We’ve come a long way as a society. Civil rights. Tolerance. Non-discrimination. It’s great living in a country where your ethnicity is something to be proud of, not something that holds you back.
As diverse as our country is, it’s interesting to see how our entertainment sometimes fails to convey this. Usually, most roles are cast with white actors. Unless a part specifically calls for a person of a non-white race, chances are it’ll be filled by a caucasian.
Now, I’m not a person who sees conspiracies everywhere. More than likely, there are simply more white Americans interested in pursuing an acting career than people of other ethnicities. As a result, a lot of the big stars are white. And casting directors for movies and TV look for recognizable stars for projects.
Thus, they select from the pool of famous actors and actresses–most of whom happen to be white. So it’s not so much a case of white being the default race for casters; that’s just how the numbers play out.
However, this tendency to cast big names has led to some pretty hilarious casting decisions over the years. It’s one thing to cast a white person when the character’s race doesn’t matter to the story. It’s another to do it when race plays an important part, or when the movie is based on a true story.
Some call it “racebending.” Others call it “whitewashing.” These are the worst offenders.
Ben Afleck in Argo
Ben Afleck’s Oscar-winning retelling of the true story behind the 1980 rescue of six American diplomats during the Iran Hostage Crisis.
Ben Afleck plays the main character, Antonio J. Mendez–the CIA officer in charge of the operation. The movie is great, but something is clearly off with Afleck’s character. Just read that name–Antonio Mendez. And have a look at this picture of the real Tony Mendez compared with Afleck.
Mr. Afleck may be a good actor, but Hispanic he is not.
David Carradine in Kung Fu
Kung Fu, one of the most popular shows of the ‘70s, follows the captivating adventures of a Shaolin monk traveling through the old west and using his martial arts skills to vanquish wrong-doers. While our main character is half white, half Chinese, the same cannot be said for the actors who plays him–David Carradine. Carradine was of mostly Irish descent, with lots of other European nationalities thrown in.
To be fair, he did have a small amount of Cherokee in him. It may not be Asian, but it’s close enough, right?
Jennifer Connelly in A Beautiful Mind
Ron Howard’s A Beautiful Mind tells the moving story of a brilliant man (Russell Crowe) tormented by mental illness. Jennifer Connelly plays his wife, Alicia. In the film she’s only ever referred to by her first name, although in real life she was Alicia Esther Lardé Lopez-Harrison. She was from El Salvador.
Connelly does a great job in the role, but it seems like such a strange decision considering there are plenty of talented Hispanic actresses around. In fact, the filmmakers originally considered Salma Hayek for the part. For whatever reason, that didn’t go through. So they changed course and whitewashed the character. A really big missed opportunity.
Johnny Depp in The Lone Ranger
Lone Ranger was Disney’s attempt to capitalize on the popularity of Depp and the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. Depp plays the title character’s sidekick Tonto–a Comanche Native American.
Look–I love Johnny Depp. Everyone does (especially Tim Burton). I wish Johnny could be in everything, but there comes a moment when you have to draw the line. There’s no situation in which he makes a believable Native American. What’s next? Casting Johnny Depp as Kunta Kinte in a Roots remake because he happens to be 3/2048 African.
The Cast of Starship Troopers
This satirical look at a future fascist Earth at perpetual war with giant space bugs has become something of a cult classic. It stars an all-American cast–despite being set in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Seriously, if they wanted to go this route, why didn’t they just change the setting of the Earth scenes to the United States. It wouldn’t have affected the narrative, and it would have made things less out-of-whack.
Jake Gyllenhaal in Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time
Jake Gyllenhaal playing a Persian. Need I say more?
Sean Connery in Nearly Every Role
Seriously, Sean Connery is the worst culprit on this list. Look at his crimes. He played a Russian in The Hunt for Red October. An Irishman in The Untouchables. Even these are forgivable. But the unpardonable sin was Highlander, in which Mr. Connery plays a Spaniard named Juan Sanchez Villa-Lobos Ramirez.
The worst part is Connery never even tries to change his accent. So you end up with a Spaniard who talks like a Scott.
Hollywood–we’re willing to let a lot of things slide. But for roles like these, please take the time to do some additional casting research and spare yourself the embarrassment of making it on this list.