The Great Wall: Is It Whitewashing?   3 comments

So we’re here again with another Hollywood movie set in another country that’s not the US with the main character played by a white actor. We’ve seen this happen time and time again over the years and the last few years have seen people on social media calling out Hollywood for whitewashing. But is it, though? For the people living in the US, from our perspective and without further knowledge from the inner workings of Hollywood, yes. From an outsider’s perspective, not so much.

Whitewashing is a big problem in Hollywood movies. It stems from the industry culture that a movie will not do well overseas or attract producers/investors if the the main character (or the cast in general) are no name actors. And what does Hollywood have? Lots of well known white actors. To sell a movie overseas, they would need to include an up and coming, rising, seasoned, or veteran performer. Depending on the intent or source material for the movie, casting based on profitability causes problems as far as authenticity is concerned.

If a studio were to shoot some random fantasy movie in China about ancient China, investors in the board room would probably say things like this:

Investors: “I like this movie concept. But you know what would be nice? If it had MATT DAMON!!!”

It doesn’t matter if these investors are American or Chinese. As far as the studio and the filmmakers are concerned, the investors have the money. Not only that, investors act on behalf of their target audience. For The Great Wall‘s case, it’s the Chinese market. China has a big movie industry with lots of big name actors. But Chinese moviegoers also love Hollywood movies. The whole world loves Hollywood. The movies. The actors. The culture. Hollywood is a global entity. We’ve seen foreign commercials starring Hollywood actors. These are not coincidences. They were hired because the target market for that country wants to see them. This goes for movies on a bigger scale.

So we’re at an impasse, one side (Americans) calling out the whitewashing and the other side (the rest of the world) who don’t really have a problem with having famous non-native white actors in movies set in their country, be it fantasy or based on true stories. They actually embrace it. At the end of the day, Hollywood is still an industry driven by money. So what can you do?

There are several things you can do…

  • Jackie Chan and Jet Li did not get famous out of nowhere. Hollywood took notice that Jackie Chan and Jet Li were very popular worldwide. Their movies were also popular at Blockbuster and local cinemas running foreign film showings. So Rush Hour and Lethal Weapon 4 were most of America’s introduction to Jackie Chan and Jet Li, respectively. Support foreign films. Watch foreign films. Buy foreign films. Which brings me to my next topic…
  • STOP DOWNLOADING/STREAMING MOVIES ILLEGALLY!!! If you want to see changes in Hollywood, including proper representation, put your money where your mouth is. Money talks and Hollywood listens.

Like everything else, there are exceptions. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was a masterpiece with famous Chinese performers and overall fantastic visual storytelling. You could say that movie is an example that you don’t need white actors to make foreign movies successful worldwide, but you have to keep in mind that the joint Taiwanese-Chinese-Hong Kong-American film was most of America’s first exposure to flying choreographed martial arts. That was the gimmick that sold American audience to the movie. The movie was considered average in China/Hong Kong since they already have lots of movies using that uses better flying choreographed martial arts and storytelling.

As for The Great Wall, all we know right now is that Matt Damon and other non-Chinese actors are in the film. It’s an epic fantasy movie with their enemies as “dragons” or something. We still don’t know what Matt Damon’s role is, but people are already jumping to conclusions as to what it really is. Over generalization cuts both ways and hurts your message.

I’m done.

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Posted July 31, 2016 by StupidSystemus in Rant

Tagged with , ,

3 responses to “The Great Wall: Is It Whitewashing?

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  1. This whole argument has made me a little salty. I almost don’t want to watch the movie now…but I kinda want to at the same time. Maybe just not in theaters. One of the main reasons I want to see it is because I love Pedro Pascal, one of his most famous roles is as Oberyn Martell in Game of Thrones and I want to see him in other roles. William DeFoe is in it too, and who doesn’t love that creepy looking SOB?

    So…their theory is that white people won’t want to watch Asian films unless there are famous Westerners in it? That’s fucking racist as shit. I get that Hollywood is a business first and foremost and an art form second (when it should be the other way around)

    Honestly, this combating racism with racism thing is really irking me lately and IMO getting out of control. It isolates those of us that want to fight intolerance too. I feel like I’m pressured into keeping my mouth shut. If I point out that people can be racist towards whites too then I’m the racist. People say only white people can be racist. Everyone can be racist.

    I call BS to the people crying about white-washing. An extremely large amount of Americans, of any race, LOVE Asian movies. It’s like that all over the God damn world. It’s well deserved. The story telling is strong and the visuals are spectacular.

