We are often talking about actors and of color not receiving sufficient recognition when it comes to awards, with “the industry” naturally skewed towards white actors. It is not only skewed in terms of preference, but in terms of opportunities, as there are often fewer roles that call for actors of color, and often these roles are stereotyped to the point of ridicule.
Considering these problems, it is easy to understand when people get up in arms when an insult is added to injury and white actors are hired to play people of color, or good roles that were originally meant for people of color are rewritten to be for white actors.
Below are 20 controversial examples of white actors playing people of color.
Marlon Brando, The Teahouse of the August Moon (1956)
In this comedy, American actor Marlon Brandon plays Sakini, a local Japanese interpreter from Okinawa assigned to help an American captain Americanize a small village.
Tom Cruise, Edge of Tomorrow (2014)
In this action war thriller about the ability to relive moments in time and do them better, Tom Cruise plays Major William Cage, but the lead in the original novel by All You Need is Kill by Hoiroshi Sakurazaka was Japanese
Benedict Cumberbatch, Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)
In the 2013 film, audiences were delighted to see favorite Khan Noonien Singh, a West Asian superman, who was played by white British actor Benedict Cumberbatch. He was earlier played by Mexican actor Ricardo Montalban.
Johnny Depp, The Lone Ranger (2013)
In this 2013 remake, Johnny Depp starred opposite Armie Hammer as Tonto, a native American. Depp uses black and white face paint to help Depp get into character.
Kirsten Dunst, The Beguiled (2017)
Sofia Coppola changed one of the characters from a half-black maid into a white teacher, a role that Kristen Dunst was later cast in. When criticized Coppola claimed that she didn’t want to ignore this element of history, but didn’t think that she could do it justice within the story.
Jake Gyllenhaal, Prince of Persia (2010)
In this movie version of the popular video game, Jake Gyllenhaal was cast as the Prince of Persia, a character that is clearly meant to be Persian, which would be modern-day Iranian or from a nearby area.
Katharine Hepburn, Dragon Seed (1944)
The early date of this film doesn’t really make it forgivable. Katharine Hepburn was cast as a Chinese woman that stands up to Japanese invaders. She even wore false eyelids for the role.
Scarlett Johansson, Ghost in the Shell (2017)
In this action flick, Hollywood favorite Scarlett Johansson was cast as Motoko Kusanagi, a Japanese character. Even the young version of the character was played by a Japanese actress.
Angelina Jolie, A Mighty Heart (2007)
In this film, Angeline Jolie played Mariane Pearl, an African-Cuban woman who worked to have her husband, a Wall Street Journal journalist, rescued when he was kidnapped.
Rooney Mara, Pan (2015)
In the modern reimagining of the Pete Pan story, America actress Rooney Mara plays Tiger Lily, a native American character.
Mike Myers, The Love Guru (2008)
In this comedy, British actor Mike Myers takes on the character of an Indian-American guru that gives advice on love. This may be one of the reasons why the film was so poorly received.
Laurence Olivier, Othello (1951)
In the Orson Welles version of this classic story, Laurence Olivier not only played the black titular character, but also wore blackface for the role.
Mickey Rooney, Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)
In this Audrey Hepburn classic, Mickey Rooney plays Hepburn’s Japanese neighbour, in an over the top caricature that is particularly offensive.
Peter Sellers, The Party (1968)
In this comedy veteran actor Peter Sellers plays an Indian actor who finds himself a fish out of water at a lavish Hollywood dinner party.
Kevin Spacey, Pay It Forward (2000)
In this feel-good film about the power of generosity and kindness, Kevin Spacey plays a school teacher, who was African-American in the original book.
Emma Stone, Aloha (2015)
In this dramatic comedy about a soldier returning home and trying to decide what he feels about past and future love, white American actress Emma Stone plays a woman meant to be a quarter Chinese and a quarter Hawaiian. Audiences were not convinced.
Jim Sturgess, 21 (2008)
In this film about college kids making it rich through gaming the casinos, English actor Jim Strugess plays the lead, who was originally a Chinese-American character.
Mena Suvari, Stuck (2007)
Based on the true story of the murder of Gregory Glen Biggs, Mena Suvari plays Brandi Boski, replacing the original African American woman of the story. Some have interpreted the cor-rows used by Suvari as a strange reference to this.
John Wayne, The Conqueror (1956)
None other than American idol John Wayne was cast as Mongol warrior chief Genghis Khan in this action-comedy.
The Entire Cast, Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014)
In this action flick inspired by the story of the Exodus, we do not see a single Egyptian or Jewish actor. Instead, there is a full line up of white stars including Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton, Aaron Paul, and Sigourney Weaver.