White Washing

Roger Macy macyroger at yahoo.co.uk
Tue Aug 25 05:26:26 EDT 2009

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 'controversy'.

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 ----- 
  From: Jun-Dai Bates-Kobashigawa 
  To: KineJapan at lists.acs.ohio-state.edu 
  Sent: Monday, August 24, 2009 11:25 PM
  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 campaigns.

  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 Sulu)


  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: 

    "Fan 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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