There are some roles that are miscast from the very beginning, so that not even the best actor can redeem it, and never moreso when a white actor is cast to play the role of a person of color. Custom and identity is not costume and makeup, and yet for some reason it still keeps happening. Here are some really uncomfortable offenders.
Emma Stone in “Aloha” (2015)
Cameron Crowe initially defended his casting of Stone as Allison Ng in the rom-com he wrote and directed, claiming he based the character (half white, one-quarter Chinese, one-quarter Hawaiian) on a real person. But after the movie flopped and the movie became shorthand for “whitewashed” he reconsidered his decision. Stone to this day has born the brunt of the criticism; earlier this year at the Golden Globes, Sandra Oh name-checked the movie in a speech and Stone yelled out from the audience “I’m sorry!”
Angelina Jolie in “A Mighty Heart” (2007)
Based on a true story, about the kidnapping and execution of journalist Daniel Pearl by the Taliban, it mostly follows the story of his wife Mariane Pearl and her quest to find out what happened to him. But the real Mariane Pearl, while born in France, is of Afro-Chinese-Cuban descent on her mother’s side. Interestingly, despite the whitewashing, Jolie received several prominent award nominations for the role, including nominations from the Golden Globes, Screen Actors Guild, and even the NAACP Image Awards.
Catherine Zeta-Jones and Anthony Hopkins in “The Mask Of Zorro” (1998)
This one is a two-fer, and pretty egregious. Although it stars Antonio Banderas in the lead role, he’s not the original Zorro, but an imposter trained by the real one (played by Anthony Hopkins — British citizen, from Wales) and his daughter (played by Catherine Zeta-Jones — who is also Welsh). Completely unknown when she was cast, the film launched Zeta-Jones to stardom and continued miscasting in roles of Spanish descent. It’s no wonder to this day people are surprised to learn Zeta-Jones is Welsh.
Mike Myers in “The Love Guru” (2008)
In the tradition of Mickey Rooney in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” comes this unfunny comedy wherein the same guy who played Austin Powers puts on brown makeup and a bad Indian accent. The film was so badly received that it all but tanked Myers live-action career, and its director, Marco Schnabel, has never made another film.
Johnny Depp in “The Lone Ranger” (2013)
Depp got the role of Tonto — a Native American — in the modern retelling of the classic western series opposite Armie Hammer, produced by Disney and the team that created the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise. But Depp’s bizarre characterization puzzled audiences and the film did not do well. This film, along with 2012’s “John Carter” and 2015’s “Tomorrowland” kind of sidelined Disney’s live action division — leaving it at the mercy of its Star Wars and Marvel franchises.
Jake Gyllenhaal in “Prince of Persia” (2010)
Even though the film is based on a very popular video game, set in a fictionalized, romanticized Persia, the casting decision to put Gyllenhaal in the lead role was criticized before the movie even premiered. The controversy also probably led to its bad box office performance, but then again, video game movies in themselves rarely do well on screen. The fact that the movie was produced by Disney did not help matters (see previous entry).
Gerard Butler, Brenton Thwaites, and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau in “Gods Of Egypt” 2016
What do these three beefcakes — of Scottish, Australian, and Danish descent respectively — have in common? They were all cast as Egyptian gods. While it might be a bit of a stretch to complain, since the actual gods they played actually have animal heads in mythology, it followed the uncomfortable trope of white gods for nonwhite mortals. Director Alex Proyas did apologize for the lack of diversity in his casting, but only after the film belly flopped at the box office.
Christian Bale in “Exodus: Gods and Kings” (2014)
Biblical films have a long and active tradition of casting European actors in their passion plays, and this retelling of the story of Hebrew elder Moses and his brother/rival Pharaoh Rameses is no exception. These two roles went to Christian Bale and Joel Edgerton, respectively. Director Ridley Scott was hoping for a repeat of the success of his other sword and sandals epic “Gladiator,” but this movie did not resonate with action fans, and religious groups were less than thrilled at the depictions of the events.
Juliette Binoche in “The 33” (2015)
Based on another true story, about 33 Chilean miners buried in a cave-in and the massive recovery effort to rescue them, the main character is Maria Segovia, sister of one of the trapped miners. She was instrumental in organizing the families of the other trapped miners and the creation of a tent city near the mine to keep watch on the progress. French actress Juliette Binoche, whose previous films include “The English Patient,” portrayed the Chilean Segovia… opposite Antonio Banderas and Rodrigo Santoro. The film was not well received and had a mediocre box office run.
Joseph Fiennes in “Elizabeth, Michael & Marlon” (2017)
Based on an alleged true story about three celebrities driving from New York to Los Angeles after the September 11 attack grounded all air traffic in the U.S. for several days, this British television movie cast Englishman Joseph Fiennes (eighth cousin to Prince Charles and brother to Oscar-winning actor Ralph Fiennes) in the role of African-American pop music legend Michael Jackson. Despite the lightening of his skin due to a chronic disease, Jackson decried whitewashing in Hollywood and even told talk show host Oprah Winfrey in 1993 that he absolutely would not want a white actor portraying him. Backlash on the film was so great before it aired that British network Sky Arts pulled it from broadcast.