In reference to our brief discussion in class today about portraying characters of color with white actors (recently given the name “racebending”), I wanted to give you all a link to this movement I have been a part of that deals with current issues of brown/yellow/black face. I would encourage you to explore the website, as it can explain itself much better than I can.

As we discussed in class, there are many reasons why Hollywood’s “white-washing” of characters in film is a bad thing. Oftentimes such characters have been portrayed as egregious stereotypes or in a villainous role–both of which are present in Gunga Din, as the subservient Gunga Din himself (Sam Jaffe) and the Thuggee Chief (Jamiel Hason). Casting a white actor in a colored role can often lead to offensive portrayals of an ethnicity based on the white actor/director/filmmaker’s views of said people. Beyond these facts, the number of roles that often go to minority actors/actresses are few and far between. Most colored characters appear in side roles, or that of the villain, and rarely as the lead hero/heroine. In fact, just last year 89% of Paramount Studio’s films had a white lead, not very representative of a country with non-whites compromising almost 30% of the population. When these opportunities for minority actors do arise, racebending makes it acceptable to give these roles away to white people. Producers often claim that this happens because there aren’t enough qualified actors of Asian descent (which is quite a ludicrous claim, and even if it was true, how can Asian American actors become successful unless actually given a part?) or because audiences don’t want to see an Asian face as a lead role, which begs a whole new set of questions of where America is at racially, or at least where Hollywood thinks we are at.

While several movies in the past decade still have employed yellow/brown face when portraying Asian characters (I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry, Prince of Persia) the common trend has been to simply erase the racial minority status of the character and ignore any bearing their ethnicity may have had on the development of character (Bulletproof Monk, 30 Days of Night, 21, Dragonball: Evolution, The Last Airbender, The Social Network). Racebending.com was created to deal specifically with the controversy surrounding The Last Airbender, and is currently working against several films being produced that deny equality and diversity in their casting. I highly encourage you to research movies before going to see them from now on, being mindful of whether you are supporting Hollywood’s racism and racebending.

Characters steeped in Tibetan, Inuit, and East Asian cultures now portrayed by white actors and one South Asian actor. But did I mention that the actor of color is playing the role of a villain? Now we have the group of white heroes saving the world from hordes of unwashed, genocidal, irrational brown people. This can't in any way reflect the US' wars in the middle east right? Right?


2 thoughts on “Racebending

  1. Thank you for posting a link to the Race Bending site. I’d like to consider myself a ‘movie buff’ and (I have to admit) this is something I’ve never given much thought to. I do recall the controversy surrounding Prince of Persia last summer – Jake Gyllenhaal portraying a Persian male – however, I had no idea it was such a greatly debated issue.

    I’m pleased to say that after one week of class, my previous views are beginning to alter – in a positive way. I’m looking forward to what else the quarter will bring.

  2. Thanks for the post. Here’s something I wrote after watching “The Last Airbender”: http://pranavjani.wordpress.com/2010/07/03/new-dog-old-tricks-the-last-airbender/

    As you can see, that post was itself inspired by a student post in a previous class about the movie and its “yellowface” etc. (I’m tying myself into knots).

    I find the use of the word “racebending” interesting, because it is being used as a negative term by the same sorts of people, presumably, who might look favorably on “genderbending,” or performing a gender identity that crosses the boundaries of mainstream notion of “feminine” and “masculine.” Crossing and challenging boundaries is positive in one context, and negative in another….

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