Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Whitewashing and Americanization

I hate Hollywood.

I take that back, I don't hate Hollywood. I actually kind of love the whole stupid glamorous self-absorbed situation. But they are working my last nerve.

First, there's the new film Extraordinary Measures, which looks kind of dumb on the whole anyway. But there's nothing overtly offensive about that, really, until you read this.

Basically, the story has Brendan Frasier and Harrison Ford working together to find the cure for a rare disease that strikes children. Harrison Ford plays the doctor, Brendan Frasier the aggrieved parent. It's based on a real-life story...sort of. As mentioned in Roger Ebert's review:
Dr. Robert Stonehill doesn't exist in real life. The Pompe cure was developed by Dr. Yuan-Tsong Chen and his colleagues while he was at Duke University. He is now director of the Institute of Biomedical Science in Taiwan. Harrison Ford, as this film's executive producer, perhaps saw Stonehill as a plum role for himself; a rewrite was necessary because he couldn't very well play Dr. Chen. The real Chen, a Taiwan University graduate, worked his way up at Duke from a residency to professor and chief of medical genetics at the Duke University Medical Center. He has been mentioned as a Nobel candidate.

I suspect Dr. Chen might have inspired a more interesting character than "Dr. Stonehill." The Nebraskan seems inspired more by Harrison Ford's image and range. He plays the doctor using only a few spare parts off the shelf. (1) He likes to crank up rock music while he works. (2) He doesn't return messages. (3) He's so feckless he accidentally hangs up on Crowley by pulling the phone off his desk. (4) He likes to drink beer from longneck bottles in a honky-tonk bar and flirt with the waitress. (5) "I'm a scientist, not a doctor," he says. He's not interested in Pompe patients, only the chemistry of the disease.
Uh huh. Why? Why does Hollywood feel the need to consistently whitewash Asians (and other ethnicities, but somehow this seems most prevalent with Asians) out of real-life stories? Or even cartoons (I'm looking at you, The Last Airbender! Or how about you, Prince of Persia starring super European-looking Jake Gyllenhaal!) At least the trend of remaking every successful Japanese horror movie to come across the Pacific into a crappier film starring white people seems to have slowed lately.

Second, and just as annoying really, comes this news that apparently a Hollywood biopic about Winne Mandela is being made, without ever asking her or even telling her about it.
Titled "Winnie", the film is directed by South African film-maker Darrell J. Roodt, whose work includes "Cry, The Beloved Country" and "Sarafina."

But a letter from her attorney Bowman Gilfillan said Madikizela-Mandela was "extremely concerned" to hear about the film, saying "she has never been approached for consent or at all," according to The Star newspaper.

"It is difficult to understand how a production bearing the name of an individual who has not been consulted at all could ever be appropriate or tell the full story of that individual's life as media reports suggest this production is intended to," the letter said, according to the paper.
Which is kind of rude, to say the least.

And that's not even mentioning this aspect of it.
The film had already stoked controversy in South Africa when Hudson was tapped to play the role, sparking outrage among local actors who complained that South African talent had again been overlooked by Hollywood.
No kidding. While I'm sure Jennifer Hudson could do an excellent job (although it would depend on how distracting her fake accent winds up sounding, I guess), they didn't even try? Maybe it's for the best, they might have cast Charlize Theron or something.


Tony said...

Along the lines of "Prince of Persia", don't forget Hilary Duff cast as the middle-east pop-star in "War, Inc.".

Kristin said...

wrt African-Americans playing Africans: Don't forget Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela in "Invictus." Forest Whitaker as Idi Amin in "The Last King of Scotland." And Don Cheadle as Paul Rusesabagina in "Hotel Rwanda." With the exception of District 9 (which was itself a really racist film), I can think of no major films about Africans that starred Africans in recent history.

Kristin said...

And by "major films," btw, I meant large Hollywood studio films. I should've been more precise. Of course, there are great independent films coming out of many countries in Africa, especially South Africa. But these can be hard to find in many places outside of Netflix, and they are almost never shown in theaters in my town.

Vanessa said...

Kristin: The only one that immediately comes to mind is Djimon Hounsu in Amistad, and that was kind of ages ago.

Tony: Looking at the imdb pictures of her from that movie, they appear to have even done a bit of "brownfacing." Yuck.

Nancy said...

I enjoyed this post. You write beautifully. Keep posting!!

This is Nancy from Israeli Uncensored News