The 6 Worst Cases of "Whitewashing" in Hollywood History

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The act of “whitewashing” isn’t new in Hollywood, it’s been there since the beginning of movies. From the controversial blackface in D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation, to the very white Natalie Wood playing the Puerto Rican Maria in West Side Story, it is still a big problem today as taken into evidence by the following movies – many only released in the last few years.

I've taken out the “blackface” roles from Hollywood’s silent era, for two reasons: 1) there are just way too many racist and disturbing examples, and 2) do we really want to go back and revisit that terrible time when there are countless examples in recent films

I.Y. Yunioshi - "Breakfast at Tiffany's" (1961)

This is the most racist portrayal in our list, bar none. Casting legendary Hollywood actor Mickey Rooney as Mr. Yunoshi in Breakfast at Tiffany’s is the biggest flaw in an otherwise iconic movie. Rooney wore makeup and a prosthetic mouthpiece to portray an arrogant and bitter Japanese neighbor. It has been rumored that Bruce Lee was so offended by the role that he walked out, not even midway through the film at a screening. Producer Richard Shepard has long said that he regretted the casting and that it only came into fruition because director Blake Edwards really wanted Rooney for the role. Years later, Edwards himself has admitted to regretting the casting and has said that if he had a chance, he’d have done it differently today. The damage, sadly, was already done.

Hrundi Bakshi - "The Party" (1968)

Blake Edwards at it again. Not everybody laughed at Peter Sellers’ incredibly silly portrayal of Hrundi Bakshi in The Party. Edwards cast the iconic comedy actor in the role of an Indian by making him wear “brownface” makeup. The story of an Indian actor who accidentally gets invited to an elite Hollywood party, the film benefits from Sellers’ obvious comedic genius, but Sellers’ casting makes the whole thing a bit awkward. Much kudos must be given to Sellers, who just disappeared into his role and made it an oddly amusing bit of screwball humor. It has since become a comedy classic and the controversy has been tamed down due to the fact that Indians themselves seemed to enjoy, especially late prime minister Indira Gandhi, who liked to quote Bakshi’s line “In India we don’t think who we are, we know who we are!”

Miguel Vargas - "Touch of Evil" (1959)

Don’t think for a second that I'm against this 1959 Orson Welles masterpiece, it’s just that an almost unrecognizable Charles Heston playing a Mexican DEA Miguel Vargas in the movie still strikes me as somewhat inauthentic. Heston is the furthest thing from Latino, which resulted in him having to wear thick layers of makeup that changed in variation from scene to scene. Some scenes he was wearing too little makeup, while in other scenes he was wearing too much. This sad bit of casting might be due to the fact that Heston was married in the movie to Janet Leigh, and the studio may not have wanted to offend anyone by showing an interracial relationship on screen.

Genghis Khan- "The Conquerer" (1956)

This hilariously miscast role is as funny as it is sad. It is no surprise that The Conqueror is known as one of the worst movies ever made and features the usually very American John Wayne as – of all people – Genghis Khan. The famous Hollywood actor,best known for his cowboy movies, puts on a huge amount of makeup to portray the future leader of the Mongolian empire. To make matters worse, many cast members died from cancer due to the shooting location: a government nuclear testing site in Nevada. To say this movie will live in infamy is an understatement.

Chante Mallard - "Stuck" (2011)

Chante Jawan Mallard is an African American woman who was sentenced to 50 years in prison for a hit and run that caused the death of a 37 year old homeless man. Chante is black. Mena Suvari is not. So why cast the very blonde Suvari – with cornrows, no less – to play a character that goes through a tragic incident very clearly inspired by Chante’s? Because it seems like she was the only “bankable” actress they could get. Why tell the story when you can’t even get some of the crucial details right? Suvari does give a good performance and the film is overall very gripping, but if you’re familiar with the real story, you can’t help but be bothered by the lead actress they chose. The film is not particularly well-known, as it only played in a select few theaters in 2008, but that doesn’t diminish the awkward casting, or those cornrows!

Othello - "Othello" (1965)

Shakespeare’s Othello might just have the most famous black character of all-time. In 1965, Laurence Olivier, an incredibly talented Shakespearean-taught actor, decided to tackle the role. The problem was that Olivier was a white British actor. So blackened his face with makeup and took on the role, admirably well might we add, with even top critic Pauline Kael flowering him with praise. Granted, white actors (including Orson Welles) had been tackling Shakespeare’s character on stage and screen for centuries, but Olivier took on the role around the same time that Sydney Poitier was the first black actor to win Best Actor for Lilies of the Field and the Civil Rights Movement was in full swing. Maybe he should have let someone else take it?

This is a redacted/edited version of my original piece for ScreenRant which can be found by clicking HERE.