The 10 Worst Examples Of Movie Whitewashing From The Last 15 Years

The 10 Worst Examples of Movie Whitewashing From the Last 15 Years

Gods of Egypt finally premiered this week, but no matter how well it does (or how poorly) it will always be remembered mainly for causing such an uproar that the director was forced to apologise. But it's just the latest in a long line of movies where characters of colour are played by white actors. Movies that should have known better. Just look at how many films have fallen into this trap just since the turn of the millennium. This list is restricted to just genre movies, and only films from the past 15 years -- and still, there are far more than there should be.

1) Gods of Egypt

Starting with the most recent one: this is a movie where the ancient Egyptian sun god is played by Geoffrey Rush. And Gerard Butler is playing the god Set. And when you think of Horus, is the name that immediately springs to mind is "Nikolaj Coster-Waldau?" And the whitewashing isn't limited to the gods. Even the main human character, Bek, is being played by a white actor: Brenton Thwaites. This is a movie based on Egyptian mythology that takes place in Egypt, and pretty much every major character is white.

The 10 Worst Examples of Movie Whitewashing From the Last 15 Years

2) Avatar: The Last Airbender

Here's a movie based on a cartoon, where the characters were clearly not white and were based on Asian culture. So of course, the film-makers cast Nicola Peltz as Katara, Jackson Rathbone as Sokka and tried to cast Jesse McCartney as Zuko. The failure on the part of the studio was so large that the phrase "racebending" no longer refers to just this movie, but has become a synonym for whitewashing in general. And director M. Night Shyamalan's defence that "The great thing about anime is that it's ambiguous," was not received particularly well. Avatar: The Last Airbender became the first movie the Media Action Network for Asian Americans boycotted.

The 10 Worst Examples of Movie Whitewashing From the Last 15 Years

3) Dragonball Evolution

Oh man, when you're adapting a Japanese manga into a live-action movie and the main character is named Goku, don't go with the white Canadian kid as your star. All the source material is Japanese. All of it. So of course this adaptation chose Justin Chatwin to play Goku and Emmy Rossum as Bulma. It's offensive on every level.

The 10 Worst Examples of Movie Whitewashing From the Last 15 Years

4) Lone Ranger

Unlike Last Airbender and Dragonball, this is one franchise that wasn't particularly revered before it became a movie -- and a big part of that was the way the original TV series handles Native Americans. And when you update a character that is seen by some as a degrading stereotype, you want to do it with a lot of care. OR you can put Johnny Depp in white make up and put a stuffed bird on his head. And then the debate can be about whether or not Depp really has some Native American blood, rather than whether the character was even a good idea in the first place.

The 10 Worst Examples of Movie Whitewashing From the Last 15 Years

5) Exodus: Gods and Kings, 6) Noah and 7) The Passion of the Christ

Let's just lump all the Biblical epics together, since they all have the exact same set of problems. All of the Bible stories take place in the Middle East and the people in them are Middle Eastern. Exodus: Gods and Kings had Christian Bale as Moses, Joel Edgerton as Ramses II, Sigourney Weaver as Tuya and Aaron Paul as Joshua. And then 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. I'm just not going to get it financed. So the question doesn't even come up.

Which managed to be both truthful about the state of Hollywood and offensive at the same time.

Noah went with Russell Crowe as the titular character, after offering it to the also-whites Christian Bale and Michael Fassbender. Co-writer Ari Handel said that everything was based on Crowe's casting and they even made sure to make everyone white so that it wouldn't look like the nonwhites were being punished.

And finally, The Passion of the Christ also went with white actors for its leads. In every single case, The Ten Commandments, which is from 1956, looms large as an obvious influence. Both in terms of being a Biblical epic and in casting choices.

The 10 Worst Examples of Movie Whitewashing From the Last 15 Years

8) Star Trek Into Darkness

When the name of the villain is "Khan Noonien Singh" and you cast Benedict Cumberbatch to play him, you've done something very wrong. Especially when that character was etched into the public consciousness by the performance of Ricardo Montalbán. To be fair, having a Mexican actor play a Sikh character in the first place was an odd notion -- but that was a long time ago, and if anything, this feels like a step backwards.

