Whitewashing—my origin story

I experience a different kind of racism in Jakarta (I might make a post in the future about this). This took me years to realise despite having lived in the damn city (kind of) all of my life. Basically, I go to an international school and a majority of the curriculum was Western-based. I didn’t get a lot of learnings about Indonesian history, but I learned quite a bit about Western civilisation and it was through these learnings that I first learned about racism. However, every time I learn about it, it’s never . . . specific. It’s always been about white people against black people. That’s barely scratching the surface of racism—it’s literally black-and-white thinking. But it was enough a mark in my understanding of the world. It wasn’t until I was fifteen or sixteen that it was far more layered and complex and far less monochromatic, I guess you could say, than just that. And it kept going from there.

I remember my first instance with white-washing; I must’ve been about twelve at the time. I watched a movie called Hachiko: A Dog’s Tale. If you don’t know what that’s about, it’s a movie based on a true story about the most loyal dog in the world—or, at least, in all of Japan. I cried—surprise, surprise.

The movie starred Richard Gere as Hachiko’s owner. Now when I first watched this movie, I’ve never heard of Hachiko in my life and because I loved it so much, as soon as I got home, I researched the hell out of it. Through this, I found out that Hachiko’s owner is Japanese—shocking—and Richard Gere . . . is not Japanese.

In fact, I don’t think anyone in the cast was Japanese other than the extras and background characters.

Twelve-year-old me wasn’t aware that white-washing was—is—a thing, but it had bothered me that they’d cast a white man for the role of the owner. Only I wasn’t sure why I found it so. I simply thought, ‘That’s weird. Why did they do that?’ Never got an answer (because I didn’t know where to look or how to ask it) and soon enough, I moved on to other things. The issue was under a bed—still there, even if I’d completely forgotten about it. It wasn’t until years later, when I spring-cleaned the metaphorical bed that is my mind, that I put two and two together and realised why the casting had ticked me off so much.

I didn’t have an issue with anything else after that. Maybe it’s because I tend not to notice the people front-facing whatever media I’m consuming and just focus on the story instead, I used to not notice how extremely bleached—from casting to critical response, etc.—everything can be. It wasn’t until I was eighteen—I can’t remember the full extent of the memory, but it probably had something to do with Tumblr—that I began to fully appreciate having people of colour of multiple ethnicities and backgrounds being represented in media. If anything:

a) has a person of colour as the star of a movie, TV show, video game, or book,
b) has people of colour outbalances white people,
c) involves race-bending, in which originally white characters aren’t that in the adaptation (or anything of the sort), and/or
d) includes characters of colour in any story in a non-stereotypical way and gives them an array of roles just because they can but ultimately still treating said characters with respect

then guaranteed I would already have loved it. Or if I haven’t already, then you would have my full attention.

Case in point: Dreamfall ChaptersMoanaHamilton…

I could go on.

I’ve been scrutinising media everywhere I go since. Does it have enough character of colour in it? How would this story be different had this character been black/Hispanic/Asian (East Asian? South Asian? South-east Asian?), etc.? Things like that.

I never get an answer, but speculating helps.

One last thing before I go. You know how big-time (white) moviemakers always go “Ugh, movies with non-white people won’t sell!”? Yeah. Clearly, they haven’t been paying attention to the world lately. And it’s not that it just won’t sell, they’re also scared of the potential backlash.

Well, they shouldn’t be. Racists assholes can go suck a dick.

If you’ve made it this far into my post, then thank you for reading! Sorry if this post seems rushed or underdeveloped, but I feel like I should get it out there. Let me know if you relate in any way and I’ll see you in my next post!

Until next time,
The DEVil herself 👹

(Side image taken from here)


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