shows a picture of Rey and Fin from Star Wars: The Force Awakens) don't have huge names as the main characters. (shows the poster for Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone) Who heard of Daniel Radcliffe before Harry Potter? (shows a poster of the first Superman movie) Who heard of Christopher Reeve before Superman? (shows a shot of a couple of Avatar characters) Most of the names in Avatar aren't that huge. (shows a photo of Harrison Ford as Han Solo, then a poster for Star Wars: A New Hope) Harrison who? Star what? BOMB! (the word "BOMB!" appears on the poster)
(Cut to clips of Doctor Strange)
NC (vo): But what about Doctor Strange's case? Is there really a bias against Tibetan actors?
NC: Well... yes, but not in the way that you'd think.
(Cut back to Doctor Strange)
NC (vo): You see, 18% of Marvel's motion picture income stems from China. (the phrase "18% of Movie Income = China" is shown) And guess who China is not exactly the biggest fan of? (to the sound of a ding, the map of Tibet appears) Correct.
(Cut to a side-by-side comparison of the original Ancient One comic character, a man, and the newer Swinton Ancient One)
NC (vo): So the choice was made to change the character so much, from a male Tibetan to a Celtic female, that hopefully it would be so different that nobody would notice.
NC: (laughing) You have totally underestimated your geeky fanbase! (shows two shots of Ben Affleck and Michael Keaton, both of whom played Batman, and then a shot of Batman from the comics) We get upset when a good-looking white man plays a good-looking white man!
(Cut to more clips of Doctor Strange)
NC (vo): On the one hand, it's good to know that the American filmmakers don't have any real anti-Tibetan agenda. I mean, they're a business and they want to make as much money as they can. (shows a shot of the comic version of Doctor Strange) But, on the other hand, it's still ethically wrong. They're putting prejudice ahead of not making more money.
(Cut to a shot of a person holding up both hands, one raised higher than the other like a scale, each hand with a glowing dollar sign on it, one (on the higher-raised hand) glowing green, the other glowing red)
NC (vo): But, let's be honest: this happens a lot in business. Like, all the time.
NC: And let's also be honest: we've let very similar choices slide recently.
(Cut to a shot of a girl in blackface and braided hair)
NC (vo): (mockingly) "Oh, what, you mean blackface..."
(Cut to a second shot, this one of Mr. Yunioshi, Mickey Rooney's character from Breakfast at Tiffany's)
NC (vo): "...or that slanty-eye make-up that never fooled anyone? Come on! That's not us, that's the generation before us!"
NC: That stuff is, but (points to camera) you've been okay with a lot more than you think!
(Cut to a shot of a poster for Aladdin)
NC (vo): In fact, we've grown up with it, mostly in cartoons. (shows shots of Apu and Dr. Hibbert from The Simpsons) Apu and Dr. Hibbert? (shows shots of Hank Azaria and Harry Shearer) White guy. (shows shots of Aladdin and Jasmine) Aladdin and Jasmine? (shows shots of Scott Weigner and Linda Larkin) White people. (shows a montage of shots of different anime series and movies, such as Cowboy Bebop, Dragonball Z and Howl's Moving Castle) Hey, you remember all those animes starring Japanese people? (shows shots of various anime characters, all accompanied by shots of white actors who did their voices in American dubs) Practically all of them are redubbed by white Americans! (shows a shot of the never-made Cowboy Bebop movie, along with a shot of Keanu Reeves) In fact, there was even a Cowboy Bebop movie in the works for a while that was going to star Keanu Reeves. And people were actually excited about it! Well, wait a minute! How come this gets a pass, (shows the same old shot of Scarlett Johansson as Kusanagi) but Scarlett Johnansson doesn't?*
- Spike Spiegel's ethnicity was never confirmed to be Japanese. Many presume him to be Jewish, especially since unlike Motoko Kusanagi, his name isn't of Japanese origin. Therefore, Spike being portrayed by a white actor wouldn't be a problem.
NC: But it doesn't stop there...
