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11 controversial castings that REALLY caused a stink

Digital Spy (UK) logo Digital Spy (UK) 08/09/2018 Hugh Armitage
a couple of people posing for the camera: Whitewashing is alive and well in Hollywood. Controversial castings that REALLY caused a stink - from Emma Stone to Jake Gyllenhaal. © Jurow-Shepherd/ Columbia Pictures - Universal Whitewashing is alive and well in Hollywood. Controversial castings that REALLY caused a stink - from Emma Stone to Jake Gyllenhaal.

Sensitive casting decisions are never guaranteed in Hollywood, as we were all reminded when Power RangersRangers fans threw up their arms at the casting of caucasian Elizabeth Banks as the villain Rita Repulsa – a character originally played by Japanese actress Machiko Soga in the (generally scrupulously diverse) show.

And in a world where Aladdin extras are still done up in brownface, the end of whitewashing controversies isn't in sight. Here are 11 castings that famously raised protests:

1. Scarlett Johansson – Ghost in the Shell

a person with collar shirt: Scarlett Johansson Ghost in the Shell © Shochiku Scarlett Johansson Ghost in the Shell

There are two projects that incur the anti-whitewashing ire of fans like no others, and both happen to be live-action manga/anime adaptations – Akira and Ghost in the Shell. Hollywood seems to think the only option it has is to take these Japanese classics and cast a load of white actors in them.

While we're still keeping our fingers crossed for no Akira ever, Scarlett Johansson's best Motoko Kusanagi impression wasn't enough to assuage the controversy over Ghost in the Shell. And it's not just the fans who were protesting – Agents of SHIELD's Ming-Na Wen wasn't impressed either.

2. Matt Damon – The Great Wall

a man wearing a military uniform: Matt Damon in The Great Wall trailer © Universal Matt Damon in The Great Wall trailer

It may be helmed by celebrated director Zhang Yimou and the rest of the cast may be mostly filled out by Asian actors, but that didn't stop Matt Damon from playing the hero who defends all of China from dragons.

While it isn't the most egregious example of the 'White Saviour' trope, it got more than a few backs up.

3. Mickey Rooney – Breakfast at Tiffany's

Mickey Rooney et al. posing for the camera: Mickey Rooney Breakfast at Tiffany's © Silver Screen Collection / Paramount - Getty Images Mickey Rooney Breakfast at Tiffany's

The Truman Capote film is an undisputed classic, but the contempt for Mickey Rooney's horrible Japanese caricature IY Yunioshi has only grown over the years.

Producer Richard Shepherd has claimed that he wanted to cast a Japanese actor in the role, and has even gone so far as to say: "If we could just change Mickey Rooney, I'd be thrilled with the movie," with director Blake Edwards adding that he "would give anything to be able to recast it".

4. Johnny Depp – The Lone Ranger

Johnny Depp wearing glasses: Johnny Depp The Lone Ranger © C Flanigan / Disney - Getty Images Johnny Depp The Lone Ranger

Some of these castings can be put down to outdated ideas about race, but by 2013 people were asking whether Johnny Depp was really the wisest casting for Tonto.

Despite the actor's vague claims to Native American ancestry, audiences were apparently not convinced – one among many reasons The Lone Ranger flopped.

5. Fisher Stevens – Short Circuit

Fisher Stevens, Fisher Stevens are posing for a picture: Fisher Stevens in Short Circuit © Ron Galella / TriStar - Getty Images Fisher Stevens in Short Circuit

The much-loved '80s sci-fi comedies Short Circuit and Short Circuit 2 became somewhat less loved when audiences noticed that Indian-American engineer Ben Jabituya (Ben Jahveri in the sequel, because hey, Indian names all sound the same, right?) was played by "thin, white Jewish kid from Chicago" Fisher Stevens.

Years later, Parks and Recreation's Aziz Ansari spoke to Stevens about how the casting made him feel as a young man of Indian descent. Not great, it turns out.

6. Laurence Olivier – Othello

Laurence Olivier, Laurence Olivier are posing for a picture: Laurence Olivier Othello © John Kobal Foundation / Warner Bros - Getty Images Laurence Olivier Othello

The decision to black up legendary stage actor Laurence Olivier as Shakespeare's jealous general in 1966 was deemed pretty insensitive at the height of America's Civil Rights Movement – and that's even before taking into account his made-up accent and weird limp. None of which stopped him bagging an Oscar nomination for the role, of course.

Olivier had some pretty ripe things to say about his "transformation", which you can find here if you insist on subjecting yourself to them.

7. Jake Gyllenhaal – Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

Jake Gyllenhaal Prince of Persia © Disney Jake Gyllenhaal Prince of Persia

More like Prince of Southern California.

Fortunately, Gyllenhaal had Gemma Arterton there alongside him to add all the exotic mystery of Gravesend to the "insulting" Orientalist proceedings.

8. John Wayne – The Conqueror

John Wayne wearing a suit and tie: John Wayne The Conqueror © Pictorial Parade / RKO - Getty Images John Wayne The Conqueror

They may say that 1 in 200 men are descended from Genghis Khan, but we're not sure that Western icon John Wayne was one of them.

The Howard Hughes production – which featured a complete lack of Asian actors even beyond Wayne's Mongol emperor – is considered one of the worst films of all time, and that's even before you factor in the rumours that a nearby nuclear-testing site gave The Conqueror's cast and crew cancer.

9. Emma Stone – Aloha

a woman standing in front of a building: Emma Stone in Aloha © Fox Emma Stone in Aloha

Casting a quarter-Hawaiian, quarter-Chinese person whose appearance doesn't reflect her heritage was never going to be easy, even if she is based on a real-life person.

Director Cameron Crowe should have probably dropped that role rather than bringing in Emma 'the whitest Asian person Hollywood could find' Stone for the part of Allison Ng.

10. Robert Downey Jr – Tropic Thunder

a man wearing a hat: Robert Downey Jr in Tropic Thunder © Paramount Robert Downey Jr in Tropic Thunder

Controversial perhaps because of how not-that-controversial it was at the time for Downey Jr to don blackface to play method actor Kirk Lazarus in Ben Stiller's Hollywood in-joke laden comedy.

The actor even received a Oscar nomination for the role. Of course it's satire – Downey Jr isn't playing a black actor, he's playing an ignorant and arrogant white actor who has his skin darkened for a role. Funny? Problematic? You decide.

11. Pretty much everyone in Exodus: Gods and Kings

a man wearing a costume: Joel Edgerton Exodus Gods and Kings © Warner Bros. Joel Edgerton Exodus Gods and Kings

People were less than pleased – see the #boycottexodusmovie hashtag for details – when the Biblical Israelites vs Egyptians tale cast was filled out with English, Australian and white American actors in its lead roles.

Matters weren't helped by director Ridley Scott piping up to say that he wouldn't have got the film funded if the "lead actor is Mohammad so-and-so from such-and-such". If only Sir Ridley were more influential and better established...

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