Whitewashing And Inequality In Hollywood: Why Are They So Persistent?

Written by Maia Morgan

Just 15 years ago, there was a historical breakthrough at the Academy Awards.

Halle Berry became the first Black woman to win an award for Best Actress in a Leading Role the same night that Denzel Washington became the second Black man to win an award for Best Actor in a Leading Role.

In 2011 and 2016, no nominations were given to a Black person in any of the major categories at the Academy Awards.

So why is there still a misrepresentation in film and TV when we’ve come this far?

From Black Girl Nerds, a site that welcomes girls of all races, but was “called Black Girl Nerds because it is a term that is so unique and extraordinary, that even Google couldn’t find a crawl for the phrase and its imprint in the world of cyberspace.” Story by Maia Morgan.

According to Wilson Morales, editor at Blackfilm.com, “Hollywood hasn’t developed the kind of market research or promotional infrastructure to reach minority audiences effectively,” The Guardian reported.

Black audiences are underrated and the studios are unsure how to reach them as a whole.

Marketability is really the fundamental reason as to why there is still a lack of diversity in the actors portrayed on film.

Money and box office returns are the studio’s main concern. The most acclaimed Black movie stars who usually pull in good box office receipts have been fairly inconsistent in the past few years.

Will Smith hasn’t had a movie gross more than $150 million since 2012’s “Men in Black 3” and Denzel Washington had a solid hit with “The Equalizer” in 2014, while most of the movies he starred in prior to that didn’t pull in the numbers for someone of his caliber.

Halle Berry only does well box-office wise because of her involvement with the X-Men franchise. As you can see, this makes studios very nervous. Their big-name Black stars aren’t pulling in the millions they want to see and they don’t always want to meet their hefty salaries. They also find it risky to cast unknown Black actors because they think the general audience will find them unappealing, so the next logical step is to cast a White actor in that role.

One of the most frustrating aspects of the lack of diversity is the “Whitewashing” of Hollywood: when a character was originally written as a minority is cast with a White actor in the film version. Most actors of color can agree that trying to find roles are hard enough, but when they are changed and given to White actors, it can be infuriating.

Recently, two characters in very popular franchises — “Doctor Strange” and “Ghost in the Shell” — had their Asian characters cast with White actresses. These two are just the tip of the iceberg of a lot of characters that were originally meant to be other races but all cast with White actors in the role. You can see some of the worst offenders here.

The studios claim that marketability seem to play a role in the casting, but movies with Asian leads have had really good box office returns including the “Rush Hour” trilogy ($850 million), the “Charlie’s Angels” films ($523 million), “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” ($213 million), and “Pacific Rim” ($411 million).

The Bunche Center for African-American Studies at UCLA did a study on Hollywood Diversity. They found that from 2013-2014, films with relatively diverse casts enjoyed the highest box office receipts and returns. They also discovered minorities accounted for the majority of ticket sales for four of the top 10 films in 2014.

Anyone can see that these films make money and minorities are going out to see these movies, so why are movies still casting these film with primarily White actors and little to no diversification?

The answer’s easy: Hollywood is composed of straight, old, White men. Of the more than 450 Hollywood executives who make all the powerful decisions regarding the films that are made, 96 percent are White, 87 percent male and the average age is 65 years old. Those who direct films are 82 percent White and 94 percent male and the people who write films are 88 percent White and 87 percent male. The three major talent agencies that represent directors, writers, and actors are also mostly White.

“White employees make up 87.8 percent of the executive staff in finance, legal, and other areas of agency operations.” Minority talent is overwhelmingly underrepresented.

Hollywood has to change from the foundation up. Diversification needs to start up top with the executives and the major talent agencies and then it will begin to trickle down talent wise. But that shouldn’t be the end of it. Minorities essentially have to write and create their own projects.

As actor Anthony Mackie put it, Black people have gotten “lazy in our game … if we don’t tell our stories we can’t expect someone else to tell them for us.”

Read more at Black Girl Nerds.

Sign up for the Moguldom newsletter — the most compelling business news you need to know about reversing inequality in tech, delivered straight to your inbox.