(Cut to a montage of the following shots: Belle from Beauty and the Beast, alongside Paige O'Hara; Tina Belcher from Bob's Burgers, alongside Dan Mintz; Tommy Pickles from The Rugrats, alongside Elizabeth Daily; Neil Patrick Harris on How I Met Your Mother; Robin Williams in The Birdcage; and a group shot of the cast of Monty Python's Life of Brian)
NC (vo): Belle's not French, Tina's not a girl, Tommy's not a boy, Neil Patrick Harris isn't straight, Robin Williams isn't gay, and, speaking of comedies, I don't think the cast of Life of Brian are actually Israeli.
(Cut to another montage, this one of the following shots: Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne, Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker, Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, Henry Cavill as Superman, Mel Gibson as ?, and Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter)
NC (vo): In fact, Britain and a lot of other countries have posed as us a lot. Some of our most famous roles are played by actors who are not American.
NC: And it even works the other way around...
(Cut to some alternating shots of characters played by Alfred Molina and Roma Maffia)
NC (vo): Performers like Alfred Molina and Roma Maffia. They've played almost every ethnicity there is because they look like almost every ethnicity there is.
NC (vo): In fact, something that's getting a lot of praise is when a role that's meant for a white actor is now suddenly being played by a person of color.
NC: (waving dismissively) And I know what you might be saying: how is a person of color playing a white person's role any different from a white person playing a person of color's role?
(Suddenly, a new comment is typed in the comments section below the video: WHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAT??????????)
NC: (holding up both hands) STOP!!! (the typing stops as he holds up both index fingers) I'm not going where you think I'm going.
(A new montage begins, comprised of shots of many characters of color played by whites. This includes, but is not limited to, the following: Marlon Brando as Sakini from Teahouse of the August Moon, Alec Guinness as Prince Faisal from Lawrence of Arabia, a person in blackface (likely Al Jolson from The Jazz Singer), the cartoon Jungle Jitters showing stereotypical African natives beating on drums, Katherine Hepburn as Jade Tan from Dragon Seed, John Wayne as Genghis Khan from The Conqueror, a Tom and Jerry cartoon where Tom has a record over his head while his eyes are Asian slanted, and Ben Affleck as Tony Mendez from Argo)
NC (vo): The answer is obvious: because of the white washing we've had in the past. America clearly hasn't had the best record in terms of treating people equally. And it's obvious there has been years of keeping women, foreigners and anybody of color as somehow lower than white men in both society and our media.
(Cut to a shot of another movie where a black man plays a gunslinger (don't know the movie, though, or who the actor is; maybe it's Samuel L. Jackson in The Hateful Eight))
NC (vo): Because of this, we're more open to allowing the gender or race of what was a white male changed to reflect the growing environment.
NC: But, even taking race out of it, there's tons of similar white washing going on that we've just allowed.
(Cut to clips of the Lord of the Rings trilogy)
NC (vo): I was actually shocked when they did Lord of the Rings and they didn't hire little people for the job. Now, don't get me wrong: the actors were all great; I had no problem with their performances, but the only time little people were used was when you saw the back of their heads.
NC: (looks around briefly) Why are we okay with that?
(Cut to a shot of the Munchkins from The Wizard of Oz)
NC (vo): They can play supporting Munchkins...
(Cut to a shot of some elves from some movie about Santa Claus; I don't know what it is, though)
NC (vo): ...or elves...
(Cut back to more clips of the Lord of the Rings series)
NC (vo): ...but starring roles was asking too much? There's plenty of actors who are little people, and it's not like these were gigantic names. I mean, nobody's gonna see Lord of the Rings because it starred Elijah Wood, they're gonna see it because it's Lord of the Rings. This is still a very similar form of white washing.
NC: (somewhat perplexed) Height washing? (suddenly points at screen) Copyright! (a message appears below Critic: "Height-Washing: Copyright - Nostalgia Critic")
(Cut back to the Lord of the Rings series)
NC (vo): You probably don't think this is a big deal, but if we kept to this exact way of doing things...
(Cut to a clip of Game of Thrones featuring Peter Dinklage as Tyrion Lannister)
NC (vo): ...we wouldn't have the 31 flavors of kickass that is Peter Dinklage. This guy is so popular now that they're writing him in (shows a shot of Dinklage as Bolivar Trask in X-Men: Days of Futures Past) roles that weren't even meant for a little person.
NC: If you were to recast Peter Dinklage's role on Game of Thrones with, say...
