Gabriela Herstik
April 25, 2017 2:10 pm
See-Saw Films

Hollywood is a hard place to be for nearly anyone (hello La La Land, we’re looking at you). And the fact is, if you’re of a minority, stakes are even higher. There just aren’t as many opportunities in Hollywood if you aren’t white. This is why people are so upset at Netflix’s remake of a classic Chinese novelJourney to the West. 

The story dates back to the 16th century and is about a Buddhist Monk and three fallen Chinese gods. Oh, and it’s considered one of the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese literature. Netflix’s version of the show is called Legend of the Monkey, and it’s problematic because it features a non-Chinese cast.

This is an issue for an obvious reason; if you’re reinterpreting a classic Chinese text for modern viewers, the least you can do is actually honor that text by giving Chinese actors the opportunity to portray the characters. To hit this point home, the University of Southern California analyzed over 21,000 characters and behind-the-scenes workers on more than 400 films and television shows that were released from September 2014 through August 2015. The study found that over half the films had no asian speaking characters.

Chai Hansen, who plays Monkey, is half-Thai and two other male characters have Maori backgrounds, so this technically isn’t whitewashing. But it’s still an issue, considering the importance of the text. After Matt Damon was cast to play the protagonist in The Great Wall, a film set in ancient China, you’d think Hollywood would have learned its lesson by now: Whitewashing is never a good look.

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