Social Commentary No. 6 “Why Hollywood’s Obsession with Whitewashing is the Ultimate act of Betrayal”

I find it truly disingenuous and an egregious act of woeful ignorance, that at the start of Black History Month in the US, the image of the Black woman is still being erased and replaced! If like me, you are fed-up with racially-insensitive miscasting, keep reading and let me know your views below…

Lauded for her African beauty, Queen Nefertiti is one of the most famous queens of ancient Egypt – which is why on the American talk show TODAY the more Caucasian-looking reconstructed bust, left many people scratching their heads.

Using preserved remains, modern technology, and painstaking artistry, a team led by ‘Expedition Unknown‘s’ Josh Gates presented a reconstruction of what King Tut’s mother would have looked like in her full royal regalia.

The colourful headdress, bejewelled collar, and intricate earrings are all befitting of an Egyptian queen. However, this version of Nefertiti has skin that looks freshly tanned as opposed to a skin tone of someone born with sun kissed pigment in her DNA.

When most people think of ancient Egyptian queens, they think of elegant, powerful women with beautiful brown skin. The Nefertiti the TODAY show unveiled looks more like a white suburban mum playing dress-up for Halloween!

Whitewashing is a casting practice in the film industry in which white actors are cast in historically non-white roles. In the early 20th century, white actors’ caricatured different races by wearing ‘blackface’ or ‘yellowface’ – commonly exaggerating the perceived stereotypes of other races.

For example, the white actor Warner Oland played the Chinese detective Charlie Chan. Because of the lack of characters of colour in the film industry, these roles were well received at the time by minorities. However, as films became more racially integrated by the mid-20th century, blackface was considered politically incorrector so we thought! The film Othello (1965), the white actor Laurence Olivier was cast as “the Moor.” He wore blackface as the title character.

The BBC said in 2015, “The practice of casting white actors in non-white roles is still prevalent in Hollywood – despite widespread condemnation and protest.” The BBC explored two reasons for the casting practice:

  1. Institutional racism and
  2. Producers believing that well-known white actors attract more audiences and maximise profits.

Recent films such as ‘Gods of Egypt’, ‘Aloha’, ‘Exodus: Gods and Kings’, ‘Noah’ and ‘A Mighty Heart’ – have severely damaged the presence and role of Black people in both historical based, Biblical or autobiographical films.

If directors want to be true to their art, they would cast according to the race of the character. However, there is an assumption in Hollywood that whites avoid movies with majority black casts – with may producers believing Black actors are not as ‘good’ or will fail to generate enough profit.

By engaging in such discriminatory practices, the film industry, like many other industries is institutionally racist – Directors, producers and casting agents, deliberately eliminate and offend a whole race of people. This is not only dis-respectful, but also inaccurate in terms of profit margins. Actors such as Will SmithDenzel Washington and Samuel L. Jackson have starred in films that have been the highest grossing films of all time.