The lack of representation, or rather whitewashing of Asian roles in TV and Cinema has been at the forefront, most recently due to the casting of Scarlett Johansson as Motoko Kusanagi in Ghost in the Shell. I find it difficult to reconcile such a casting choice, knowing that there are plenty of talented Asian actresses that could have fulfilled this role. I have nothing against Johansson as I enjoy seeing her as Black Widow and even in one of her earlier movies, The Island. However her defence of taking the role purely because it has a female protagonist at the forefront is pretty weak and skirts over the real issue here. Nobody is questioning the talent of the actors / actresses involved. Rather the choice to overlook a key part of the character and the lack of integrity involved in such decisions. Later this year a Netflix adaptation of Death Note, an extremely popular manga and anime is set to be released. Again, a common theme emerges: Asian characters being played by white actors and actresses.
Another major controversy was the film adaptation of Avatar: The Last Airbender, growing up I absolutely loved this show and I still do. But the movie directed by M Night Shyamalan was terrible, if the actual movie wasn’t badly paced enough and just so far from the source material, to boot the three main characters were entirely whitewashed. Whilst the villainous fire nation were all played by South Asian / Indian actors. This is problematic in many ways. It’s well established that the series is based on Asian and Inuit mythology and customs, therefore calling for, nay requiring an Asian cast. If Asian actors aren’t cast in such roles, which are literally written for them, where does this leave them? Poor stereotypes aren’t a valid substitute for actual positive representation. If we examine the many tired stereotypical roles that Asians are cast in, we can see the larger issue. It’s not an issue which has just emerged but has been present in Hollywood for a long time.
It’s easy to overlook casting choices as something unimportant, however a lack of representation in the mainstream media is a key issue. Especially now when younger generations increasingly want to connect and relate to what they see on screen. Young people of colour need and deserve to see people they can relate to, culturally as well as physically, succeeding in creative fields and breaking barriers.
I know growing up, as a South Asian, apart from in Indian cinema, I didn’t see many women who I could relate to in the mainstream media. With actresses like Priyanka Chopra and Deepika Padukone making the transition from hindi films to tv shows like Quantico and The Return of Xander Cage, this much needed representation is filtering through. As well as with the success of actresses like Mindy Kaling, who break stereotypes of Indian women.
Let me know what you think about these issues, down in the comments, let’s discuss!
Until next time, Rumaanah x