By Sammy Park
The film Breakfast at Tiffany’s is critically acclaimed and many consider it to be a “defining” moment of the 1960s. In the film, Mr. Yunioshi is one of the most offensive caricatures of East Asians and is played by Mickey Rooney, a white man. Not having proper representation leads to a twisted view of not only oneself but of others as well. Truthfully portraying people who have previously been negatively stereotyped will positively affect victims of racist stereotypes.
Presently, the caricaturization of people of color like in Breakfast at Tiffany’s is often not shown, however, the whitewashing of characters of color is. Whitewashing is the practice of hiring white people to portray people of color. Whitewashing simulates diversity, but is not true representation. The lack of diversity in the media is getting harder to ignore as the diversity throughout America increases. The recently released movie Aloha sheds light on Hollywood’s whitewashing issue.
In Aloha, Emma Stone plays Allison Ng. Allison is written to be Native Hawaiian and Chinese. The problem with Cameron Crowe’s choice for Allison Ng to be played by a white woman is extremely disheartening because the creators of Aloha had a chance to show an accurate, diverse Hawaiian, but instead they opted out with a white woman.
Janet Mock, who is a Native Hawaiian, discussed Aloha on her new show, So Popular. “Whiteness is centered, Hawaii and Hawaiian culture is appropriated, and Native Hawaiians are nowhere to be seen,” Mock said.
Another instance of whitewashing is the film adaptation of the animated childhood classic Avatar: The Last Airbender. The show stars Noah Ringer (Aang), Nicola Peltz (Katara), and Jackson Rathbone (Sokka); they are all white actors playing people of color. In fact, the only person of color with a main role is the villainous Dev Patel (Zuko). The choice to cast white actors in Avatar: The Last Airbender is extremely disappointing because the core fanbase of the TV show is not white.
The aspect of whitewashing that makes it frustrating is that when TV shows or movies do not show people of color in their narratives, they are sending a message that we do not exist. Constant refusal to cast Asians as obviously Asian characters is violent. The media we consume should reflect the amount of diversity not only in America, but the world. Despite the countless attempts of the media to portray a white world, we cannot be erased.