Who’s to Blame for Hollywood Whitewashing?

After seeing Ghost in the Shell and reviewing it, I looked at the controversy of how much fans hated having Scarlett Johansson in the lead role. The film’s story is from a Japanese manga and many folks wanted an Asian woman as Major. Let’s push it a little further. This movie should have been full of Asian actors. Yet the only real noticeable ones were Major’s boss and one guy on the team. Every single person of importance, from the loving doctor down to the company bad guy, was of some other race, mostly white. So focusing on Johansson as Major is only part of the issue. The entire movie should have featured Asians.

The whitewashing problem is not new. It is just as obvious in movies such as Dr. Strange where Tilda Swinton played an Asian mystic.  But who is really to blame for this whitewashing? The answer is simple.

You.

And me.

Well, not just you specifically but the millions of movie goers that flock to films featuring predominantly white actors while being less enthusiastic about movies with largely minority casts.

Let me break it down for you. Hollywood is not about art. People think it should be but it is not. The Hollywood film machine is about money. Massive, soul-corrupting amounts of cash that could feed armies or support small countries. They don’t care about equality, fairness, or justice. The Hollywood moguls care about return on investment. Movies are expensive, but they are also a magnificent money cows if they are done right. Being “done right” means they are aimed at attracting the largest audiences possible. Uncomfortable stories and films with lesser known actors either don’t get made, are never large moneymakers, or sit on the shelf for years until one of the actors in it become a big star.

Thus, film companies are going to make movies that sell tons of tickets and are aimed at the richest, most entertainment-oriented population available. That tends to currently still be mostly white people simply because they fill more of the wealthier demographics.

The other factor is that folks of like seeing actors of their race or ethnicity because they can personally identify with those characters more. As a white woman, I can picture myself in a story when that character is a white woman. Making her southern even helps more. I love the Wolverine movies but have never pictured myself as a clawed, hulking male. Yet I easily can see myself as Phoenix in a liplock with him. When I watched Hidden Figures (excellent movie, by the way), I didn’t picture myself as one of those ladies because that experience was too different from my life. I did love seeing the story and it made me feel ashamed about the way they were treated, but it had a lesser impact on an emotional level since I couldn’t viscerally relate to what they had to overcome.

Hollywood knows these facts and will continue to exploit them by whitewashing stories and roles that should go to minority actors. To appease the folks crying out for equality in movies, producers or directors may throw in a Black or Latino in secondary roles, just to make everyone feel better about themselves. However, it is not done with a lot of thought or care to the sensibilities of the minority groups. Case in point: how often is the minority guy only the best friend, background character, or the first one to die?

Some exceptions do exist. Samuel Jackson clearly ruled as head of a stellar cast in The Hateful Eight. Denzel Washington dominated The Magnificent Seven along with great actors Lee Byung-hun and Manuel Garcia-Rulfo. These occasional movies show that times are changing, but that attitude evolution crawls along at a snail’s pace.

Is it fair or right? Hell no.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m glad that the producers and decisions makers are supporting more minority actors in roles, and more minority-oriented movies are getting made, with bigger budgets than ever before in cinema history. Great actors of any race deserve a chance and the bookstores are filled with great stories featuring minority characters that should be on the silver screen.

However, white people movies make better box-office blockbusters. If you don’t like this fact, then change it.

How?

Vote with your money.

Go see a film you normally wouldn’t because it has a mostly minority cast. No one will throw you out. While you are raging about whitewashing in some films, also cheer on others which truly support a mixed cast like Rogue One or Get Out. Be vocal in your displeasure about how films like Ghost in the Shell should have been cast differently.  If the idea really offends you, then DON’T see the whitewash film, no matter how good it is.

If you want to be an instrument of equal representation, then vote with your money and your opinion as often as possible. Make it bad business to whitewash great stories. Only when Hollywood is hurting in the pocketbook will they change. Only the movie goers can bring about that change.

