“Whitewashed”

Most refer to the term “whitewashed” in reference to the way someone of a minority race acts, talks, dresses, etc. I’ve always had a problem with this word and want to re-define it in a way that can educate and eliminate the stereotypes we have in our society.

“Whitewashed” surrounds the issue of Asian/Asian American representation in the media, and addresses the following questions: How do these messages and images translate to how we see ourselves in the real world? Does it affect the way we wear our hair or put on our makeup? Are we appropriated by “beauty” standards or do we fight against them?

Growing up biracial, the rarity of having a role-model in mainstream media that was identified and portrayed as a person of mixed race affected my own perception of self in society. Questions of whether to identify as solely Caucasian or Asian, or how to cope with this struggle are issues many like myself have dealt with even throughout adulthood. While today’s literature examine both topics separately, there are no studies that confront their interrelatedness. There are also no full-length documentaries that challenge the pragmatics of mixed race representation in media and popular culture, and its effects on multiracial people. There exists countless films, plays, music and text that feature multiracial Asians whose ethnicities are rarely acknowledged. Instead, Hollywood reverts to what I refer as “whitewashing,” a term that is the premise of my documentary and a topic we have yet to see covered in documentary film.

The entertainment industry has its checklist for actors and musicians regarding their physical appearance. Half Asians do exist in the media yet their ethnicities are consistently whitewashed. When biracial actors are casted as monoracial characters, it presents a fetishized and ideal Hollywood image of race provoking false imagery to viewers. In the 2003 film Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle, Chinese actress Lucy Liu’s father is played by a Caucasian actor; in 2009, Caucasian actor Justin Chatwin played the famous Japanese anime character Son Goku in Dragonball: Evolution. In Sika Alaine Dagbovie’s “Star-Light, Star-Bright, Star Damn Near White: Mixed-Race Superstars,” she states, “In the entertainment industry, a star’s biracial identity may fade, be tucked away or even disappear according to audience perceptions and star construction” (2007, 219). Though the author primarily focuses on African American celebrities, she makes a clear point that these biracial stars’ roles can easily be reduced to either “tragic or exotic” (Dagbovie 2007, 221). Actor Dean Cain, who is half Japanese, is known for his role as Clark Kent/Superman in the television series Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. While Cain does not play an Asian character, there is an underlying tragedy in the role of Clark having to be two separate people, which is essentially what biracial actors must struggle with. Exoticism is portrayed in the recent series Nikita where lead actress Maggie Q, half Vietnamese, is the typical dominatrix, yet her ethnicity is never acknowledged. These are two prime examples of whitewashing and they have yet to be exposed in documentary cinema.

Continue reading this literature review here.

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