When it comes to Hollywood films, nurse the reality is that, pharmacy more often than not, web those of us coming from backgrounds of color or multi-ethnicity have been excluded from the on-screen depictions of so called “relatable” stories. To add insult to injury, when people of color are included in making of tales untold, the roles created and made available for said actors are often obviously manipulated by the hands of white executives, usually resulting in a lack of character complexity or the persistence of stereotypical molds, which leave viewers with the subtle but profound and adamant impression that, once again, people of color are subhuman.
As a young biracial woman who recognizes her close proximity to whiteness, I didn’t always question the lack of diversity on and behind the screens I was presented growing up. Though I didn’t relate to a great deal of physical aspects of the characters I was exposed to, seeing women with similar light skin, eyes, and hair didn’t immediately present a challenge to me. What was always clear to me, however, was the homogeneity of the families given glory in the films I was setting out to view, and how the overarching whiteness of them was a foreign and isolating concept to me–especially when exposed to predominantly black-casted films at an early age, such as “The Cookout”, “Barbershop”, “Friday”, “Boyz n the Hood”, and others. But even those were often limited in their scope of potential black identities, as well as their quantity of films similar. The film “Precious” exposed all viewers to the reality of medical dangers posed towards black American communities, and films like “Love and Basketball” or “Love Jones” celebrated and explored black love, but lacking still was the depiction of black people, or most people of color for that matter, as anything but sub or super-human–and only few directors, such as Spike Lee or Tyler Perry, were being given the platform to do so.
With age, though, it became clear to me that more than just a lack of diversity within families, there was and still is a lack of representation of humans of all different colors (besides white) and from different and varying backgrounds within the mainstream media–that which is being presented and absorbed by the majority of audiences in the United States. Even deeper than the simple (and easily rectifiable) issue of a lack of diversity in Hollywood is the perpetuation of colorism–prejudice or discrimination against individuals with a dark skin tone, typically but not exclusively practiced among people of the same ethnic or racial group. Common claims from Hollywood filmmakers or defenders of such media are such that they consider themselves to be fulfilling needs and requests for diversity by hiring the lightest-skinned members of racial or ethnic groups–people who are not necessarily undeserving of the roles they are hired for, but who still operate on a certain level of privilege in comparison to their darker counterparts. For example, in the film “Nina”, director Cynthia Mort was heavily criticized for her choice of Zoe Saldana for the role of Nina Simone, a musical legend and civil rights activist, as well as a dark-skinned black woman. Zoe Saldana, considerably lighter than Nina Simone, plays the role of the singer-songwriter with makeup and physical alterations throughout the entire film–never genuinely resembling the likeness of Nina Simone. A just and alternate choice for this role would have easily been a capable, qualified, darker-skinned black woman, rather than that of a light-skinned woman. This decision ultimately perpetuated the idea that those with lighter skin tones are the only ones worthy of screen time, and also disrespected Nina Simone’s legacy of black activism and pride.
The whitewashing of black people and culture isn’t the only kind that goes on, however. From rumors about picking names such as Jennifer Lawrence for characters such as Mulan, to actual castings of Jake Gyllenhaal as a Persian prince, Mickey Rooney as the Japanese Yunioshi in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”, or Natalie Wood (white) as the Puerto Rican lead Maria in “West Side Story”, this shameless disregard for on and off-screen representation of cultures from all across the world has not only prevented actors of color from securing roles and telling genuine stories, but has also allowed for the negative perceptions of such cultures to be perpetuated.
In order to rectify this ongoing and institutionalized practice of whitewashing in Hollywood, women and men of color need to be desired and hired during the creative processes of filmmaking, not just when it becomes convenient to place them on screen. People of color need to be trusted and sought after to create their own stories, and to relay their multifaceted experiences to actually physically and intellectually diversify Hollywood. Whether this means being funded to create their own culture-specific production companies or enterprises, or simply being a part of the decision-making process for scripts and cinematic direction, people of color must be included in all elements of storytelling and filmmaking in Hollywood in order for the real, complex, varying, and always-developing identities of humans of color to be done justice on and off the screen.
Written by Zoe Mills