 

Hard Science Fiction: Aliens Need Not Apply

Good, hardcore science fiction is glorious. It shows us what the human race is capable of, both good and bad. Notice I said science fiction, which takes known theory and extrapolates it to the realm of possibility.

Science Fiction/Fantasy

Science fiction: a genre of speculative fiction, typically dealing with imaginative concepts such as futuristic science and technology, space travel, time travel, faster than light travel, parallel universes, and extraterrestrial life. (Wikipedia)

Science Fantasy: a mixed genre within the umbrella of speculative fiction which arrivalsimultaneously draws upon and/or combines tropes and elements from both science fiction and fantasy. It also sometimes incorporates elements of horror fiction. (Wikipedia)

The above definitions are the accepted versions but mine is a bit different. My definition distinguishes science fiction from those books and movies that feature any aliens or pseudo-science hand waving events (i.e. magic), including the Force. No one knows what aliens look like. Everything about aliens of any type is completely made up. We can make guesses based on our biology but that is about it. Thus, much as I love movies like Star Wars, Aliens, Star Trek, or even Cloverfield, they all tend to lean towards science fantasy even though they may feature some exciting futuristic ideas.

Science Fantasy

On the other hand, I, Robot, Gravity, and even the old Forbidden Planet all fall more under forbidden-planet science fiction because they use facts and established theories to get from plot point A to B in the story. The path can stretch the imagination a bit but the science is still clear. For those who would say, “But wait! The Krell were aliens!” I agree but the monster was  based on man’s psychology. The Krell were merely a plot device to explain the monster. By the way, this movie was the first time I’d ever heard of the id, ego, and superego as a kid.

That is why I love great science fiction. The audience can always learn something from the plot. For instance, Interstellar was a thought-provoking film, and in some cases difficult to understand, but it did an excellent job in showing relativity and space travel.

Mixing Fantasy and Reality

Consider these definitions as the polar points on a continuous line. Most science fiction books and movies fall somewhere along that line with only a few being solely parked at hardcore or fantastical.

Even Arrival, a wonderful first-contact movie, features some great linguistics ideas but also tentacled creatures, which puts it on the edge of science fantasy. It also teaches a great lesson in how we always start with certain assumptions, like math is math everywhere. We also assume that language represents a linearity of time. (SPOILER) For the aliens, it wasn’t.

Where did all the spacemen go?

My rant in this blog is this. Hard-core science fiction seems to be disappearing. Hollywood is producing some great films but the literature is sadly lacking.

The golden age of science fiction became eclipsed when some of the best writers (Clark, Heinlein, Asimov, Bradbury, among others) died off. While other great writers have risen to fill these giants’ shoes, the emphasis is all too often more on aliens. In mediocre fiction, we see a lot of these plot lines.

Fill-in-the-blank-hero is facing Fill-in-the-blank alien and the two races are on the brink of, or already at, war. Will he/she survive?

Or

In a universe filled with fill-in-the-blank, Fill-in-the-blank-hero is the Chosen One to unite the races and fight back the forces of evil.

These tried and true plots are becoming as tried-and-tired as unimaginative vampire stories.

Whereas these books might be well written and enjoyable, they don’t really use science as the moving force. Yeah, they feature unexplained interstellar flight and zap guns, but the science serves more of a backdrop than a critical part of the story.

Where Is My Flying Car?

I get it. The dream of space travel at best has become a humdrum reality or at worst a lost opportunity as the space program suffers from a lack of funding. However, let’s encourage writers to go back to the ideas of owning flying cars, exploring new planets, working with interesting biology, and more. Let’s use science as an integral part of the story. Maybe we can start thinking beyond the limits of Earth and time. Yes, dangers await, but at least we will embrace that aspect of the human spirit that wants to dream, expand, and explore again.

Post note: I realize my knowledge of recent science fiction books may be limited. So, dear reader, if you have any books to suggest, please leave the title in the comments. I would love to have some recommendations.