Hollywood needs to stop overlooking race in lead roles
Director Cameron Crowe dedicated some effort to have his latest film “Aloha” depict Hawaii as more than a romantic backdrop, hiring Oahu locals to work with the crew and check the script for authenticity.
However, Crowe, known for “Almost Famous” and “We Bought a Zoo,” overlooked an important point: the fact that Emma Stone, the film’s lead, is not the part-Chinese, part-Hawaiian character she plays.
After facing the expected social media backlash for his casting choice, which is deemed just another example of Hollywood whitewashing, Variety reported last week that Crowe blogged an apology explaining Allison Ng, Stone’s role, is a quarter Hawaiian. But since it’s not outwardly obvious, she frequently reminds others of her heritage. After taking the blame for the controversy, he then closed with his hope to tell stories with “more racial diversity.”
While it might not have been important to Crowe to cast an actress with more similar heritage just because the character doesn’t physically show it, he’s still contributing to the infamous trend of hiring white actors to play characters of other ethnicities.
“Aloha” is about a military contractor returning to Hawaii to launch a satellite, meeting an old flame again and becoming attracted to an Air Force pilot, Stone’s character.
Crowe attempted to show he deserved a pat on the back for trying when stating in his apology that he hired Asian-American, Native-Hawaiian and Pacific-Islanders on- and off-camera.
Yet, this apology only works if one pretends his lead isn’t white and if, as a consequence, he couldn’t have expected to make more money.
As mentioned in a study conducted at the University of Southern California, of 100 top-grossing films in 2012, over 73 percent of speaking characters were white. The economic impact is clearly considered, and, as mentioned in a Huffington Post article, director Gavin Polone, known for producing “Gilmore Girls,” even admitted to being told he couldn’t cast a black lead because of how it would affect the international audience.
It’s obvious the film industry has a problem with racial representation, but the worst part is that it’s intentional.
It was seen in the 1956 film “Teahouse of the August Moon,” where actor Marlon Brando wore face prosthetics to play a Japanese interpreter. Actor Jim Sturgess played the character Hae-Joo Chang in “Cloud Atlas” and Jeffrey Ma, MIT Blackjack Team member, in “21.” George Clooney was cast for a Hawaiian role in “The Descendants.”
Casting Stone, then, can’t just be attributed to not knowing better. While Stone is a talented actress, she was definitely not the only one he could have cast to play Ng’s character.
As pointed out in a Vulture column, actresses of Chinese descent such as Olivia Munn, Sandrine Holt and Janel Parrish, who is also Hawaiian, could have also played this role.
Representation is crucial in film, and it’s absurd that directors continue to overlook that. Rather than squander opportunities for other actors and treat race as a character trait others can act out, directors should aim for inclusivity and diversity in their films, especially when it’s a major plot point.
Isabelle Cavazos is a senior majoring in English and Spanish.