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Posted under: Race & Identity Opinion

Why does Hollywood center white people in movies about people of color?

An odd trailer for a new Chinese blockbuster came out Thursday. The Great Wall is a science fiction/action film about the Great Wall of China. While the film's cast is mostly Asian, white actor Matt Damon plays a major character. In a recent interview, Zhang Yimou (the director) revealed how the film "is really told from an American’s perspective." While the collaboration between Chinese and American production companies is beautiful, why does a white male have to be the central face in a science fiction film about China's past? America prides itself in being a melting pot. People from around the world immigrate to live here, thus creating a multicultural demographic makeup. This diversity should translate to the screen, but it does not. Far too often movies are whitewashed, relegating people of color to the background while a white person plays the lead role. While whitewashing can happen in varying degrees, it can be most deadly in a movie like The Great Wall. 

The Great Wall should showcase Asian actors. Not widely known white men.

This movie has no shortage of Asian actors. But the lead role, the only person on the American theatrical poster, is a white man. While his character is not yet known, the necessity of Hollywood to make movies where white people are always front and center is problematic. Whitewashing stories that should showcase people of color perpetuates the myth of white superiority and sustains systemic racism in the entertainment industry. April White's #OscarsSoWhite campaign forced the industry to look in the mirror and address their racism. White's efforts lead to the creation of a more diverse voting class in The Academy, but the fight for a more diverse Hollywood cannot stop there. Last year, Matt Damon explained diversity to a black female director. He asserted that diversity in roles were not needed as much as diversity in casting. His assertions ignore the way in which society is impacted by people of color continuously playing racist roles. America is still segregated. Schools, prisons and neighborhoods are segregated along racial lines. People's contact with other ethnic groups is largely limited to what is presented in mass media. When I was young, I craved positive representation in media. I grew up in a time where black women in positive roles were few and far between. My favorite movies contained diverse casts and black female leads. I wish The Great Wall could do the same for young Asian children. What message is sent to audiences when a white man is centralized in the fictional story of the Great Wall of China? What does it mean for a non-white child to see a white person in the central role in a movie that heavily leans on their history? When will Hollywood recognize that white actors do not have to be cast in every movie produced?

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