Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Ok, What Gives?

I spent a lot of time in college watching cartoons and playing video games.

I did not spend a lot of time getting laid.

Maybe they were connected.

I bring up my cartoon watching because this weekend I saw a commercial that took me back to those mindless college days. One of the cartoons I watched in my friends' dormroom, was something called "Dragonball Z." This was a Japanese anime cartoon that focused on the adventures of several alien martial arts experts who had running battles between themselves and other aliens.

Like I said, I wasn't getting laid, although my friends were.

Anyway, the protagonists in the cartoons look sorta like Japanese men despite their alien origins and they all have Japanese sounding names. I always assumed that that the characters were Asians. Turns out, I was wrong.

Well, let me be clear, I may not have been wrong. I'm basing my new assumption on the fact that I watched a commercial this weekend for the new Dragonball Z movie, that featured a run-of-the-mill white guy in the role of "Goku," the cartoon's main character. Since there is no way Hollywood would cast a white guy in an Asian guy's role, Goku must have been white all these years.


For the sarcasm-challenged, I know for a fact this isn't right. I know that Hollywood has a long and tortured history of "fixing" stories so that main characters who are people of color, suddenly become pale. Just recently, there was a movie made about a group of MIT students who used a complicated system to break casinos in Las Vegas, that featured a patented "whitewash." In real life, the masterminds behind the scheme were Asians, but in the movie version, the white guy was the genius, and the Asians were just his geeky sidekicks.

Over the years, yellowface, redface, blackface and brownface have been a pretty good cottage industry for white actors. It seems that studios often don't want to go through the trouble of locating talented minority actors, so they just hire white people and add makeup. Presto, chango, and we're ready to rock.

Obviously, I'm not a fan of that practice, but I find it even more bothersome when studio executives change massive, plot points in movies just to write in white people, and write out minorities. It happens so often despite the complaints of minority groups across the country, that it forces me to ask one question.

What gives?

Why is it that minorities are viewed as such bad earners at the box office that studio execs would basically rewrite the entire Dragonball Z story? No longer is the movie about bands of warring ninja aliens, now it appears to be about a white dude who learns the power of martial arts from a random old Asian guy, falls in love with an Asian woman, and then saves the world. All while going through some weird transformation that makes him look kinda, sorta Asian, a little.

What type of world do we live in where it makes more sense financially to alienate your core audience, with the aim of maybe attracting families who prefer their superheroes white?

I just don't get it. If anything, recent history has taught us that making quality "niche" movies is a good way to make money. Every movie does not have to appeal to everybody, and by everybody, I mean the stereotypical random white family. Tyler Perry makes moves about black people for black people and he's a freaking millionaire. And his movies aren't even good!

Why is it that Hollywood execs can't seem to grasp the idea that making movies that insult the intelligence of your viewers, and also dabble in racism, just isn't smart? The loyalists who might normally see your movie three or four times will now stay away in droves, and since the movie is a piece of redundant crap, even the families you're trying to attract won't come out.

Who is on the master committee in Hollywood that decides when movies will be "whitewashed" and what focus groups are they talking to? Who is telling these people that digitally scrubbing colored folks out of movies is the way to go? Better yet, who is telling them that sticking to the same trite stereotypes is the best way to make their movies relevant.

I really want to know who is on that committee because I need to meet them.

And shove my foot up their asses.



Darth Whitey said...


Remember too that the old series "Kung Fu" was supposed to star Bruce Lee until it was determined he was too Asian or something, so a more racially ambiguous David Carradine got the job instead :-)

Why does Hollywood "whitewash" movies, as you put it? Simple. Because the majority of the audience is supposed to identify with the main character, so therefore you go after the majority audience, i.e. white people.

Do you think the mass of boys in the 70's would have identified with Luke Skywalker had he not been white? I know I wouldn't have if he hadn't been white, sorry.

Luke is like me, a kid stuck on a moisture farm in a desert, with no futre, dreaming of excitement, recruited by a religious extremist to fight a jihad against the government. j/k :-)

The one that makes me chuckle though is The Matrix, it's just so thick, how the main male and female characters are virtually the only white actors in the whole movie, everyone else -- including all those in positions of authority and power -- is not white (although all the bad guys are white too, of course, cuz it'd be racist for them to be black :-) )

P.S.: It's about time you wrote a decent post, feh.

