Whitewashing in Hollywood

Whitewashing in Hollywood

I’ve recently started reading The Hunger Games trilogy, and while I can’t really say I loved the books – they seem too bland and blah for me – I realise this may have something to do with the movie. I’m one of those people who saw the movie and then read the books, I was never too interested in buying the books, so when the ‘Hunger Games’ movie premiered on TV the other day, I thought I’d catch it to see what the fuss was all about.

Again, while I didn’t hate the movie, I wasn’t a huge fan of it, either. Maybe because all the main characters were so bland and forgettable. You can probably tell I’m one of those people who finds Jennifer Lawrence to be overrated. And I didn’t like the guy playing Peeta, either.

So when I saw the books in my local library, I thought I’d give it a whirl – and almost instantly, I was struck by the fact that the actors look nothing like the way they’re described in the books. Katniss is described with olive skin (as is Gale), which brought to my mind someone of African-American/Hispanic/Native Amercian/Meditteranean/Indian Subcontinent heritage. Hell, maybe even Inuit heritage, given that the Hunger Games world is set in a future North America.

In the movies, of course, this was translated to – white actors with spray tans.

Whitewashing in Hollywood

Which was when I started noticing it in other movies, as well – ‘The Prince of Persia’ movie, for one. All the principal characters in the movie are white people with tans. Pretty much the only people with any Middle Eastern/non-Caucasian background are Ben Kingsley and Naveen Andrews – who are of Asian descent, anyway. And of course, the extras.

I remember someone saying somewhere that this holds true for most people – we populate our mental worlds with people just like us. The example they gave was of a Chinese person in a writing class who said that any book she read, she imagined the characters to be chinese. If they were described as a white, blonde, Russian, they were a blonde haired, fair skinned Chinese person living in Russia.

Evidently, this means most movie executives are white males, since they tend to see white people everywhere.

This reminds me of something I’d read some time back – the fact that most books feature white protagonists. I remember most of my stories when I was a kid featured Bobs and Richards instead of any Indians. The first time it really struck me, though, was when my third grade teacher – Mrs. Menon – asked all the students in her class to write their own books. The idea of the exercise was that the class would have their own ‘library’ of self made books to read in their free time, displayed at the back on the classroom, hung up on a long string.

I remember I wrote (and illustrated) something called ‘To the Centre of the Earth in 40 Days’. I can’t recall what the book was actually about, but I still remember what Mrs. Menon said to me when she saw it.

‘Why don’t you write something original?’

Which was a bit of a shock for me, given that all my English writing assignments till that day had been met with glowing praise. But her words have been affected me more deeply then I realise – even now – because I still have a horror of writing anything that seems ‘inspired’ by others. A bit strange, really, when I think of how much fanfiction I wrote.

I do remember, though, that my third grade ‘book’ was full of Jacks and Elizabeths – no one even remotely Indian. All my life, I’d read about English or even American kids, so it was what I wrote. And while I did try to change my writing style, it was to be years later that I started writing about Indian protagonists.

It is a little saddening.

Additional reading: 25 characters Hollywood whitewashed
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[mood|whitewashing in hollywood introspective]
[music| The Sore Feet Song: Ally Kerr]

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