    The movie is directed by a Chinese man that has made many spectacular films, including my favorite, the Curse of the Golden Flower. It’s also not his first film featuring Westerners and the Chinese. A movie about the Rape of Nanking (starring Christian Bale and Ziyi Zhang) called the Flowers of War…and my God what a fucking powerful movie. If you haven’t seen it I recommend it.

    A more popular movie of his is The House of Flying Daggers. From looking at his film list it appears that Ziyi Zhang is one of his favorite actresses (and one of the most recognizable Asian actresses across the globe, perhaps second to Michelle Yeoh) …Because of him and the guy that made Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

    He has no problem accepting the talent of both Westerners and Asians…so…IMO only racists will have a problem with this movie.

    What about Chinese people that direct Western films? He directed Brokeback Mountain and the Hulk? (The Eric Bana one) and Brokeback Mountain is one of the most famous American movies there are. (Like it or hate it EVERYONE knows the name) And the dude that made it isn’t even American.

    As you said, Caucasians in Asian movies aren’t cared about as much globally. I don’t know about that part, but I’ll take your word for it. I’ve read several furious comments from Asian Americans though. Yours is actually the first one with a “I don’t give a fuck” attitude that I’ve read.

    All I can conclude is that fury is part of American culture. We like to incite ourselves. Americans likes to be mad. Those that don’t sometimes get killed by those that do.

    Any excuse, any topic and their self righteous anger comes out. It’s a major flaw with us. We look for racism because there is much of it, but we also force it into places where it potentially isn’t and become racist against the oppressors, even those that aren’t but are the same color. This creates more racism. And more. And more. It’s a cancer we’re not cutting out. There are many racial issues to combat, but this movie isn’t one of them.

    We need to stop trying to make people into something they may not be just because “paranoid racists” jump at shadows. There are plenty of real racist issues to fight in this country without creating more.

    On the subject of pirating videos, you have a valid point but movies are way too expensive for many people (especially actually going to the theaters) because entertainment is so inflated. People love movies and find a way around paying (way) too much for them. If the industry made them cheaper less people would pirate. Sure, there would always be people who pirate but many would stop feeling the need. You won’t need to steal food if you have easy access to it. The same applies to movies and other forms of entertainment.

    I know way too many Americans that prefer to watch Asian films in their “un-white washed versions.” too. Isn’t there room for both in the artistic world of cinema? Isn’t art about pushing boundaries? Isn’t art about exploring new things? It is.

    The problem is the business aspect. Everyone gets paid way, way too much and demands way too much in addition to all they get paid too much for. Too much money means there are too many people promoting their own self interests and everyone else has to pay for it.

    Sorry if this pisses anyone off. Racism just goes two ways. People need to give it a chance and know the history of the director and the movies he makes BEFORE they pull the r-card.

    It IS written by Max Brooks (World War Z author) but he’s a spectacular story teller. If it’s so offensive would a famous Chinese director agree to make it? He clearly has the money to not feel the need to cast Westerners.

    • A lot of dissenting opinions are misguided in their attempt to shine a light on a problem and they end up looking foolish or not focusing on the real problem.

      For Eli Roth’s The Green Inferno, Survivor International criticized the film for reinforcing colonialism (specifically neocolonialism) and portraying indigenous people as savages. Roth dismissed this argument as unimportant for stopping exploitation: “The idea that a fictional movie about a fictional tribe could somehow hurt indigenous people when gas companies are tearing these villages apart on a daily basis is simply absurd. These companies don’t need an excuse — they have one — the natural resources in the ground. They can window dress things however they like, but nobody will destroy a village because they didn’t like a character in a movie, they’ll do it because they want to get rich by draining what’s under the village. The fear that somehow a movie would give them ammunition to destroy a tribe all sounds like misdirected anger and frustration that the corporations are the ones controlling the fates of these uncontacted tribes.”

      With The Great Wall, this is, first and foremost, based on Franz Kafka’s short story (The Great Wall of China) and it tackles themes of isolation, the enclosure and protection of Europe by a complex and growing system of walls, fences, and systems of exclusion. How true to the short story the film will be, I don’t know. But we don’t even know the plot for the movie. It’s not even if Matt Damon is saving China from invaders. Maybe he’s just an observer or was hired to build a section of the wall. Maybe his character acts as the narrator for these events.

  2. I think I read this article some where else last week. You know, back in the 70’s they used to make up white actors to play Chinese characters, which, even then, I found odd.

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