Black History Month and the problem of Hollywood whitewashing

Last Friday night Film Arts Committee, in collaboration with MSDO, showed the movie “Straight Outta Compton” in the Recital Hall for Black History Month. The film covers the rise of the prolific hip-hop group N.W.A, focusing on the social climate in Compton and the United States at the time of the group’s inception. It is a fitting time to show “Straight Outta Compton,” as movie fans turn their attention towards the Oscars this coming Sunday, which features a lack of any non-white nominees in the top four categories for the second year in a row.

The nominations that were announced in January sparked outrage on social media, and the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite began trending on Twitter. Various celebrities have stated that they plan to boycott this year’s ceremony, including Jada Pinkett-Smith and her husband, Will Smith, director Michael Moore and director Spike Lee.

Some observers point to Hollywood not providing prominent roles for non-white actors as the problem. This problem is accentuated by the tendency for white actors to be cast in roles of non-white characters, a phenomenon known as “whitewashing.” Recent examples of this are when non-white actors and actresses were cast to play Egyptians in 2014’s “Exodus: Gods and Kings” and “Gods of Egypt,” which opens next weekend.

You may be asking, “How is this possible? Why is everything being whitewashed?” and the answer to this can be summed up in one word: money. The recent controversies surrounding black actor John Boyega being cast as a stormtrooper in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” or Idris Elba hypothetically being the next James Bond are enough to scare Hollywood into thinking that casting a non-white lead-role may be box office suicide. This seems silly in light of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” making over $2 billion at the box office, but the risk of losing money is often assumed to be too much for Hollywood studios.

The problems with Hollywood and the Academy’s lack of diversity are a deep-rooted manifestation of racism today. It may seem that these institutions are too large to topple, but movie viewers can do their part to send Hollywood the message that diversity in film is important and everybody deserves representation. The money of the consumer is the only thing that truly matters to Hollywood studios, so viewers can make their voices heard by not seeing movies that feature blatant whitewashing and continue supporting movies like “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” or “Straight Outta Compton” that work to change which stories Hollywood produces and how they portray them.