Weeks of outrage over "whitewashing" in Hollywood have begun to boil over into social media, as thousands of Asian-Americans took to Twitter starting on May 3 to voice their grievances using the #whitewashedOUT hashtag.
Scarlett Johansson's casting as the lead in Ghost in the Shell — a Japanese character in the original and beloved manga series — has been public since last year, but Paramount and DreamWorks Pictures recently revealed the first photo of the actor in character, reigniting criticism. Then, Marvel responded to recent backlash over Tilda Swinton's role in Doctor Strange as the Ancient One (who is Asian in the comics) by declaring that the character is now "Celtic," which only added fuel to the anger.
That's why The Nerds of Color founder Keith Chow, YA author Ellen Oh, comedian Margaret Cho, and an entire team of numerous other Asian-Americans started yesterday's hashtag protest. They denounced Hollywood's whitewashing, not only for casting white actors in roles that could or should go to people of color, but for persistently defaulting to white characters' plots as the center of films and television narratives.
Oh, who also launched the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign in 2014, initially came up with the idea for #whitewashedOUT after hearing Constance Wu's plea for the Asian-American community to take a stand against Hollywood's longstanding penchant for whitewashing. It was her goal to create a space where Asian-American voices could be united and amplified.
"In general, people have always blown us off because of the model minority myth, and the [misconception] that Asians are quiet and submissive," Oh told BuzzFeed News in a phone interview. "This is really our way of saying we will not be ignored anymore."
For Chow, "The whole idea of being whitewashed goes beyond just Asian characters being played by white people. It's the idea of centering whiteness in every story," he told BuzzFeed News in a phone interview. "Whiteness to them is 'colorblind.' Everyone can project themselves onto a white guy.
"Being an Asian-American person, I've spent my entire life identifying with non-Asian people, because you have to," Chow continued. "And I want tell white moviegoers it's not that hard to see a person [who isn't of] your ethnicity and identify with that person. We've been doing it for years."
The #whitewashedOUT hashtag quickly went viral online as people decried the perceived erasure of Asian-Americans.
Many people shared stories about how they rarely saw Asian-American faces onscreen growing up — and how it's still the case today.
In the time since the hashtag protest earned prominence, Doctor Strange director Scott Derrickson has responded to the Swinton backlash to his upcoming film.
Swinton has not specifically addressed #whitewashedOUT; however, as previously reported, she told The Hollywood Reporter, "I wasn't asked to play an Asian character, you can be very well assured of that." Likewise, neither Ghost in the Shell director Rupert Sanders nor Johansson have responded in public.
However, Chow remains hopeful that there will be change. He said that though "these voices have been shouting for a long time," there seems to be a larger audience for the issue, now that they've created a hashtag to help unify their voices.
"If the people who are making decisions are listening to what's going on on the ground, then the proof will be in the pudding when things start to change," he said. "We're not doing this to just complain. We're doing this to effect change ... We want things to get better."
Although Oh concedes that Derrickson's response to the Doctor Strange backlash was "huge," she reaffirmed that the conversation must continue. That's why #whitewashedOUT is taking place throughout the month of May rather than just a single day. "Putting our voices all together — that has to be a continuation," she said. "We have to continue this."
This post was updated with additional comments from Ellen Oh, who helped to launch #whitewashedOUT.