By Sadaf Parveen.
Hollywood is the biggest entertainment industry in the world. I grew up watching 90’s movies and TV shows, but as a child, I realized Hollywood exclusively focused on white actors. Yes, there were non-white actors in movies but they mostly had minor roles. An actor’s talent was dismissed because of their skin color or race.
This is the case even in 2016; there is a lack of diversity in Hollywood. Even if international actors are appearing in blockbusters, such as Idris Elba, Oscar Isaac, Priyanka Chopra and Viola Davis, little progress has been made. Once we accept the problem, the sooner we will be able to resolve it.
There are numerous instances where a white actor has played a character from a minority background. I believe when you erase the character’s ethnicity, you drastically limit the story. Instead, the character lacks depth and history. Here are some recent examples.
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010)
Jake Gyllenhaal, a white male, plays the main protagonist Dastan. It’s important to note that Dastan is a Persian Prince. However, rather than employing an equally talented Persian actor, Gyllenhaall was made to grow his hair and even tanned his skin. This is questionable, especially since Middle Eastern actors are restricted to stereotypical roles like terrorists or criminals.
The Hunger Games (2012)
Katniss Everdeen is played by actress Jennifer Lawrence. In the novel, Katniss Everdeen is described as an “olive skinned” character. This is a stark contrast to Jennifer Lawrence’s light complexion. In fact, the casting call reveals that Hollywood executives were searching for Caucasian actors from the ages of fifteen to twenty years old! It is sad to see that little effort was made to represent the diverse characters from the popular series.
Elizabeth, Michael, and Marlon (2016)
Allegedly, Joseph Fiennes is set to play Michael Jackson in Elizabeth, Michael, and Marlon. The King of Pop, Michael Jackson, is an iconic black man. I believe this insults everything Michael Jackson stood for. Let’s not forget Michael Jackson told Oprah in 1993 that he did not want a white person to play him. He continued to say he is Black American and is proud of it.
I have named just a few cases where white actors played or will play colored characters. However, acknowledging the lack of diversity in Hollywood spotlights the issue. The lack of diversity in Hollywood is erasing a significant aspect of a character’s story and more importantly the viewer’s history. Hollywood is losing out from not making movies that relate to a wider audience.