Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Here’s a depressing montage of white actors in non-white roles

Photo: Rooney Mara (Pan)

One of the more memorable moments in Aziz Ansari’s Master Of None was a montage of white actors who have donned brown face and a fake accent to play Indian characters. Now ScreenCrush is taking that idea one step further, documenting the long history of white actors who have played other races throughout cinema history. Starting with Viola Davis’ pointed reminder that, “[Women of color] cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there,” the video kicks things off with 1921’s The Sheik, a silent film in which Rudolph Valentino plays an Arab leader.

From there the video zooms through Hollywood history, hitting plenty of the most egregious examples of cross-racial casting, like Natalie Wood in West Side Story, Mickey Rooney in Breakfast At Tiffany’s, and Laurence Olivier in Othello. The video notes that Lena Horne was originally cast as a mixed-race character in Showboat, but MGM replaced her with Ava Gardner. And it quickly becomes clear that there could be a whole separate supercut of biblical whitewashing based on how many white actors have taken on the roles of Jesus, Moses, Noah, and their various relatives over the years.


Unfortunately, such examples don’t stop in the distant past as the video moves into the present day to highlight the controversy over Exodus: Gods And Kings, Emma Stone’s infamous casting as an part-Asian Hawaiian, and Rooney Mara’s turn as Tiger Lily. In a particularly timely addition, the video ends on the announcement that Joseph Fiennes has been cast as Michael Jackson in an upcoming dramedy. One has to assume that when Jackson sang, “It don’t matter if you’re black or white,” this isn’t exactly what he meant.

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