I don’t think this will come as a shock to anyone, but Hollywood has a bit of a whitewashing problem. Netflix’s “On My Block,” which has been praised for its positive representation of people of color, is now facing criticism for casting Ronni Hawk as a Latina character whose parents get deported. 

Hawk is not only white, but, last month, tweets of her supporting Donald Trump surfaced, including one of her saying, “Go @realDonald Trump please bring America back!!!” While it’s unclear if she actually tweeted her support for him or if they’re falsified, fans of “On My Block” are calling for Hawk’s character, Olivia, to be killed off or recasted. Hawk’s character has to deal with her parents being deported and the hardships that follow and, as people of color continue to face harassment and deportation, it’s interesting and hypocritical to keep Hawk on the show if she actually does hold views that oppress her character.

Laura romaniello / art director

Laura romaniello / art director

This is far from the first incident of whitewashing that we’ve seen in movies and TV – Nat Wolff was cast as Light in Netflix’s adaptation of “Death Note,” a Japanese manga, and Rooney Mara played the Native American character Tiger Lily in the Peter Pan origin film “Pan.” 

Historically, blackface and yellowface were used to caricature different races and play on stereotypes – think of Mickey Rooney as the bucktoothed, horribly racist I. Y. Yunioshi from “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” 1965’s “The Greatest Story Ever Told” has Max von Sydow from Sweden as Jesus Christ because people seem to have a hard time comprehending that biblical characters would be Middle Eastern.Things haven’t gotten that much better recently. “Exodus: Gods and Kings” featured Christian Bale, Sigourney Weaver and Aaron Paul, as Egyptian Biblical characters. You might recognize all of those actors as white. Director Ridley Scott said that the decision came down to money. He told Vanity Magazine, “I can’t mount a film of this budget, where I have to rely on tax rebates in Spain, and say that my lead actor is Muhammad so-and-so from such-and-such. I’m just not going to get financed. So the question doesn’t even come up.”

While I lost brain cells reading “Muhammad so-and-so from such-and-such,” Scott’s statement reflects on the fact that Hollywood is a business, and people have always tried to appeal to the masses to make as much money as possible. Even today, when countries such as China are influential markets for movies, Chinese actors aren’t being cast because it is believed those films wouldn’t do well in the U.S. and Europe. From an investor’s point of view, playing it safe is guaranteed to turn a profit, so there’s no use in trying something unorthodox if profits won’t make it worth it.

A study by the University of Southern California found that out of the 100 highest-grossing films of 2013, only about a quarter of speaking roles featured non-white actors. They also found that only 6.5 percent of Hollywood directors were black. The lack of representation directly correlates with the lack of opportunities actors of color can get. While shows such as “Black-ish,” “How to Get Away With Murder” and “Empire” are paving the way forward for inclusion, there’s still so much work that needs to be done. If we put people who want to see change in positions of power such as greenlighting projects, they’ll demand diversity and refuse to accept anything less.

Hopefully this will be something that we will see less of in the future and film students at KSC will avoid making these mistakes. Minorities should be represented in television and films as something other than a token person of color, and, for that to happen, we have to advocate for the change.

Izzy Manzo can be contacted at imanzo@kscequinox.com

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