Whitewashing in Modern Film

Jessica Pellegrino – General Assignment Reporter

Recently, a trailer was released for the upcoming “historical” film Stonewall, which chronicles the 1969 Stonewall riot, a quintessential movement in the progression of gays rights. The only problem? The film depicts the leader of the movement as a cisgender, white, homosexual male, when in reality, the movement was lead, in part, by a black transgender woman. In fact, the trailer shows very few traces of any characters of color. This obviously set a lot of film goers off on the wrong foot.

This is only the most recent act of whitewashing to come out of Hollywood in the last 70 years. Even before movies were in color, white men and women have proudly donned blackface and yellowface, presenting themselves as characters exaggerating perceived stereotypes about minority groups. Some of the greats like Charlie Chaplin and Elizabeth Taylor have partaken in this negative act of whitewashing.

But the most recent trope from Hollywood seems to be the all-American white man finding enlightenment in a minority driven historical event. Some recent examples include 12 Years a Slave and Django Unchained. These “poignant,” male-driven scripts won Oscars and put actors on the map.

These stories keep coming. The films keep getting made. The cogs of the white-run world keep turning.

The problem with this depiction lies not in the actors included, but the stories that will never see the light of day. Transgender erasure is a reason for hate crimes, stereotyping, and perpetuation of the prejudice that keeps the transgendered people a disenfranchised group. The filmmakers of “Stonewall” chose the less comfortable path to take and frankly, it will not fly.

Movies like these do not even merit the title of a historical film. When you are writing a story to shed light on an issue, you cannot just pick and choose pieces, and inject characters where you erased others.

Movies like these diminish cultures and disregard real human beings. This issue first came into my life a few years ago. Growing up, The Lone Ranger was one of my favorite television shows. Naturally, when I heard there was going to be a movie remake of the show, I was beyond excited.

It was not long before the reality of the situation hit me like a bag of bricks. Rather than hiring a Native American person to play Tonto, the filmmakers decided it would be more lucrative to cast a big name Hollywood star. Johnny Depp went on to play the role. Johnny Depp wore obscenely exaggerated face makeup for the entire movie, just to hide the fact that he is not Native American in the slightest degree.

That is what it boils down to. Money runs the film industry, so it was more lucrative for the film makers of Stonewall to cast a white male as their protagonist. Filmgoers could easily see themselves in a white male protagonist and relate to them.

This attitude is toxic. This tradition of erasing heroes is depressing and it shares the practice of common core history books all around the country. The heroes and leaders of every revolution and everything that makes America great were not all white.



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