10 Worst Examples Of Hollywood Whitewashing

Matt Damon's not the only white saviour to cinematically trample across other cultures...

The Ancient One
Marvel Studios

Matt Damon is neither the hero China needs, nor the one it deserves, if you go in for the latest controversy from the world of cinema. His lead role in The Great Wall, the newly released fantasy epic about the construction of the Great Wall of China, has not gone down well – after all, why should a movie about an important piece of Chinese history be led by a white actor?

This is an issue that has plagued Hollywood embarrassingly often over recent years. Just last year, one of the most anticipated comic book movies, in Doctor Strange was criticised for rebranding a major character as white, and that wasn’t even the only whitewashing controversy of 2016.

Racially questionable casting is a long-standing cinematic tradition, though. Some earlier cases – and the make-up techniques used – would really not be acceptable today, so it’s reassuring to know that some progress has been made.

Still, it's a storied and unfortunate history...

10. Benedict Cumberbatch As Khan (Star Trek Into Darkness, 2013)

The Ancient One
Paramount Pictures

The second film in the Star Trek reboot series may have moved farther away from anything resembling Star Trek and closer to all-out visual effects headache, but critics and audiences alike were impressed by the performance of Benedict Cumberbatch as legendary Trek villain John Harrison.

No, wait, that’s not his name, is it? It's Khan - or to give him his full name, Khan Noonien Singh – who, in the original Star Trek canon, was an Indian Sikh. So, with all due respect to Cumberbatch’s talents, it doesn’t seem right that he be played by an actor whose very name has become an oft-parodied shorthand for Britain’s current school of white, upper-class actors.

Then again, Khan was played in the original Star Trek series by Ricardo Montalban, who was Mexican and who actually portrayed the character as Indian, whereas at least the Cumberbatch character was just a white guy with an inexplicably Indian name.

Then again, Montalban was cast in the ‘60s, when it seemed that any foreigner would do, and we should really be expecting better diversity from today’s Hollywood.


Kieron is a human male from the planet Earth. By day he writes for various publications, including WhatCulture, Starburst, Doctor Who Adventures, and Campfire Graphic Novels, and edits The Big Picture. By night he's either asleep or watching Netflix, depending on what time he has to get up in the morning.