Whitewashing and #StarringJohnCho

(Note: this became a bit of a rant so bear that in mind.)

The topic of whitewashing has been getting more and more attention over the past few years, particularly since the use of social media has escalated to a ridiculous level. This year the topic became even more popular (and even controversial) when the Oscar nominations were announced. There were no non-white nominees for the top four categories and this prompted a boycott for the Academy Awards. From my experience with this boycott, it seemed to be spearheaded by actress Jada Pinkett Smith, who tweeted about the lack of diversity in the Academy. Although this isn’t directly linked with whitewashing, it certainly brought more attention to the topic than there was previously.

I personally began taking notice of whitewashing (specifically in film) when I began using the microblogging platform tumblr. Once upon a time I was a fandom blogger. Yes, I was one of those annoying teenagers who thought everything related to Doctor Who or Supernatural and had to tell the world about it – even if no soul cared or if I annoyed them, which I’m sure I did, and I regret it all. But my time on tumblr wasn’t a total waste. Alongside discovering that negativity breeds negativity, and discovering that I was actually a feminist (still am), I learnt of whitewashing, and more importantly, how damaging it is to non-white communities.

The first time I discovered whitewashing in film was in The Last Airbender, which, aside from being an absolutely dreadful film, portrayed Inuit and Asian teenagers as white people. Although they did cast the antagonists of the film with Indian actors, that still caused a controversy due to having the villains being dark-skinned, as the animated characters were designed to resemble Chinese and Japanese people.

Other films I saw (or was shown) were whitewashed were: Star Trek Into Darkness, where the character Khan is played by Benedict Cumberbatch, despite being of Indian descent; Exodus: Gods and Kings, a film set in Egypt and the middle east, starring an almost all white cast; Pan, which cast a Native American princess as white (how on Earth do you get this one wrong?); Gods of Egypt, more white people playing Egyptians.

The upcoming film, The Great Wall, has also been accused of whitewashing, but has been defended by its Chinese director, Zhang Yimou. Matt Damon has been cast as a soldier in medieval China, which would suggest that the character would be Chinese. However, Zhang has claimed that Damon’s role was not written as a Chinese character. This has also caused controversy, with people sating that Zhang cast a white lead for his film because it has become the norm in Hollywood.

The biggest controversy to date that I have seen has been the Ghost in the Shell 2017 live action adaptation of the Japanese manga of the same name. The manga is set in Japan with Japanese characters, and yet Scarlett Johansson has been cast as the lead role. Not only that, but the production company later revealed that they tried to digitally alter Johansson’s facial features to make her look Japanese, which seems to me (and many others) like a 21st century take on yellowface.

This brings me on to the #StarringJohnCho movement. The movement started on Twitter as a way of bringing to attention the lack of Asian-American representation in Hollywood. The movement began with the power of photoshop and image editing software that people used to put the face of actor John Cho (Harold in Harold & Kumar/ Sulu in Star Trek) onto film posters in place of caucasian actors. They did this in order to show that Asian actors can in fact play lead roles in films, despite the fact that only 1% of leading roles in Hollywood go to Asian actors. The movement got the attention of the actor (who was not affiliated with it) and he has since shown his support for it. Alongside this movement, other Asian-American actors have spoken up about the lack of Asian actors receiving roles, such as Constance Wu, Ming-Na Wen, and Arden Cho.

John Cho’s name is something I’ve only recently learned. If I ever saw him on TV or in a movie, my reaction would be “Hey, I’ve seen that guy before”. But I’d never actually learnt his name. To me, he was “that guy from Harold & Kumar”. I think that shows that Asian-American actors are so poorly under represented in film and TV – the fact that I never learnt his name, especially one so simple as John Cho. I could almost guarantee that if I mentioned John Cho, Arden Cho, or Ming-Na Wen to any of my family members, none of them would recognize the names or be able to tell me what they’ve starred in or who they’ve played.

We’ve focussed a hell of a lot on the underrepresentation of black people in film (which is highly important), but because of the strong focus on this, we’ve forgotten about the other minorities of the world. (Not that Asia could be a minority, considering its population dwarfs any other continent.) But in Hollywood and American media, Asian-American actors rarely get leading roles. In fact, the majority of the time that I see Asian characters on TV, they’re portraying villains for one or two episodes – usually the Chinese Triad or the Japanese Yakuza.

As the largest film industry in the world, Hollywood really needs to get on with representing different races and cultures in the films they make. Whitewashing causes more harm than good, and the pool of actors and actresses from ‘minorities’ is getting larger all the time, so there’s actually no need for whitewashing.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child -J. K. Rowling, Jack Thorne & John Tiffany (2016) [Spoilers]

I decided well before I even received my copy of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child that I wouldn’t review it immediately after reading it. I knew that, being a massive Harry Potter fan growing up (I still am), my thoughts on the play would be clouded by intense nostalgia and love for the series that has been ever-present in my life. I was almost right.

