Cinema has been used to tell many stories of the nation, whether it is historical or a fiction that depicts the state of society at the time. We have had movies like Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan in which the state of the second war was consumed through its visuals. We have had movies like Cleopatra Jones and Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song in which Blaxploitation was occurring, which was during the time in which African Americans where not getting the best roles in regular movies due to racism, so they made their own in which they had to conform to stereotypes in order for their art to be released to the public. We have movies like The Post and The Help in which history has unraveled itself so that we are able to understand our social and political past. All of these types of movies where a somewhat accurate depiction of Americas story, but some of these different stories were told with the wrong people, which can ruin the storytelling part.
America has definitely struggled with correct representation in movies when depicting both fictional or historical events in cinema. There was a time in which it was the norm due to racial tensions against different minority groups to have either blackface occurring or the wrong race played a historical or fictional figure in film, or in other words, white-washing a film. Movies that used blackface include Birth of a Nation (1915), The Jazz Singer (1927), and Gandhi (1982), and wrong representation in films occurred in Breakfast at Tiffany’s when a while male played an Asian, and in Dragon Seed (1944) with Katherine Hepburn, a white female, playing an Asian.
Although these movies may have been classics, they were very disrespectful in regards to the stereotype they implanted in people’s minds of different races. It is the 21st century and these are more progressive times so one would think that figures of pop or historical culture would finally be depicted the correct way, right?
Why is society moving backwards? A huge reason is in part that Hollywood is still racist. No, you did not read that wrong, Hollywood uses a form of racism that isn’t the upfront type we are used to seeing, but it is still there. There are directors and casting crew that hire the lighter, whiter or most famous celebrities to depict a story due to things like the desire for high profits in theaters or opinionated aesthetics of beauty. This takes away the rawness and fulfillment of full representation in some films. This occurs in films like Aloha in which Emma Stone plays a half-Asian woman. In the film, they darkened her skin a little to fit her character. Although this casting may have been a plot for revenue in theaters, it was offensive to a lot of Asian audiences and some movie critics. We see this again in the casting of Scarlett Johansson in the film Ghost in the Shell. Ghost in the Shell is a Japanese Manga series in which the main character is Asian. In the film, there were argued affects that claimed to make her look Asian. This created heated controversy and brought up movies dating back to Katherine Hepburn’s portrayal as an Asian woman. Fans of this franchise as well as Asian stars like Constance Wu were outraged. Hollywood needs to do better! Although we have gradually progressed since the 1900’s there needs to be more right-minded film creators that care more about accurately representing films, and they need to shy away from myths like how a minority-filled cast can’t make a blockbuster (clearly that has been proven wrong with the recent blockbuster hit Black Panther). Some directors like Steven Spielberg have taken account of these matters and have started the process of change that was long overdue.
Yes, there is a new Spielberg project and it has people excited! He will be directing the remake of West Side Story, an American classic. The original film was a victim of blackface in which the lead role, Maria, was played by Natalie Wood, an American white female. This film was a Romeo and Juliet adaptation between a Latina and White Family. Originally Rita Moreno, a Latina supporting actress in the film, was supposed to be the leading role, but the production company and some filmmakers refused to give a Latina a leading role, believing in notions that no one would want to see it. They darkened Natalie Wood’s skin and reportedly had her shadowing Moreno to pick up on her mannerisms in order to accurately play a Latina. Spielberg is giving this movie a second chance! He is opening up a casting call for an all Latina cast and he wants fresh new talent! This movie is projected to come out either 2019 or 2020. Hopefully this film and films like Black Panther will blaze the trail for more accurate diverse casting in future cinema. It will give society a whole new prospective on understanding the past as well as the society they live in today.