(Cut to a shot of David Tennant on Doctor Who)
NC (vo): ...David Tennant on his knees, even though that's a brilliant actor, people would be offended to no end.
(Cut back to Game of Thrones)
NC (vo): We love Peter Dinklage, and the idea now of putting someone like David Tennant in there would be insulting and bad taste.
NC: Yet we just gave the Hobbit trilogy millions of dollars...
(Cut to clips of the Hobbit trilogy)
NC (vo): ...and complained about differences from the book, rather than the fact that we're spending God knows how much to have people walk on their knees and do optical illusions because we just didn't put a real little person in there.
NC: However, as much as those prejudices really seem worthy of anger, it's hard to tell where to draw the line.
(Cut to a shot of Laverne Cox as Sophia on Orange is the New Black)
NC (vo): More transgender roles are opening up, not all of them played by real transgenders, though many say they should be.
NC: Well, (shrugs) okay, I guess that seems legit.
(Cut to a shot of The Miracle Worker featuring Patty Duke as Helen Keller)
NC (vo): But there's also deaf roles out there, and shouldn't they be played by real deaf actors?
NC: (shrugs again) Well, I guess that's a good point. (shows a shot of Marlee Matlin holding an Oscar) Marlee Matlin won an Oscar, and she's deaf.
(Cut to a shot of Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles in Ray)
NC (vo): How about Jamie Foxx in Ray? In fact, most blind roles; shouldn't they be played by real blind people?
NC: I gu– How many blind actors are there?
(Cut to a shot of Gary Sinise as Lt. Dan Taylor in Forrest Gump)
NC (vo): How about switching out Gary Sinise in Forrest Gump with a person who doesn't actually have legs?
NC: (scratching the back of his neck) That seems like a very narrow field.
(Cut to a shot of Mr. Garrison from South Park)
NC (vo): Mr. Garrison on South Park is a gay man who had a sex change and turned lesbian! Shouldn't she be represented by an actor who is the exact same thing?
NC: On occasion, I think you just gotta act.
(Cut to another clip of a Lord of the Rings movie)
NC (vo): Again, it's not always easy to figure out what's gonna be crossing an ethical line.
(Cut to another clip of Doctor Strange)
NC (vo): There's no rule book for this kind of stuff, and the world is constantly changing.
(Cut to a shot of Around the World with Kate and Mack, featuring an image of children of various races and skin colors standing together with Kate and Mack)
NC (vo): And it's not always easy to know what's acceptable or not acceptable and by how many; a small minority, the mass majority, or does that even matter?
NC: The best way I can think to deal with it is, treat it similar to... when we cast adults as children.
(Cut to a shot of Finn from Adventure Time, alongside Jeremy Shada, who does his voice on the show)
NC (vo): Would we prefer children? Yes, but we also understand child labor laws, the fact that they grow up and their voices change.
(Cut to a collage of characters voiced by Tara Strong)
NC (vo): So we're not as hard on people if an adult steps in to voice them.
NC: But really, we could be if we wanted to. There's lots of child actors out there looking for work. So, is this like a prejudice against children?
(Cut to still more clips of the Lord of the Rings movies)
NC (vo): By now, you're probably figuring out that white washing, height washing, gender washing, whatever your load of clothes is, it's all kind of selective. I love a lot of these performances and actors...
(Cut to a shot of voice actor Steven Blum followed by his character in Cowboy Bebop, Spike Spiegel )
NC (vo): ...even if they're not technically what the character is supposed to be.
(Cut to a shot of a sphere covered in all of the flags of the world)
NC (vo): We love to point to our slippery slopes and say this will lead to everyone getting offended by anyone pretending to be something else, or of a slippery slope that white people will be playing all roles until the end of our days.
NC: I don't think either will happen, because that line we're apparently never supposed to cross has never fully been drawn.
(Cut to a shot of Nick Fury)
NC (vo): There's pros and cons: we can see past race and gender and open our minds to a good performance...
(Cut to a shot of John Wayne as Genghis Khan)
NC (vo): ...but we can also feel really uncomfortable when someone can't see what they're doing can be really harmful.
NC: Maybe it all comes down to intent, but even that seems kind of blurred.
