White Washing

Tim Iles timiles2003 at yahoo.com
Wed Aug 26 19:42:50 EDT 2009

I completely agree that Hollywood in general should realise that Asians can actually act, and stop limiting roles for Asians to "inscrutable bad guys" or "mysterious, sexy women"--which still happens, 60 years after Charlie Chan and Mr Moto for goodness sake! And Mark's phrasing of the authenticity/inauthenticity question is quite on-target--the show itself never seems to have aimed for "authenticity" (again, I haven't seen it), so what do the fans really expect?

The issue of anime, on the other hand, is perhaps a different one. While I'm not especially arguing the 'internationalisation' of anime characters in every instance, I do suggest that the presentation of _many_ of the characters is "non-ethnic," or indeed "pan-ethnic." What functions as regionalisation in anime is not the appearance of the characters but more explicit factors such as specific locales or overt references to culture, tradition, history, or--most persuasively--language. Some anime could be (indeed, are) set outside of Japan/Asia with only little change or effect to their narratives. Others, such as _Mononoke hime_ or even _Naruto_, require Japan as their diegetic space. But that requirement, I really think, comes from other factors of the work than the "look" of the characters--and let's face it, anime characters don't even really look human let alone Japanese.

As far as the business of Hollywood is concerned, though, I'm not especially optimistic of Japanese films or Asian actors starting to gain visibility any time soon. Not much we can do about that beyond continuing our work academically or otherwise to popularise Asian film.



--- On Wed, 8/26/09, Mark%20Mays <tetsuwan at comcast.net> wrote:

From: Mark%20Mays <tetsuwan at comcast.net>
Subject: Re: White Washing
To: KineJapan at lists.acs.ohio-state.edu
Received: Wednesday, August 26, 2009, 4:57 PM

#yiv747302064 p {margin:0;}Nah. If the producers want to play by the rules they established in the series milieu (which is really the "authenticity" the fans are arguing for) then it'd be nice, at least, for the characters to be portrayed by Asian actors. So  I don't buy the argument that in general "anime" characters are intended to look international, so then it's okay to cast non-Asian actors in the film (I don't even buy that premise).

I think the fans of the show are unwittingly arguing for fair play for Asian actors in Hollywood more than fighting against any notions of cultural appropriation (the post Aaron linked to accused the show's fans of cultural voyeurism). For me, this is what the argument is about - the business of Hollywood. 

The show itself is a funny mishmash of myths and icons curiously passed off as both authentically "Asian" and created out of whole cloth, which begs a question (and perhaps is what Tim is getting at?); if something is initially inauthentic can one expect authenticity derived from it?

----- Original Message -----
From: "Tim Iles" <timiles2003 at yahoo.com>
To: KineJapan at lists.acs.ohio-state.edu
Sent: Wednesday, August 26, 2009 3:43:14 PM GMT -06:00 US/Canada Central
Subject: Re: White Washing

This is an interesting issue and thread, but I have to ask whether this is really a "problem" as such (I'm hoping to sidestep the invisibility of Asians in non-Asian popular media in general, something which does frustrate me)--in some ways it is a different issue from casting Zhang Ziyi and Li Gong in _Memoirs of a Geisha_. 

One can argue that the _faces_ of Japanese anime characters are themselves intended to be 'international' rather than particularly Japanese, or even Asian for that matter. If that's so, then there's almost a tacit license for using non-Asian actors in a live-action adaptation. 

Given that the creators of the animated series are not Japanese and the program uses a "mish-mash" of Asian references and influences (I haven't seen it so I can't comment on whether it all works), perhaps it's forgivable for the live-action film to
 make use of non-Asian characters. 

I have much greater trepidation at the thought of another Hollywood remake of a Japanese film, such as _Ringu_ or _Kairio_, neatly excising all traces of Asia... That to me is a much less forgivable issue, especially considering how poor the remakes are. Greater distribution of Japanese films just doesn't seem likely when Hollywood is content to plunder Japanese sources for remakes, reaping the benefits of direct profits etc.


Tim Iles
University of Victoria

--- On Tue, 8/25/09, Roger Macy <macyroger at yahoo.co.uk> wrote:

From: Roger Macy <macyroger at yahoo.co.uk>
Subject: Re: White Washing
To: KineJapan at lists.acs.ohio-state.edu
Received: Tuesday, August 25, 2009, 5:26 AM


Interesting, Jun-Dai,
Your mention of Miyazaki and your suspicion that the 
promoters are going for two hits for the price of one by provoking controversy, 
chimes with a piece in London's Guardian newspaper last week, 'Ponyo: 
can a Japanese fantasy finally animate US audiences ? Miyazaki's latest animé 
release follows string of acclaimed cartoons that had muted success in America.' 

I originally picked this up in a badly-mangled print piece 
the next day (in 'International'[news])  that looked like nothing more than 
a studio puff-piece but, even so, the story presumably originated from the 
studio *, and the use of 'original' to describe a US version with Hollywood star 
high-recognition looks like an attempt to lengthen the news cycle by courting 
But the connection to this thread is that, whilst dubbing 
may often have some comparison to white-washing, when the publicity is all about 
identifying home-market stars to the roles, then it has become, I contend, 
a process wholly comparable to white-washing.
* - for a comparable, non-Japanese case of a studio 
concocting a 'controversy' about subtitles last week, there was -
---- Original Message ----- 

  Jun-Dai Bates-Kobashigawa 
  To: KineJapan at lists.acs.ohio-state.edu 
  Sent: Monday, August 24, 2009 11:25 
  Subject: Re: White Washing
This reminds me a lot of the controversy around casting a white 
  actor to play Ged in the TV Earthsea adaptation (Goro Miyazaki's Ged is also 
  very caucasion-looking), though in that case Ged's dark skin was a matter of 
  great importance to LeGuin, whereas I'm not sure how much of a similar 'point' 
  is being made by DiMartin and Konietzko.

Given that Hollywood's idea of 
  the widest possible audience and the lowest common denominator is a white male 
  hero, the move makes sense.  TV can be niche-targeted, but big-budget 
  films can't be, and unless your hero is Jackie Chan, Jet Li, or one of a 
  handful of established-in-the-US martial arts actors, then casting an Asian or 
  Asian American as your hero qualifies as niche targeting, since white people 
  will have a bit of a barrier identifying with the character (a barrier that 
  Asian Americans, African Americans, women, etc., are less likely to have 
  regarding white protagonists).  I am kind of surprised that they chose to 
  make all three heroes white.  That and choosing an Indian for the bad guy 
  makes it seem like they *want* protest websites and letter-writing 

It's unfortunate, but the trend seems to be getting worse 
  rather than better, despite the slightly increased awareness of Asian films in 
  the mainstream (Miyazaki, anime in general, Crouching Tiger, etc., and, if it 
  counts, Slumdog).

How many Japanese American movie actors can you 
  name?  (that's probably why John Cho gets to be 


  On Mon, Aug 24, 2009 at 12:35 PM, Nornes, Mark <amnornes at umich.edu> wrote:

    There has been some discussion over the years of 
    Asian characters being played by Caucasians in American remakes. Here’s 
    another one for the mill, from an article in the new Flow: 

    Protests, Cultural Authenticity, and the Adaptation of Avatar: The Last 
    Airbender" by Patricia Nelson (http://flowtv.org/?p=4215) A consideration of 
    the fan backlash surrounding Paramount?s choice to cast white actors as 
    Asian characters.


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