"Blackwashing" in film: It's a good trend

As many people know, "Spider-man: Homecoming" is due to come out in July 2017, and few things get entertainment fans more riled up than superhero movies.

Just a quick hint to film directors — one of the quickest and easiest ways to start an uproar among comic fans is to mess with the depiction of their beloved characters. In the case of the new Spiderman, it is rumored that Mary Jane Watson will no longer be the white, red-head we all know and love. Instead, she will supposedly be played by none other than Zendaya.

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While many people are thrilled by this news and are rooting for the young actress, some angry white folks on the internet are calling “blackwash.”

Zendaya will actually be playing the part of Spiderman’s roommate, Michelle Gonzales, according to IMBd. Regardless of whom she ends up portraying in the film, the internet frustration surrounding the Mary Jane rumor and the recent casting of Michael B. Jordan as the Human Torch raises some important questions about the difference between “whitewashing” and “blackwashing,” and what this means for the portrayal of classic characters in film and television.

Just a few weeks ago, I received an email informing me of an acting opportunity for a music video coming up. Each chararcter description described the ideal actor as "preferably Caucasian or Hispanic.”

I mention this observation because it mirrors a fairly common occurrence in Hollywood casting — there often aren’t that many roles for black and Asian performers. Although the situation is improving greatly for the African-American community, people of color are still considered a huge risk in Hollywood, and the Asian community is still waiting for those lead roles.

Considering these circumstances, it makes sense why people get a little upset when a white actor wears blackface or takes the one Asian lead role in a movie when there are so many great Asian and African-American performers.

So the question is, why is blackwashing different?

Well, technically speaking, it’s not. It’s taking a known white character and casting a non-white person to play them. I like to think that in a perfect world, there would be equal opportunity and no need for either concept. However, we are not in a perfect world and, as it stands, this new “Down with blackwashing” movement is really quite ridiculous.

First of all, compare decades of whitewashing to a handful of iconic characters being played by a black actor. I’m no expert, but it seems like the scale is a little off balance. Not to mention Hollywood still has a nasty habit of casting a flock of white people with one or two people of color thrown in for the sake of diversity.

So, is blackwashing really the epidemic of the century? Not even close. I’ll feel threatened by blackwashing when every single movie in Hollywood has an all black cast and the “Token White Guy” always dies in the first five minutes.

I’m not worried about things reaching that point.

I can respect the fact that comic fans might be disappointed when one of their beloved characters doesn’t fit the exact description they’ve come to know and love. But, we have to keep in mind that in theater and acting, the physical characteristics aren’t as important as the character itself. If a particular actor who doesn’t necessarily fit the physical description can really nail the role, why not let that person kill it on screen?

Also, while there are heroes and villains of color in comics, until more of these characters make it into the boardrooms of major film studios, playing historically white comic characters offers a chance for people of color to play lead roles in more major action films. Frankly, I think we all need to relax and enjoy the show.


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