Nearly two weeks ago, Karlie Kloss posed as a geisha for the “diversity-themed” issue of Vogue which irked those who are against whitewashing. The 24-year-old was clad in kimono-like dresses with her makeup imitating the geishas’ pale looks. She likewise posed beside a sumo wrestler in one of the shots.
“These images appropriate a culture that is not my own, and I am truly sorry for participating in a shoot that was not culturally sensitive,” she tweeted to her more than 2 million followers. “My goal is, and will always be, to empower and inspire women. I will ensure my future shoots and projects reflect that mission. Sincerely, Karlie.”
Many expressed disappointment that Vogue and the Victoria’s Secret model committed cultural appropriation or used elements from other cultures that are not theirs. They found the spread offensive, especially that the issue was supposed to celebrate diversity. Some argued that the magazine could have asked an actual Japanese lady to pose for the spread to display the country’s rich traditions.
Apart from Karlie, fans called out Scarlett Johansson’s casting for Ghost in the Shell as a glaring example of whitewashing. Scarlett appeared in the film’s full-length trailer last week. The 32-year-old will give life to the “Americanized version” of the Japanese manga’s lead, Major Motoko Kusanagi.
Even if the casting was announced in 2014, fans of the well-known manga still hold strong opinions about Paramount Pictures’ decision. They have suggested an array of other Japanese actresses more fit for the role such as Tao Okamoto and Rinko Kikuchi. Scarlett herself talked about the controversy in an issue of Marie Claire.
“I certainly would never presume to play another race of a person. Diversity is important in Hollywood, and I would never want to feel like I was playing a character that was offensive.”
Despite its Japanese roots, the upcoming Ghost in the Shell film only features one Asian actor for the lead role – Singaporean Chin Han who will play Togusa.
Whitewashing can be detrimental to a story with diverse characters. It rubs out the unique identities of the characters which would have made the story more compelling. When Doctor Strange came out, some questioned the casting of Tilda Swinton as Stephen Strange’s mentor, The Ancient One.
In the original comics, The Ancient Once is a male Tibetan. Star Trek‘s George Takei branded the casting “cringeworthy.” He believes that producers opted to cast the British actress because they think “white audiences want to see white faces.”
“All the arguments in the world don’t change the fact that Hollywood offers very few roles to Asian actors, and when one comes along, they hire a white actor to do it, for whatever the reasons. Until that mindset can change, and the studios do something to stop this practice (Remember The Last Airbender? Aloha?) I will continue to speak out.”
Director Scott Derrickson said that they selected Tilda not for being “white” but for her capability to exude a mystical appeal.
When Disney announced its plan for a live remake of Mulan, the hashtag #MakeMulanRight trended because a leaked script revealed that the studio allegedly planned to pair Mulan with a European sailor.
A petition similarly surfaced pleading Disney to not whitewash the tale of the courageous girl. For fans, the remake should focus on Mulan’s determination to protect her family by defying gender expectations and not on her romance with a “white man.”
Disney assured fans that the script for the 2018 film was nothing but a speculative one. The studio said that all primary roles would be Chinese including Mulan’s love interest.
[Featured Image by Mark Nolan/Getty Images for David Jones]