After finishing the book, I immediately went to Goodreads (as I always do) to tell the world that I had read this book and to give it a star rating. Since the announcement of the published script, I had hoped to give it a nice, proud five-star rating and to be filled with the joy and wonder that has always accompanied the Harry Potter universe for me. As it turns out, that didn’t happen, and the book got a nice – but not great – four stars from me.

As expected, I loved the book. I just didn’t love it as much as I had expected. I was so happy to be back inside the world of Harry Potter – particularly the book world. But as much as I loved the new characters (particularly Scorpius, who is my favourite from the book), I was somewhat disappointed in the returning characters.

Harry himself was by far the most disappointing of the returning characters. His entire character seemed wrong to me. That wasn’t the Harry Potter I had grown up loving. I know that it is set 22 years after the final book, but Harry’s life in between didn’t seem to be particularly taxing enough to cause such a massive change in personality.

Draco was also a disappointment; in particular, his relationship with Harry. In the epilogue of Deathly Hallows, there is a minor interaction between Draco and Harry, and from that interaction I inferred that their relationship had changed somewhat in the years since the Battle of Hogwarts. I believed that they had become quite civil acquaintances and would be able to have a decent conversation without snapping at each other. Clearly I was wrong.

However, the return of Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger made me very happy. Their relationship was still quite fun and enjoyable to read, despite the fact that Hermione has probably the hardest job in the Wizarding World. I have to confess that my mental image of Hermione was in fact a white woman. This was not because I don’t approve of the play’s casting, but because that’s the mental picture I’ve had in my mind since reading the Philosopher’s Stone many years ago. And as strange as it may seem to some people, changing your mental image of a fictional character is really hard.

I particularly enjoyed Hermione’s characterisation in the second timeline that was created with the time-turner. Hermione badass, warrior rebel and it made me happy to see her be something other than the bookworm we all know and love. This was my favourite timeline because of another thing: Snape. I don’t know whether it was the fact that Snape was actually a good guy – and we got to see him be a good guy – or the fact that I’m still sad about Alan Rickman, but I absolutely loved Snape in this book.

Albus Potter wasn’t as great a character as I had hoped for. To me he seemed like a bit of a brat who didn’t seem to want anything to do with his father, no matter what Ginny said. According to her, Albus wanted to feel Harry’s love, but I didn’t pick any of that up. He seemed to get worse and worse as the book progressed. He was worse than OOTP Harry.

To move on, I’m going to talk about the story. I found the story somewhat lacking in the ‘point’ department. I didn’t see a ‘point’ in the story. The plot came out of nowhere and seemed entirely random. I mean, save Cedric Diggory? Who came up with this? And why was Albus so determined to rescue someone he never knew and who didn’t really mean much to anyone other than Amos? It all seemed a little bit forced. It also seemed to me that nothing really happened. There were no character arcs or “new equilibrium” that usually follows a plot heavy story. There wasn’t much difference between the beginning at the end is what I’m trying to say. There were no character evolutions and the plot had absolutely no effect of the world in the long run. Rose’s character was also destroyed right at the beginning. I highly doubt that she would stop talking to her cousin – who I assume she’s close to – because he chose to sit with a Malfoy.

Delphini was an interesting character. I remember there being rumours and headcanons all over the internet about Voldemort having an heir with Bellatrix Lestrange, and I was actually quite happy to find out she actually was. I did find her to be an odd, off character but me being naïve thought she was actually a protagonist and didn’t suspect a thing. I liked the idea of her going back to the night of the Potter’s deaths to save her father rather than going to the night of his death. It was a very logical, smart thing to do.

My biggest dislike was actually the ‘romance’ in the book. Albus’s crush on Delphini didn’t sit right with me and Scorpius asking Rose out was completely out of the blue and made absolutely no sense. Rose despised Scorpius from the get-go and I can’t see how Scorpius developed a crush on her at all. In my complete and utter honest opinion, I thought Albus and Scorpius would become a couple. From the awkward interactions at the beginning, to the “Do we do hugs?”, to the clear amount of love those boys held for each other, I saw a couple. People could argue that it was just a strong friendship bond and that there was no romance at all, but to me they were as clear as Ron/Hermione. Rowling failed with her representation of LGBTQ+ characters in the original series, I thought that this was the perfect opportunity to change that. Alas, no. Heterosexuality must prevail, apparently.

I did really enjoy this book, despite all the dislikes I appear to have ranted about in this post. It took me a total of 7 hours to complete the book from start to finish, including breaks for food and other things. It was great to return to the world of Harry Potter for what was probably the final time. I will miss it greatly, but we can’t have something this great go on for too long, lest it be ruined by continuing on for longer than necessary. (Looking at you, Supernatural.)  Of course, we have Fantastic Beasts to look forward to, but it’s not going to be quite the same as returning to the actual character of Harry Potter.