With the Academy Awards now less than one week away, more attention is being drawn to the fact that this year’s Oscars will be dominated by white actors. There has been talk of boycotts and lots of hand-wringing on how to fix the problem by those closest to the event, but perhaps no think piece has cut through to the heart of the issue as well as John Oliver did on this week’s episode of ‘Last Week Tonight’.
We’ve come to expect nothing but the best from Oliver, but this takedown of Hollywood whitewashing is especially brutal. Whitewashing is when Hollywood decides to cast a white actor in the role of a non-white character for no real reason. Gizmodo has a list of some of the more notable examples from recent history, but for some real impact, just watch the below clip from ‘Last Week Tonight’.
The truth as laid out in the 4 and a half minute clip is that whitewashing is as old as Hollywood itself. Some of the biggest Tinsel Town legends of all time have taken part in the practice, from John Wayne in ‘The Conquerer’ to Natalie Wood in ‘West Side Story.’
More recent stars taken to task in the clip include Tom Cruise for his role in ‘The Last Samurai’ and Emma Stone in ‘Aloha’.
Oliver also points out that even when a black actor finally manages to land a major role, they then have to put up with those who don’t feel they are the “right fit” for the job. Actor John Boyega most recently had to deal with this problem when he was cast as a black Stormtrooper in ‘The Force Awakens’.
As a result of this year’s controversy, the Academy has announced that it will be taking dramatic steps to diversify its membership and hopefully future Oscar nominations. As reported by the NY Times, the radical changes will affect everything from its recruiting process to its governing structure, in addition to the updating the voting requirements.