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The problem of whitewashing dark-skinned characters

The problem of whitewashing dark-skinned characters

The problem of whitewashing dark-skinned characters
October 19
02:00 2020

The recent murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and many other African Americans at the hands of American law enforcement have stirred a conversation of racial injustice around the nation. A similar conversation has been sparked in Hollywood and the media world regarding the whitewashing of characters. This concept is usually displayed in these two forms — white actors being cast to play non-white characters and previously non-white characters being completely rewritten to enable white actors to play them in shows or films.

In June, Kristen Bell, a white actress, stepped-down from her role as the mixed-race character, Molly, on Apple TV+’s “Central Park.” Following in her footsteps, other white actors and actresses stepped away from voicing or playing non-white characters. Just recently, Mike Henry, the voice of Cleveland Brown in “Family Guy” announced that he would step down from the role for the show’s 15th season. The creators of “The Simpsons” also vowed to not have non-white characters voiced by white actors in future seasons.

Some may see this act as noble, however, at the root of this issue is the fact that these non-white characters were given breath by white actors. Hollywood’s inability to provide the proper racial representation has deep repercussions for it silently impacts people of color, especially children. In 2018, Disney was accused of whitewashing Princess Tiana in the trailer for “Ralph Breaks the Internet.” Waves of people took issue with this because Princess Tiana, Disney’s first and only Black princess, was shown with not only a lighter skin complexion, but also a narrower nose – emphasizing the problematic historical concept of eurocentrism.

The replacement of Princess Tiana’s dark complexion, full lips, and wide nose feeds into the notion that eurocentric standards of beauty are superior to those of Black people. This erasure of Blackness from a Black character is incredibly harmful to the little Black girls and boys who look up to them and have no other representation of characters who look like them.

The existence of Princess Tiana means more than words can express to young Black girls. For the first time, they were able to identify with a Disney princess. Princess Tiana allowed young Black girls, especially those of darker complexion, to see the beauty in their skin tone and Blackness in general. Her existence has also served as a representation of power to many young Black girls. Princess Tiana’s triumph in The Princess and the Frog inspired little Black girls all over the world to not limit their possibilities despite the challenges of racial inequality.

By whitewashing characters, Disney and other companies alienate a large portion of their audience. In erasing the ethic features of a character, they imply that having dark skin, full lips, wide noses and kinky hair patterns is a great inconvenience and not as valuable as eurocentric features. The significant changes these characters undergo in order to be played by white actors also adopt the narrative that people of color are not as equipped to take on these roles. In the case of dark skin characters, it furthers the stereotype that dark skin people are not as marketable as white or individuals with lighter complexions.

This is detrimental to the real people that those characters previously represented. Black dark-skinned people already lack proper representation in film and the media. It is past time for producers and writers to consider the harsh implications whitewashing has on entire communities before finalizing their projects. It is incredibly harmful and has a long-lasting impact.

Featured Illustration by Miranda Thomas

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Michelle Monari

Michelle Monari

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