Friday, July 17, 2015

[Link] Are writers guilty of whitewashing their novels?

by Paul Bishop

THE NEW BRADLEY COOPER/EMMA STONE FILM, Aloha, has regenerated a long seated controversy over the whitewashing of Hollywood movies. Aloha, a movie filmed in Hawaii about the Hawaiian culture, has no Hawaiians in the cast except for a few very minor roles.

This history of this whitewashing goes back most notably to the 1931 film Charlie Chan Carries On starring Swedish actor Warner Oland as Chan. Oland had also played Fu Manchu in an earlier film. However, the practice of casting white actors in ethnic roles began much earlier.

My own experience with this phenomenon came when I was pitching a script I’d written about the first African-American military pilot, Eugene Jacques Bullard, nicknamed the Black Swallow of Death during his time flying with the Lafayette Escadrille in France. Now keep in mind, this is a true story. At the end of the pitch, the studio executive I was pitching asked – in all seriousness – if I could make the main character white.

The publishing industry has also been accused of whitewashing – portraying ethnic main characters on book covers, especially Young Adult novels, using Caucasian features and very, very light skin tones.

Cultural icons of all sorts have also been subjected to this whitewashing –

Why, for instance, is Jesus, a Jew born in the Middle East, almost always portrayed with extremely Caucasian features and very long hair? I know the specious arguments about the area where he was born being light haired and Caucasian featured, but really? Somehow, I don’t buy it.

I recently found myself thinking about how much of this is consciously or unconsciously done, especially in the case of novelists. I recently finished the manuscript for my new book, Lie Catchers (due for publication in August by Pro Se). The book is fiction, but very much based on my experiences as a detective and interrogator with the Los Angeles Police Department.

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