Whitewashing has long been an issue in Hollywood, from the days when directors put actors in blackface in yellowface to more recent roles when characters of color are erased altogether. And though whitewashing hasn’t gone away completely, with recent scandals following Scarlett Johansson in Ghost in the Shell and Emma Stone in Aloha, there has been a huge cry from audiences to let characters of color be played by actors of that same ethnicity.
The cry has been so loud that when the news that fan-favorite characters, like Lara Jean Covey in Netflix’s To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before and Rachel Chu in Crazy Rich Asians, were almost whitewashed, audiences were livid and shocked. It goes to show the power that audiences have in effecting change in Hollywood. We’re not idle bystanders but a powerful force in making sure that stories are told right and accurately.
Ahead, we’ve rounded up times where characters of color were almost whitewashed. Some of these stories you might know of. Others might be completely new to you. But each of them can be thanked by audiences and Hollywood influencers who knew that whitewashing was not the way to go.
Rachel Chu in Crazy Rich Asians
Despite the film being titled Crazy Rich Asians, some producers still wanted Kevin Kwan, the author of which the book is based on, to recast the lead—a Chinese-American named Rachel Chu—as white. Kwan talked about the experience in a 2017 interview with Entertainment Weekly, in which he revealed that he turned down a producer early on for not understanding his vision. “That was their strategy. They wanted to change the heroine into a white girl. I was like, ‘Well, you’ve missed the point completely.’ I said, ‘No, thank you,’” he said. The role was eventually played by Constance Wu, who is Taiwanese-American.
Lara Jean Covey in To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before
Netflix’s To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before made history as one of the first teen romances with an Asian-American lead. But that almost didn’t happen, according to Jenny Han, the author behind the book on which the movie was based, who revealed in an essay for the New York Times that every production company she met with but one wanted the character of Lara Jean Covey, a Korean-American teenager, to be rewritten as white. The role eventually went to Vietnamese-American actress Lana Condor. “I ended up deciding to work with the only production company that agreed the main character would be played by an Asian actress,” Han wrote. “No one else was willing to do it. Still, I was holding my breath all the way up until shooting began because I was scared they would change their minds. They didn’t.”
Blade in Blade
Eric Brooks (a.k.a. Blade) is an icon in the Marvel comics. But the Black vampire hunter almost didn’t make it on screen after New Line Cinema, the production company behind the 1998 film, asked for the character to be white. The character was eventually played by Black actor Wesley Snipes.
“At one point the [studio] came to us and said, ‘Can Blade be white?’ And I said, ‘Absolutely fucking not. Like, that is just terrible. You cannot do that,’” screenwriter David S. Goyer told Entertainment Weekly in 2018. “[New Line studio head] Mike DeLuca said, ‘I’ll make it for $40 million if you can get Denzel Washington, 35 if you can get Wesley Snipes, and 20 if you can get Laurence Fishburne.’ And that was it. We wanted Wesley.”
Snipes responded to the claim that Blade was almost played by a white actor at 2018 San Diego Comic-Con. “I wasn’t aware that that was part of the history. Can you imagine the creative individual who thought of that? Snipes said. “Wouldn’t be as cool, let me tell you that.”
Brian Chang in Master of None
Brian Chang played an important role in the first season of Netflix’s Master of None in the episode “Parents,” which details his relationship with his Taiwanese-immigrant dad. But the episode almost didn’t happen. Alan Yang, one of the creators of Master of None, intended for the character—and his dad—to be white. It wasn’t until Greg Daniels, executive producer of Parks and Recreation, which Yang used to write for, suggested that the characters be Asian that Yang considered the idea.
“It wasn’t even other people that shut it down,” Yang told Variety. “I shut it down in my own brain.”
Ben Daimo in Hellboy
When white actor Ed Skrein was cast as Ben Daimo in 2019’s Marvel film Hellboy, fans were not happy. Fans criticized the film and Skrein for whitewashing the character, who is Asian. The backlash became so loud that Daimo dropped out of the film, with Korean-American actor Daniel Dae Kim replacing him. “It is clear that representing this character in a culturally accurate way holds significance for people, and that to neglect this responsibility would continue a worrying tendency to obscure ethnic minority stories and voices in the Arts. I feels it is important to honour and respect that,” Skrein said in a statement.