Casting Choices: A-lister vs. Minority

The entertainment industry does not have a great track record when it comes to portraying minorities on film. They aren’t exactly making strides when it comes to pumping diversity into their casting calls, either.

Take the recently-released movie “Aloha” as an example. Emma Stone plays a character named Allison Ng, a multi-racial Hawaiian native who just happens to have strawberry blond hair, green eyes and white skin. The movie tells us that she’s half-Swedish. Believable? Not exactly.

“Aloha” is the latest example from Hollywood’s long history of race-bending tendencies. Think John Wayne as Genghis Khan or David Carradine in “Kung Fu.” More recently, the industry cast Johnny Depp as Tonto in “The Lone Ranger” and Jake Gyllenhaal as an Iranian prince in the 2010 fantasy epic “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time”. When it comes to big names in the business, a celebrity’s pull almost always pushes past racial concerns in casting offices.

Basically, Sony didn’t need an Asian actor in “Aloha”. They needed Emma Stone. Whether she was actually Asian didn’t matter when it came to box-office profits.

That’s the bottom-line. Whitewashing major roles rarely causes any major mishaps when it comes to movie attendance and box-office profits. “Argo” featured the white Ben Affleck as Hispanic-American agent Tony Mendez. Any negative press this casting choice received was overshadowed by Affleck’s star power and the movie’s great reviews – “Argo” made more than $230 million worldwide.

Three-quarters of characters with speaking roles in major releases are white. Yet almost half of those movies’ tickets were purchased by minorities, according to data aggregated by USC.

The “race versus star-power” situation creates a cyclical problem for minority actors. According to the above information, minorities have a harder time getting speaking roles than their white counterparts. This means fewer minorities will be able to gain the star power needed to grab major roles.

Because there are less A-list actors of color, casting agents will continue to fill major roles with what’s available – white celebrities. The whitewashing of minority characters reinforces itself.

In the case of Stone’s part in “Aloha”, Sony had very few (to none) young half-Chinese major A-listers to choose from.

Race-bending does occasionally benefit minority actors. Take the controversy surrounding Michael B. Jordan’s recent casting as the canonically white Johnny Storm in the upcoming reboot of the “Fantastic Four”. The move upset a swath of comic book fans and spawned thousands of angry tweets. Whether it will affect movie attendance remains to be seen.

Whether the outcry over “Aloha” will make the entertainment industry a more inclusive place also remains to be seen. Make an impact now by snapping up one of the hundreds of entertainment jobs hiring today.

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