May 13, 2012

How Hollywood executives think

Whitewashing, a history

From "Tiffany's" to "Khan," we look at Hollywood's illustrious tradition of casting white actors in non-white roles

By Aasif Mandvi
The extraordinary box office success of "The Hunger Games" has launched a heated discussion of Hollywood's peculiar habit of casting white actors in nonwhite roles. Why does this happen? We decided to turn to a very important studio chief for answers--channeled here by comedian (and "Daily Show" correspondent) Aasif Mandvi.

All I have to say is that whitewashing has been going on since as long as Hollywood has existed—it’s a tradition—and rather than non-white people complaining about it, they should embrace it. It will make going to the movies so much easier and more fun. But there are just a few things you need to understand.

First, stop watching movies as ethnic people and start watching them as white people. There’s nothing that white people like more than seeing other white people in movies and on television. When you go to the movies with your ethnic “judgment” eyes, you miss my point. Watch as a white person, and suddenly your outrage turns to understanding and laughter.

Take a minute to walk to your limousine in my Gucci shoes, and you’ll realize that I’m just trying to make people smile. Mickey Rooney with buckteeth and a crazy accent in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”? It’s so much funnier than finding a real Chinese actor just talking like himself. Then you’d have to get a screenwriter to actually write genuinely funny lines for that character. You get so much more comedy bang with buckteeth and a funny accent. I mean, it made me laugh. Many people, including myself, were also convinced that Charlton Heston truly was a Mexican/Native American/Egyptian/Ape who talked to God. And I think I convinced a lot of Asians that Genghis Khan really did look like John Wayne back in the ’60s. “Short Circuit” was one of my biggest hit movies and I was completely convinced that Fisher Stevens was Indian. Who knew he was a Jewish guy from New York? That accent was spot on!

My point is, I’m not the bad guy. I’m just the rich guy. When you look at it through my studio executive lens, you understand how important it is that both white people and non-white people believe that Indians, Asians, Mexicans and Arabs are truly just white people in brown makeup. I don’t like thinking that way. I just don’t have the luxury not to. I’m a businessman. White people spend more money on shit than anyone else. (Except on fast food, which is mostly blacks and Mexicans … at least that’s what I have heard. I’m a vegan.) So hey, non-Caucasians, stop buying tacos and start buying Cadillacs.

White people are also cheaper to light than dark-skinned people, and just so you know, you the moviegoer end up paying for that extra cost. Sometimes it’s just too unbelievable to cast an ethnic actor. I turned away a lovely Indian actress once who auditioned for the role of a hobbit. I mean there are no Indian hobbits. Audiences would never believe that.
Comment:  For more on the subject, see Think Like a Man Shatters Hollywood Myths and Open Letter to Johnny Depp's Tonto.


Anonymous said...

Basically, Hollywood has a habit of thinking viewers are morons. You can see it everywhere.

dmarks said...

"Many people, including myself, were also convinced that Charlton Heston truly was a Mexican/Native American/Egyptian/Ape who talked to God"

The writer has a poor knowledge of film history to think that because Heston was in "Planet of the Apes" that he played an ape.

The headline mention of "Khan" made me think of Star Trek rather than Genghis. At this point the Star Trek one is more well known. Here you have the interesting case of a Latino actor playing a character who would appear to have been India Indian.