Mel Gibson aside, filmmakers like to see themselves as a particularly progressive sort, full of tolerance for other people and other cultures. We live in tolerant times far removed from the rampant segregation and prejudice which characterised earlier eras, but that doesn’t necessarily mean racism has been banished completely. Now obviously, anti-racist attitudes are prevalent in the film industry – as they should be – but these attitudes don’t always translate well into the films themselves. Hollywood has often been racist, whether intentionally or unintentionally, and this spectre has re-raised its ugly head recently with Johnny Depp’s controversial turn as a Native American in The Lone Ranger.
The problem is that it can be very easy to stumble into the racism trap – in Depp’s case, it’s the demand to shoehorn in a star name at the cost of racial sensitivity. In other cases it can be caused by racial insensitivity, shocking ignorance and occasionally, the fact that a film just won’t sell with a ‘foreigner’ at the helm. Especially in Hollywood’s case it can be hard to sell a film without some sort of American presence, leading to other cultures being homogenised until they’re rendered palatable to the target audience. In laymans terms, this often results in the whiting up of ethnic characters. A grand slew of films have fallen foul of one or more of these rules over the years, and I intend to identify a few in this list.
And no, I’m not referencing Birth Of A Nation. It’s just far, far too easy.
This article was first posted on July 8, 2013