The 10 Worst Examples of Movie Whitewashing From the Last 15 Years

9) Prince of Persia

A movie called Prince of Persia cast Jake Gyllenhaal as its titular character. And then doubled down, by making sure none of the other main characters were played by actors of Iranian, Middle Eastern or Muslim descent.

The 10 Worst Examples of Movie Whitewashing From the Last 15 Years

10) Pan

The role of Tiger Lily, a Native American character, was given to the decidedly-white Rooney Mara. Director Joe Wright supposedly envisioned an "international and multi-racial world" which would challenge the traditional view of Peter Pan. Of course, the only challenge was in turning the nonwhite character into a white person. The leads all remained white.

I'm giving an honourable mention to Cloud Atlas -- which is only left off this list because putting actors in yellow face is something even worse than whitewashing.

These are only ten notable examples. And only from the last 15 years. There is no reason for anyone to still be casting white people in nonwhite roles. And every time this happens, there are complaints. And the responses are always that they cast "the best person" for the role. But that usually just means the most famous name they can get. And since the status quo is that those are white people, the roles always end up being whitewashed. It is way past time for this practice to stop.

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    Dragonball Evolution is one of the most horrible movies in existence.

      I am trying very hard to wiped it off my memories ...

      Last edited 01/03/16 6:47 pm

        I thought I did until I saw it as the article feature picture haha

    Is it the same when as when Randle park plays a chinese father in fresh off the boat? or when an american plays a british person like robert downey jr plays sherlock holmes?

    Not trying to bait a response but in a more grey area like what i said does it still matter?

      You can't be racist against white people. Jesus what were you thinking?

        If the social justice warriors didn't actually believe this I'd be pissing myself, of course it helps if you've written your own dictionary, and populated it with 'new and improved' definitions of any word whose actual meaning you find 'problematic'.

        In breaking news:

        Western movie company casts actors that will appeal to it's largest target demographic, in order to maximise profits and fulfill their fiscal responsibility to their shareholders.

        Meanwhile, in other news SJWs get offended on behalf of everyone who never asked them to, and no one really cares ... or should!

      "Is it the same when as when Randle park plays a chinese father in fresh off the boat? or when an american plays a british person like robert downey jr plays sherlock holmes?"

      Ummm no? because they aren't races, they are ethnicities, there's a fairly big fucking difference.

    Goku isn't even from Earth so that ones a bit stupid to complain about.

    Last edited 01/03/16 3:26 pm

      Goku is a unique case. You're right, Goku is technically an alien, but by some miracle of the universe, is humanoid and almost indistinguishable from a human. So why do we assume Goku to look Asian? Because he's a character in a setting made a Japanese creator, given a Japanese name by another character who also has a Japanese name. In such a setting, it's pretty natural to assume Goku is going to look more like Kimura Takuya than some white guy.

      This is pretty standard in all Japanese anime/manga. Unless stated otherwise, all characters are assumed Japanese or Japanese looking. The closest example in Western media I can think of would be Superman. Alien from another planet that by some miracle of the universe is humanoid and indistinguishable from humans appearance wise and of all the skin tones available in the human species, Superman happens to be white. So yeah, Goku for all intents and purposes is assumed and expected by everyone, fans and non fans alike, to look Asian.

      EDIT: I'm actually going to add to the argument with the fact that he is an alien makes it even more ridiculous that all of all the actors they could have chosen, they choose a white Canadian. It's damning regardless how you look at it. Whitewash what is essentially an Asian character or making the alien white out of all possible skin tones on Earth because there's no way an alien could be any other skin colour right?

      Last edited 01/03/16 9:37 pm

        almost indistinguishable from a human

        Except for the big tail and turning into a giant ape whenever there's a full moon right?

        Funny how they got half-asian Dean Cain to play Superman on Lois & Clark! Or how asian Kristin Kreuk played Lana Lang on Smallville. Darn yellow-washing!

    The biblical epics just follow up on the whitewashing of the Bible pretty much across the board.

