Diana Huey is an Asian-American actress and singer who has been cast as Ariel in Disney’s stage musical, The Little Mermaid. Huey received warm reviews of her performance as Ariel, but along with those reviews, she also received backlash due to the fact that she is not white. Ariel, as you may recall, is a red-haired cartoon mermaid with blue eyes and pale skin.
Yet Huey isn’t the only person of color who has been cast in a “white” role. Disney’s “Frozen: Live at the Hyperion” show has also cast people of color (POC) for the main characters, and of course, Broadway’s Hamilton consists of performers of color playing the vast majority of the characters. Ariel, Anna, Elsa, and Alexander Hamilton all are characters that people would think would be played by white performers. However, considering how diverse the American and world populace is, it seems about right that people of different ethnicities and races would be cast in these roles. And considering how whitewashed the film industry is, it is refreshing to see more and more people of color taking the stage.
After all, statistics show that 77 percent of the characters in the most successful American films of 2016 were white. People of different ethnicities growing up and living life in America have to be content with seeing very little representation of themselves and seeing an overwhelming amount of white characters and performers. Not only do they have to see whiter characters than characters of color, but they also have to see roles for POC go to white people.
Whitewashing is evident in movies and TV and can be very influential on the viewers’ minds. It’s obvious that most of the opportunity in the entertainment industry is reserved for white people; and if not white people, then people who are part-white. Sometimes, when I see a film and get excited that there is a character of color, I search it up only to see that the actor playing that character is half-white. While half-white actors still count as people of color, the majority of the POC in the world are not part-white, and thus the films are not as representative as they could be. Not only that, but it’s almost as if a performer has to have some whiteness in them to be seriously considered for a role.
Which brings me to my main point. Considering how much work is available for white people in the entertainment industry, it is only fair that “white” roles go to people of color from time to time. It’s hard enough to have a good career as a performer, and it becomes even harder if you aren’t white. Even if there are roles available for people of your ethnicity, those roles are usually stereotypical roles or roles that show little cultural understanding and respect. African people get cast as gang members, Middle Eastern people get cast as terrorists, East Asian people get cast as nerds and geeks. On the other hand, roles that go to white people show all sorts of characters, and they’re characters that are written so that the audience will love them. Roles for POC are roles that enforce harmful stereotypes, stereotypes that fuel white supremacy.
Diana Huey getting backlash on account of her race and background is very telling. Although it is not violent, it is a part of the many actions that uphold white supremacy. It is a problem that people are allowing white people to play characters that should be played by people of color, but get angry when people of color are cast in roles that would otherwise go to white people. We have to understand that the entertainment industry benefits white people more than it does people of other races and ethnicities. And after understanding that, we have to appreciate the positive changes that can be used to combat inequality in the entertainment industry, such as the casting of people of color.