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The Old Practice of Whitewashing

In the film industry of the United States, it is common for white actors to be cast in non-white character roles such as African-Americans, Native Americans, Asians, and other people of color. Such practice is called whitewashing. The practice is as old as the beginnings of the American film industry. Many mainstream movies have long used white actors even if it implied that history is being portrayed inaccurately.

In the 1930s, white actors who were chosen to portray non-white roles often changed their appearances using a blackface or a “yellowface.” Some movies that practiced whitewashing were well received by audiences and critics who considered it a good thing to see people of color represented in mainstream Hollywood movies. Examples of such films are “The Jazz Singer” where the lead character wore a blackface, Charlie Chan movies where the main character is a Chinese man played by a white actor named Warner Oland, and “The Conqueror” where John Wayne portrayed Genghis Khan, the famous founder and emperor of the Mongol Empire.

The use of blackface slowly faded in the middle of the 20th century barring the portrayal of a white actor named Laurence Olivier who played the character of Othello, a Moorish man, in the film adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Othello.” In the 1960s, whitewashing began to be criticized as the film industry began to integrate more races. However, the use of “yellowface” was still common in the 1960s. A good example is the movie “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” where a white actor named Mickey Rooney portrayed a Japanese landlord.

Two of the most recent movies that are accused of whitewashing are “The Great Wall” where Matt Damon plays a white role in a historical Chinese context and “Ghost in the Shell” where Scarlett Johannson plays a Japanese character.

Although whitewashing is now generally frowned upon, whitewashing is still a common practice in Hollywood films. For critics of whitewashing, its prevalence is because of institutional racism and profit-mindedness. Some people, dispute this and say actors like Will Smith and Denzel Washington have continuously been cast for roles in various blockbuster and critically acclaimed films.

Despite the prevalence of whitewashing, the diversification of racial representations in Hollywood is a work in progress. Many media watchdog groups have been crying for more authentic representations of roles on television and the big screen. Fortunately, many filmmakers are responding well to their cries.

질문&어휘 문법TIPs 해석
questions

1. What is whitewashing?

2. What are the reasons behind the practice of whitewashing?

3. What will happen if whitewashing ceases to be practiced?

vocabularies

African-American 미국의 흑인

mainstream 주류

portray 묘사하다

inaccurately 부정확하게

blackface 흑인 분장용품

landlord 지주

watchdog 감시 단체

authentic 진짜인

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