    Try to find an image of Jesus where he doesn't look like a white guy in a robe with somewhat long hair and a shortish beard. Google "pictures of Jesus" and see what crops up.

    With Noah there's a slim excuse - as Noah was supposedly the ancestor of all surviving humans, in theory his race could have been anything. I doubt that that logic had any part in the casting of the movie, however.

    In theory as Khan (in Star Trek) was a genetically engineered super-soldier his racial appearance could be pretty much anything. On the other hand, as most of the genetic material on Earth is non-white, it would be odd for him to wind up with white skin.

    Doesn't really affect the overall point, however.

    Does Edge of Tomorrow count at whitewashing? It's based on a Japanese book with Japanese characters yet, all the movie characters are white. Admittedly, the movie changed names and characters and location.

    i really enjoyed Lone Ranger. i mean it was Johnny Depp, he could play a basketball with a blood handprint as a face and he'd be amazing.

      Guessing you haven't seen "Mortdecai" then?

        no i havnt. was Johnny Depp bad, or was the writing and story bad?

    The latest uproar with casting is casting a white actor to play Iron Fist for Netflix's upcoming Marvel projects.

    People wanted them to effectively 'un-whitewash' the role to change if from a white character in the comics to an asian character in the show.

    Is this considered as bad as the above?

    Are you upset that a white guy is doing martial arts on screen even if its 100% accurate to the source?

    Why you angry?

      This is a good point, but I would say it is worse to "whitewash" than to "asianwash" because by white washing you are really denying minorities a chance to act and there are already so few opportunities for them. I mean honestly how many Leading Asian actors are there in Hollywood? (Maybe that Asian guy from Harold and Kumar?)

    Aloha got a pretty bad rap for whitewashing last year, thanks to the Emma Stone casting of a native Hawaiian. Thats on a scale at least as bad as some on this list.

    Can't wait for this same article to show up after Scarlett Johansson stars in Ghost in the Shell.

    I get so much of this stuff at uni all the time that it would be just fantastic not to have it pop up on Giz too. Maybe I'm missing the point but no one complains when western remakes of Japanese horror are aimed at western audiences, so who cares when western remakes/adaptions of other media are aimed at western audiences? These movies in particular exist to make money and it's naive to expect film companies to do any different just because a few bloggers on the internet complain about it.

      Yeah I can't believe a fictional sci-fi character like Khan was played by a white guy.... totally something to be worried about in 2016.....

      Like when "Seven Samurai" was remade into "Magnificent Seven" - and all the actors became gunslingers instead of Japanese Samurai / Ronin?

    Never watched it, but in the two stills from the avatar cartoon you have up there both characters clearly have blue eyes. Seems a pretty good clue that they aren't necessarily Asian. As for the biblical epics, last time I checked Jews were pretty white.

      With Anime source, given most anime characters have big round eyes and non Asian coloured eyes, and many have blonde hair, it's not exactly like they're striving for them to appear as Asian as possible.

      Last edited 01/03/16 4:47 pm

      People of the jewish religion are white. because mote are actually European. The Jewish people, as in those who escaped Egypt etc, are middle eastern.

    No one is saying everyone called "Tonto" must be a native American, but Tonto was a native American in the source material, so there was really no reason to cast a white guy except that they thought Johnny Depp would somehow perform magic and make The Lone Ranger into the next Pirates of the Caribbean by being the wacky slightly mad sidekick everyone loves. Same goes for the casting of Tiger Lily in Pan. An established Native American character turned white by casting for no particular reason.

    In Avatar the polar water tribes are clearly analogous to Inuit tribes. In fact, in the movie, they got Inuit to play the water tribe members - with the exception of Sokka and Katara, who were the only water tribe characters that mattered to the story and had speaking roles. Unless they were adopted, the fact they're white doesn't even make sense genetically in the world the movie takes place.

    Iin Star Trek Khan was an augmented human in a distant future where racial and national barriers no longer existed or mattered so there's no reason he couldn't be any race, but they portrayed him using a Mexican-American actor in the 70s and 80s so the change was rather odd. Granted, the JJ Abrams reboot-verse seems to be accepted as an alternate universe to established Trek canon so really the fact Khan was white was far less weird than the fact the audience was supposed to recognise Khan and his history and his established conflict with the Federation in the first place.