Mista Jaycee said...

Why you railing against windmills?
They still painting Jesus as a Blond. Don't waste your energy. You've done enough pointing out the errors.

MacDaddy said...

DarthWhitey: Thank you. That was the first one I thought of even before finishing this post...This is the insidiousness of racism. But the other side are the roles they do cast black and minorities and women to play. Some are so demeaning that some minorities or women won't do them. I remember the great actress Cecily Tyson saying that, even after getting an actress award, she was sent scripts where she would have to fully disrobe or just play a more or less ho or trophy broad for the main character. So either the role goes to a white person or you get a role that stereotypes your people or demeans you as a woman or both.

It's either watch people expropriate your culture or join in an enable the racist stereotyping. Take your pick. God bless America

Intrepidblackman said...

I was surprised and confused to see the casting of DragonBall Z myself. What is to be done about the whitewashing though? Maybe Tyler Perry should blackwash some white characters in a movie.

Deacon Blue said...

I don't know...I'd love to see "Imitation of Life" recast with white actors...

I kid, I kid...

Darth Whitey said...

Beh I don't think it's racist for me to only identify with a white Luke Skywalker. Well, actually, I guess that's the very definition isn't it. heh. d'oh! I'm not sorry about it though, my beloved Star Wars shall not be tarred with racial controversy! Hey, I did look to Lando Calrissian for how to shmooze the ladies though! And Mace Windu, probably the most badass jedi in the galaxy!

"Always bet on black." -- Wesley Snipes

Kind of makes it difficult to disassociate race from your characters when they're so explicit heh.

Mr. Noface said...

Another asian themed cartoon turning to live action film that is gonna be white-washed is "Avatar: The Last Air Bender". The messed up thing is that its gonna be directed by M. Night Shamylan, so not only will it the characters be white-washed, but the story is gonna suck (what a twist).

I think its up to the creators of these properties to tell Hollywood to bugger off if they want to white-wash the characters. That's what famous author Neil Gaimen did when some movie makers wanted to make the two main characters of his novel "Anansi Boys" (who happen to be the BLACK children of the African god Anansi) white. But alas, Gaimen claimed he didn't need the money, and the messed up thing is a lot of these talented creators do need the money, so they're willing to lighten up the cast (if you will) in order to cash in on the big bucks.

Darth Whitey said...

Well, you know, if it ain't white, it ain't right.


awb said...

Why did you think they were asian? Was it because of their names? Because with those big eyes, they certainly didn't LOOK asian. To me, if the anime artists couldn't draw at least a somewhat credible representation of a Japanese person, why should the makers of the live action movie?

Big Man said...


I can't remember the one guys name, but the one who first used to battle Goku and was really prideful seemed like he had Asian features and he had a Japanese sounding name. They all had names that sounded vaguely Asian, and since they were doing martial arts, I assumed they were Asian.

Looking back, maybe those were just ridiculous assumptions on my part based on stereotypes. Thanks for bringing that up.

Mr. Noface said...

Looking back, maybe those were just ridiculous assumptions on my part based on stereotypes. Thanks for bringing that up.

No you weren't being ridiculous, because many of the characters in DBZ were meant to be asian. This is why a lot of japanese fans of Dragon Balls have a huge problem with this movie. Hollywood basically took one of their favorite cartoon heroes and made him some scrawny white kid. Its the equivilent of having an Asian actor play Superman with the reasoning being that he's not white, he's an alien. That mess wouldn't fly for Kal-El so it shouldn't fly for Kakarot (Goku)! I'm sure it wouldn't have hurt to ask Akira Toriyama what he invisioned Goku would look like in real life, but alas he wasn't consulted at all for this film. Mega Epic Fail of spirit bomb proportions!

Big Man said...

Thanks for clearing that up NoFace.

I used to love the funny names had for all the special moves. And when the little kid morphed into a Gorilla before he got his tail cut off.

I never understand why they cut their tails off if it eliminated their ability to turn into super powerful giant gorillas. Seemed like a waste.

Raving Black Lunatic