Monday, 1 August 2016

LOOK: WHY WHITEWASHING IS A BIG DEAL

Yesterday I found out Matt Damon was to star in a movie, The Great Wall, a film about mysteries surrounding The Great Wall of China.



Obviously from the title of the film, it's suggested that this is more or less a Chinese film (that is, a story about Chinese people, with elements of Chinese culture, Asian cinematography etc.) but a thing that shocked me, and I'm sure many others, was the director's choice of a white man as the lead character.

Is it too much to ask, that for once (!!) Asians are not saved by the white male? I mean the film's trailer screams Western Imperialism to me, which if you think about the target audience as MEDCs, let's say for example, predominately white societies, this does not spread an equal or fair message to its viewers who are POC. In addition, there isn't a NEED for a white male lead. Have a look at any of Bruce Lee's films, and tell me if they're not as popular.

There is also the argument that this film appeals to Chinese audiences because of Matt Damon. I get that. But the underlying message here, is that Chinese societies too, are influenced by the message that you need a white male to make something interesting or viable to be watched. The film to a certain extent is a Hollywood production. If it was solely Chinese, I could understand Matt Damon's role in the film, he has appeal and representation and equality in Chinese films are not much of an issue in Chinese cinema. But the fact remains that this is in part a Hollywood movie, and therefore, it's ridiculous that Matt Damon is supposed to be playing a role, which in the time period it's set in, would be a Chinese. (Of course the argument that dragons and monsters are ridiculous and unrealistic too is valid, but they were greatly believed to be true in Chinese culture and are a huge part of Chinese beliefs. Therefore, casting a white male, displaces the validity of these beliefs, on which the film is based on, which were hugely important to our ancestors.)

Scarlett Johansson in 'Ghost in the Shell'

This movie has already sparked a great deal of controversy for its white washing, and as big of a movie lover as I am, I don't think I can bring myself to pay for a ticket to see this in the cinema. It promotes the message that us Asians, can only be saved by a white man - someone with more power and more knowledge that we have, supposedly. ARE YOU SERIOUS? This is a Chinese film, yes intended for a world audience, but it's set in China, directed by a Chinese man, it's about the great wall. It makes no sense that Matt Damon should take the role.
(Side note: Matt Damon, I like you. I really, really do - but please think about your role and what it represents to races outside of your own, before you take it. You're a high powered celebrity and high up in the acting community, you're a great actor! And you've got a voice that people will listen to. So use it too.)

The film's director, Zhang Yimou said to Entertainment Weekly: "This is a Hollywood monster movie and needs to be made in that style...What I really want is to bring Chinese color and cultural background to the worldwide audience through a film language that they are familiar with."
Ouch. Since when did 'film language' mean a white male? (I haven't gone to film school yet, but as far as I'm aware, the two are NOT synonyms.) To appeal to an entire worldwide audience you don't need Matt Damon as its lead. The Chinese color and cultural background, you talk about, will be expressed and enhanced with greater emphasis in a lead male who is Chinese, or at least Asian.

Ashton Kutcher in Popchips commercial

Rob Schneider in 'I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry'

While I think it's great that there will be people of color (POC) in the film and behind the camera, I cannot applaud their casting choice of Matt Damon in the slightest. I love the fact that the Chinese setting and culture will be on our screens, but it really hurts as a second-generation immigrant, that it is told through the narrative of a white man. It does not matter how authentic or how impressive the Chinese setting and the Chinese culture comes across in the film, it will always be a Chinese film with a white guy.

Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra


Representation is a huge thing among POC living in white societies. There are 5 East Asian girls in my class, and all five of us have been affected by the lack of, or degredation, of Asian representation on our screens. If a film is lucky, it may have an Asian actor but only as the side character; the best friend, the hacker nerd, the band geek or the secret ninja. As a result, these awful, awful stereotypes have been formed which make it extremely difficult to grow up in a white society. As if it's not hard enough to do without racial restrictions.

Mickey Rooney as Mr Yunioshi in 'Breakfast At Tiffany's'

There was no one to idolise, no one to root for who looked like us. It was the shy, white kid who wanted the girl, whom we all rooted for. That kid was the epitome of the underdog and the one everyone wanted to be, from his hair to his clothes, to his personality, and unfortunately, to his skin color. It might sound ridiculous to people who are white, but when everyone is supposed to be, and wants to be, the " kid who overcomes all his obstacles", and that ideal is always a white kid, it makes it really hard to be the Asian kid.


Furthermore, for East Asian girls in particular, "yellow fever" has spread in western societies. It's demeaning, hurtful, and degrading to be rejected of your personality, your likes and dislikes, and placed into the "hot Asian girl" trope. The first example that comes to mind is a scene in the Five Year Engagement, where Alex talks about all of Tom's ex-girlfriends.


It's a funny scene, no doubt, but if you listen closely - he names all of the girls, except the Koreans.

This is why, casting choices are so important. I bet 'The Great Wall' has great direction, and great writing too. But the story will never be a Chinese story unless it is played by a Chinese man (or woman.) I'm pleased that a Chinese man will be behind the camera in Hollywood, and am proud of that aspect of he movie. However, I was severely let down by Zhang Yimou's casting choice, and the repercussions of having yet another male white lead, in the movies POC will see.

To the POC (Asians, Blacks, Latinos and more, because let's not forget the other races which have been forgotten about) living in white societies, keep pushing for change. Actors of color come forward, fight for that role, and the same goes for POC behind the camera! It's our story, so we need to write our own stories. If Hollywood isn't doing it right, or doesn't know how to tell our stories, let's help them out and just do it ourselves! It's time to be the change, we all want to see.


Let me know what you think about this matter, as I'd love to have a discussion about this topic in the comments below. Signing out, Jess x

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