    As someone else stated above Goku is actually an alien so there's no reason for him to be Japanese-looking, other than the fact that Goku and the other Saiyans pretty much looked the same as the rest of the characters so we can assume they were all racially similar - irrespective of what that race was. Since the source was Japanese, we're supposed to assume everyone in the manga/show was Japanese, or at least looked like it. Having a mixed cast while not inherently a bad thing, was a tad odd. I just wish we lived in a universe where alleged whitewashing was DBE's worst crime, rather than all the different ways it was terrible.

    Edit: either I've reply-failed or the comment I was replying to got removed. Anyway, I think this comment stands alone even if the intro is a bit weirdly disjointed.

    Last edited 01/03/16 3:58 pm

      You've pretty well summed it up.

      Characters who are specified as being of a particular ethnicity (and for a particular reason) eg Tonto, an effort should at least be made to get it right.

      Characters who people have a preconceived notion of what ethnicity they are...but is never actually specified in the source material, IT MAKES NO DIFFERENCE. I'm looking at you Hermione Granger outrage.

      Some discretion has to be allowed for casting a certain cailbre of talent, and as Ted pointed out, there are plenty of remakes or reinvisionings of much loved works, and that's fine. Just don't try to tell us that some clearly white actor is actually of a particular ethnicity. It's as insulting to the audience as it is to the marginalised.

    Ridley Scott's comment as offensive and jerkish as it is, doesn't stop being true. With these Hollywood blockbusters you can either be culturally and ethnically conscious or you can be successful (when success is defined by the higher percentage of your enormous country's chiefly white people go to see it). Society's values have to shift first (and thankfully, they're slowly shifting) and then mass-consumer big-budget entertainment properties will follow, if only to cash in. It's almost disingenuous to expect the opposite.

      Should Hollywood start casting better and thus changing hearts and minds? Ie if you see more non whites in leading roles are you more likely to accept this? Or should everyone's hearts and mind change before Hollywood changes? A bit of a chicken egg situation, Hollywood won't change because people won't accept non white leads and non white leads aren't accepted because you don't see them because Hollywood doesn't cast them.

        Nah, people and society will change and are already changing (even if there are still some big pockets of resistance) because blockbusters are not the only thing out there capable to shape thinking. Independent films, and other forms of art and free-thinking expression are at the lead of improving society standards and always have been.

        To use a classical example, progress should be expected from the Marcus Ciceros of the world, not from attending a gladiatorial arena event at the Roman circus. When society progressed, the gladiatorial arena disappeared.

        The problem (for Hollywood) is how terrifyingly expensive the big budget movies have become. Imagine investing a quarter of a billion dollars in a movie where the majority of your audience is not going to recognise any of the actors. Maybe they could make the majority of the cast race appropriately but then you wind up with one or two main leads who aren't so they stick out like a sore thumb and they go for an all white cast instead (the Noah situation).

        Not saying it's right, but when there is so much money at stake I can't imagine them doing otherwise. It's a catch-22 really, until you have more ethnically diverse actors becoming really popular they're going to be risk adverse. And of course if they won't take a risk how do the actors get to be popular?

        Maybe it's time they stopped spending 200 mil on a movie expecting it to rake in a billion dollars and started making movies for 25 mil and looking to make 100 mil out of them.

        Or maybe people need to be a bit more thick skinned and just realise that it's actors pretending to be someone else. After all in the past you had men playing womens roles on stage. And lets be honest the dude pretending to be a cop or a soldier or a magician isn't really any of those things either.

        Last edited 24/04/16 4:05 pm

    The issue should be solely focused on an individual's chance to be in a movie regardless of their background. Not what we think the appropriate skin colour of an actor should be be based on an assumption of the ethnicity of the character they are portraying.

    hi hi....

    My previous post has been removed because of inappropriate content. Good one Gizmodo mods...
    What about all the other post in which I insulted authors/contributors? I guess the mod didnt remove those because he/she agreed with my comments regardless of my language but when I actually post something a bit more intelligent that has a valid point it gets removed.

