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32 Characters Who Were Whitewashed by Hollywood

Updated June 24, 2020 1.5m views32 items

It's no secret that Hollywood has a problem with racial representation. The vast majority of leading roles in the film and television industry go to performers who are white. The ratio of white actors to POC actors in leading roles is so dismal, generally hovering between 1 to 10-20. Even in supporting roles, it often seems like the only acceptable excuse for casting a person of color is when the film's story explicitly demands a non-white performer.

While the overall situation is frustrating enough, the real kick-in-the-pants is when Black characters, Asian characters, Latino characters, or other characters who are described clearly as people of color (either in the movie's script, or in the source material that inspired it) are "whitewashed," meaning that white actors get to play the roles of Black (or Latino or Asian) actors, too. Why does Hollywood have such a big problem with casting POC actors?

Whitewashing comes in two major varieties - white people playing non-white characters (sometimes with the help of makeup or prosthetics that darken their skin, and/ or make them appear more "ethnic"), and non-white characters being rewritten entirely, thereby allowing a white actor to take on the role. On the opposite end of the spectrum, it's very rare to see a Black character cast as a white character.

What are the worst examples of Hollywood whitewashing? Shocking as it is, plenty of them are depressingly recent. Scroll down to vote up the worst offenders.

  • Horus

    Photo: Gods of Egypt / Summit Entertainment

    It's a pretty safe bet that the deities worshiped by ancient Egyptians weren't handsome Caucasian beefcakes, yet the 2016 action-adventure Gods of Egypt found Danish Game of Thrones star Nikolaj Coster-Waldau playing the martial sky god Horus. The usually falcon-headed Horus isn't the only god of Egypt played by a ripped white guy, since Scottish brawler Gerard Butler played Set, the god of storms.

    And it wasn't just figures of worship, either. The film's hero, a young thief named Bek, was portrayed by Brenton Thwaites, an Australian who, like almost every other actor in the movie, is white. Unlike many filmmakers accused of whitewashing, director Alex Proyas publicly apologized, saying, “The process of casting a movie has many complicated variables, but it is clear that our casting choices should have been more diverse. I sincerely apologize to those who are offended by the decisions we made.”
  • Tony Mendez is a character in the 2012 film Argo, but he's also a real person who is Mexican-American. Mendez is the author of a book called The Master of Disguise, about his experiences aiding in the rescue of six U.S. diplomats during the Iran hostage crisis. Argo was directed by Ben Affleck, who felt it would be a better idea to grow a beard and play the lead role himself, rather than casting an actual Latino person.

  • Allison Ng

    Photo: Aloha / Sony Pictures

    Cameron Crowe got all kinds of flack for casting Emma Stone in the role of Allison Ng in his movie Aloha. In the book that inspired Crowe's film, Allison Ng is described as being 1/4 Hawaiian and 1/4 Chinese, i.e. half white and half Asian. In response to public backlash over his lame choice to cast blonde and blue-eyed Stone, Crowe made a few excuses and eventually apologized

  • Moses

    Photo: Exodus: Gods and Kings / 20th Century Fox

    Fake tans and an abundance of eyeliner didn't keep the public from noticing that virtually every Egyptian in the 2014 Old Testament epic Exodus: Gods and Kings was portrayed by a white actor. Christian Bale starred as Moses, with Joel Edgerton as Ramses, John Turturro as Pharaoh, and Sigourney Weaver as Tuya, his queen.

    Director Ridley Scott said, I can’t mount a film of this budget, where I have to rely on tax rebates in Spain, and say that my lead actor is Mohammad so-and-so from such-and-such,” Scott said. “I’m just not going to get it financed. So the question doesn’t even come up." The vagaries of film financing may rule out accurate racial representation, but Scott certainly wasn't helping his movie's case.