Whitewashing is a casting practice in the film industry in which white actors are cast in historically non-white character roles or in roles which are scripted for non-white characters. The film industry has a history of frequently casting white actors for roles about non-white characters. By downplaying the roles that such figures have had in cultural events, the practice is seen as a form of censorship analogous to the whitewashing of criticism. In the early 20th century, white actors caricatured different races by wearing blackface or yellowface , commonly exaggerating the perceived stereotypes of other races. Because of the lack of characters of color in the film industry, these roles were well received at the time by minorities.
For defenders of Ghost in the Shell , deft screenwriting enabled Johansson — who is not Japanese — to play the lead role of a Japanese woman. He sees whitewashing as a contemporary revival of historic yellowface: a practice related to American traditions of blackface and, like blackface, popularized in early American theater and cinema. One of the earliest documented examples of yellowface is the midth-century production of The Orphan of China , adapted from the 13th-century Chinese play The Orphan of Zhao. This yellowface predates the earliest landing of Chinese immigrants on American soil by nearly a century.
Ghost in the Shell’s whitewashing: does Hollywood have an Asian problem?
Yunioshi, a bucktoothed man with a loud, thick Asian accent played by Mickey Rooney. Yellowface dates to early forms of minstrelsy when ethnic white actors would darken their faces and use prosthetics and costumes to appear Asian. The term itself came from similar acts of blackface that were popular, when white actors colored their skin to caricature black people and culture. One of the earliest known performances of American yellowface comes from the theatrical show, An Orphan of China , performed in and based on a play by Voltaire.
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