    Anyway, I will repost my question just to annoy the mod, maybe I can get this one to stick. :)

    So... I'm trying to understand something here and it is a genuine question.

    If my name is Tonto, what the author implies is that I MUST be Native American whenever I'm publicly represented in movies or on TV, otherwise it is considered whitewashing. Isn't that stereotyping?! What?! All Native Americans are the same colour and wear the same clothes and only they can do it? If your answer is yes...I recommend you see someone that can help you (I`m serious)

    Then I went on and politely recommended the wonderful author of this great post to proceed towards her computer and gently logon to Facebook and to post there a movie of a crazy cat. Then I tried to explain that frustrations and subjective and unilateral opinions are not meant to be posted on public digital spaces (as reports or as public articles) as they do not reflect the opinion of the majority and it is considered media control, indoctrination, social influencing or opinion manipulation. Of course I used a very gentle and polite vocabulary, typical of me. :)

    Love you Gizmodo, but not spiritually. ;)

    Last edited 01/03/16 5:18 pm


    We recently had the fun release of 'Annie'! As much as I like the actors, its was a 'blacks-clamation' comment, and there was very little media about it.
    Generally if your feeling all upset about a casting of an non-violtent oopha-loompa as the key uncontrolled super-villian on the next y-women movie, then your lift is spent way too far inside a rectangle view

    The earliest example i remember of highlander (barring the 50s/60s sinbad / jason & the argonauts and biblical movies) is highlander.

    They had a french guy playing a scotsman, and a scotsman playing an egyptian. (im scots, but of pakistani descent.. so this stuck with me for some reason). makes no sense, i tell ya....

    When the name of the villain is “Khan Noonien Singh”....
    having a Mexican actor play a Sikh character
    Khan is a Muslim surname. Singh is a Sikh surname. Noonien sounds made up (or I've got NFI on that one). So is a Muslim a specific colour or race? And Sikhs can be anywhere from dark to a light wheatish colour. So having a Mexican play the role is neither accurate not offensive since the name of the character doesn't match with a single race, religion or skin colour.

      In the Trek future, national and cultural barriers like race and religion no longer exist. Khan Noonien Singh, while his names might reflect a distinct cultural heritage (which are confused by Ricardo Montalban being of Mexican ancestry), is nothing more than an "augmented human".

        Great, so no one should be offended at his appearance then, or at the race of the person playing that character!

        Last edited 02/03/16 8:16 am

          I agree. While I appreciate there is apparently a culture of whitewashing and it seems logical that they should've gotten a Mexican or a middle-eastern actor to play Khan, there's no actual reason why he couldn't be a white guy too. It's certainly not on the same level as some of the other complaints.

    In Cloud Atlas, they could have at least tried for the asian characters being mixed race asian. That would've been more plausible in a future world.

    Muslim descent.
    so Muslim is a race and depicts your appearance? you taking lessons from Trump?

    A human being ACTING in the role of another human being. Oh the horror!

      Point.. missed.

        Sorry, I will try and explain it clearer to you.

        The thing is the person playing the role is pretending to be another person, they are not the other person, so one would hope that the makers of the movie would get a person who can act, or pretend to be someone else very convincingly. If they cannot then the movie will probably be crap.

        If it is a story based on a real person, if the actual person could fill the role and actually look convincing in the movie that would be great, unfortunately most people would be crap at it, so they need to get someone who is convincing to pretend to be them. If the story is actually good then the race, gender etc of the person pretending does not matter. There are minor exceptions for movies about actual racist, sexist etc events or people.

    To be fair, Noah is a fictional character set in a time before race, so you could have him being played by any race really.

      Well now I'm interested!
      In the Noah movie did Ham's skin turn black when Noah cursed him?

    No No NO! The author has zero respect for Egyptian mythology!

    The only god with black skin should be Anubis!

    A good default color for other gods is sacred white, with the following reasonable exceptions:

    Amon & Thoth blue.
    Osiris Yellow or Green.
    Seth Red.

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