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Hollywood's Worst "Whitewashing" Controversies

While Hollywood has come a long way from the days of white actors depicting minority characters in offensive makeup – such as John Wayne as Genghis Khan in The Conqueror (1956) and Mickey Rooney as Mr. Yunioshi in Breakfast at Tiffany"s (1961), there are still several practices involving non-white characters and casting that continue to receive criticism by those who want to see much more diversity in Hollywood films.

One of the terms often used in such criticism is “whitewashing” – which specifically refers to a film casting a white actor in a non-white role. Another similar issue is when a film set in a predominantly non-white region features white actors as leads instead of native actors or actors of native descent. Two recent examples of the latter are The Great Wall (starring Matt Damon) and Ghost in the Shell (starring Scarlett Johansson).

Hollywood’s usual explanation for these casting issues is that big-budget films like The Great Wall and Ghost in the Shell need bankable stars that are proven box office draws in order to get financed in the first place. While that makes sense from a business standpoint—and it"s important to remember that Hollywood filmmaking is primarily a business -- it means other actors don"t get the same opportunities. It also ignores films like The Lord of the Rings trilogy or Avatar, which are massive successes without featuring A-list Hollywood stars.

Incidentally, The Great Wall director Yimou Zhang has rejected accusations that his film is an example of the whitewashing because of the film"s multi-ethnic cast (in addition to Damon, The Great Wall stars Willem Dafoe, Chilean actor Pedro Pascal, Turkish actor Numan Acar, and the largest-ever cast of Chinese actors), and because he initiated the project in part to specifically work with Damon. Others also argue that directors should have the right to cast whomever is the best actor for a particular role if a character"s race is not intrinsic to the character itself.

Here are three of the most criticized practices when it comes to

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