(Cut to clips of Cloud Atlas)
NC (vo): The Wachowskis did a movie about reincarnation called Cloud Atlas, where every person plays every gender and ethnicity you can imagine. People are still on the fence about whether this is brilliant or amazingly uncomfortable. Or even coherent, but that's a different matter. It's made even more interesting, though, seeing how both directors have come out as (shows a shot of the Wachowskis after their sex change) transgender women. So, to their credit, if any famous directors know anything about living in another body, it's these two. But what if other transgender or ethnicities are still offended by what they do? Is it suddenly nonsense? Have we just made these two the official voice on the subject? Again, there's no clear answer.
NC: (crossing his arms) With that said, it seems very unlikely that the makers of Ghost in the Shell or Doctor Strange were trying to push any pro-white agenda.
(Cut to more clips of Doctor Strange)
NC (vo): People making these kinds of movies hate bad press, and they don't want that kind of bad press attached. They probably just thought of all the other times people were okay with it, especially just in the last couple of years, and decided, "Eh, they'll probably be okay with it this time, too."
(Cut to a collage of a woman's face, with various pieces of the face taken from a different race/skin color)
NC (vo): That doesn't make the issue go away, but if you want people to be fair and open to what the problem is, you also have to be fair and open to what caused it.
NC: So, what exactly am I saying? We should be okay with roles played by white people, even though they're not meant for white people? Hell no! This is America!
(Cut to a shot of a Mexican culture parade in some American city, followed by a Chinatown in another city)
NC (vo): A growing hodgepodge of variety and diversity, and we should explore it as much as we can.
(Cut to a shot of the two Doctor Stranges, the original comic book character and Swinton's character)
NC (vo): If you see a problem where those possibilities are being limited...
(Cut to a shot of Scarlett Johansson and Kusanagi side-by-side)
NC (vo): ...bring them up! We deserve to see every opportunity that can be made available to us.
NC: I guess what I'm saying is... don't act like you've never been guilty of it, because we all have.
(Cut to a clip of Game of Thrones with Peter Dinklage)
NC (vo): We're trying to get better, and we're trying to see things from a reasonable point of view...
(Cut to clips of the Hobbit movies)
NC (vo): ...but nobody is perfect, and nobody is going to accurately represent everybody's feelings on everything.
(Cut to a poster for Aladdin)
NC (vo): We've all overlooked things for our benefit, whether it be in media or even in real life.
(Cut to a shot of Apu meeting someone from Wharton on an episode of The Simpsons)
NC (vo): We know we should do better, and we're trying to do better, but we can't act like our acceptance of it in the past hasn't somehow played a part in all of this still happening.
(Cut to two side-by-side shots of Scarlett Johannson's Kusanagi and Tilda Swinton's Ancient One)
NC (vo): It's not likely either of these movies want bad press, so letting them know our concerns will certainly help them change in the future.
NC: (with disappointment) The sad fact is, relations with anybody different is always gonna be a complicated issue, even if we don't want it to be.
(Cut to a montage of photos of white people celebrating Donald Trump's presidential candidacy, particularly the Trump Wall and the slogan "Make America Great Again")
NC (vo): And... (sighs resignedly) with so many in America celebrating the growth of limitation and disinterest in variety, it looks like it's gonna stay complicated for a while.
(Cut to a photo of people on a crowded city street)
NC (vo): All we can do in media is make people aware of even more opportunities, without claiming that we're higher than them for noticing it.
(Cut to a photo of a person typing at a computer)
NC (vo): Because clearly we don't notice everything. We do let things slide, and not always for the right reason.
(Cut to another montage of photos of people on crowded city streets)
NC (vo): All we can do is try our best and encourage others to try their best. In a country that's still 63% white people, chances are there's still gonna be white washing in the near future. And bring up the mistakes that you see, but always remember, you probably made them at some point, too.
(Cut to a photo of a man in glasses sitting there in thought)
NC (vo): And if we want human beings to change, you have to acknowledge that you yourself are a human being.
NC: (catching his breath) Well, that was uncomfortable. (awkward pause) Um... boogers!
(Cut to a black-and-white shot of an audience laughing)
NC: (pleased with himself) Still got it. I'm the Nostalgia Critic, I remember it so you don't have to. (gets up from his chair and leaves)