"The Great Wall" opens in theaters on Feb. 17, 2017. The action-adventure film, which chronicles a group of heroes as they defend the ancient structure from a horde of mysterious monsters, has already gotten buzz for its controversial casting: Matt Damon has the lead role as the hero — even though he's white man and the story is set in China. "It's a monster movie and it's a historical fantasy and I didn't take a role away from a Chinese actor. … It wasn't altered because of me in any way," the Oscar winner said in response to complaints that the film had been whitewashed. In honor of the debut of "The Great Wall," Wonderwall.com is taking a look back at more Hollywood whitewashing controversies that made us scratch our heads in recent years. Keep reading for more…
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Some fans of "Ghost in the Shell" — a Japanese manga franchise that now spans various forms of media including video games and animated films — have taken issue with the casting of Scarlett Johnasson in the lead role, cyborg policewoman Major Motoko Kusanagi, in the upcoming 2017 live-action adaptation. "I certainly would never presume to play another race of a person," the white American actress told Marie Claire, addressing the controversy. "Diversity is important in Hollywood, and I would never want to feel like I was playing a character that was offensive."
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Fans were so outraged by Joseph Fiennes' turn as Michael Jackson on an episode of the British anthology series "Urban Myths" that the network behind it, Sky Arts, ultimately chose not to air the controversial 30-minute episode. The British actor had already shot his portrayal of the King of Pop for the 2017 episode titled "Elizabeth, Michael & Marlon," which would have chronicled a legendary road trip Michael shared with fellow icons Elizabeth Taylor and Marlon Brando. "This decision was taken in light of the concerns expressed by Michael Jackson's immediate family," a representative for the network said on Twitter of the decision to cancel the program. "We set out to take a light-hearted look at reportedly true events & never intended to cause any offense. Joseph Fiennes fully supports our decision."
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In 2015's "Aloha," Emma Stone starred as Air Force Captain Allison Ng, who is described in the film as a quarter Asian and a quarter Hawaiian. Director Cameron Crowe said that he based the character on a real-life redheaded woman from Hawaii who, according to The Hollywood Reporter, "always felt compelled to over-explain her heritage." But he still took to his website to pen an essay on the whitewashing controversy: "Thank you so much for all the impassioned comments regarding the casting of the wonderful Emma Stone in the part of Allison Ng," he wrote. "I have heard your words and your disappointment, and I offer you a heartfelt apology to all who felt this was an odd or misguided casting choice."
In the Doctor Strange comic book series, the Ancient One is portrayed as an older man of Tibetan descent. But for the 2016 big-screen adaptation, the role was rewritten as a white female and portrayed by Scottish actress Tilda Swinton (pictured with Chiwetel Ejiofor's Mordo). "The Ancient One is a title that is not exclusively held by any one character, but rather a moniker passed down through time, and in this particular film the embodiment is Celtic," a Marvel Studios spokesperson said, dismissing the controversy in a statement. The rep added that the studio "regularly departs from stereotypes and source material."
Rooney Mara starred as Tiger Lily, who's traditionally portrayed as Native American, in the 2015 adventure film "Pan." "When I heard Joe [Wright] was directing and that he wanted to meet with me, I was like, 'How's that gonna work?' I can't play Tiger Lily — because I always thought of her as Native American. That's how she's always been portrayed," she told Wonderwall.com. "But I met with him anyway because I love him, and he showed me all these images he had of different cultures around the world and he explained his vision for the Native Village — and it just made sense to me. They're natives of Neverland, and it's a completely made-up place. … [Joe] told me that he wanted her to be a tree hugger but also punk — not dirty but a little bit of a hippie girl and a punk mashed together."
Back in 2010, white American actor Jake Gyllenhaal starred as the titular Persian prince in "Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time."
Director Ridley Scott faced criticism for casting predominantly white westerners as Egyptians in his 2014 film "Exodus: Gods and Kings." The cast includes Brit Christian Bale as Moses, Aussie Joel Edgerton as the Pharaoh Ramesses II, American Sigourney Weaver as his mother, American Aaron Paul as Joshua and Australian Ben Mendelsohn as Viceroy Hegep. "I can't mount a film of this budget, where I have to rely on tax rebates in Spain, and say that my lead actor is Mohammad so-and-so from such-and-such," the director told Variety, dismissing the casting controversy. (Yikes!) Unfortunately, the trend of casting white westerners as Egyptians has continued since then…
Although the 2016 action-fantasy film "Gods of Egypt" is based on Egyptian mythology and set in Egypt, the cast is comprised of predominantly white westerners. Australian Brenton Thwaites stars as the protagonist, an Egyptian hero named Bek. He teams up with the Egyptian god Horus (Danish actor Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, pictured) to defeat Set (Scottish star Gerard Butler) and Urshu (British actor Rufus Sewell), his second-in-command. White Aussie Geoffrey Rush also appears in the film as Ra, the Egyptian sun god.
White actors filled the roles of several characters who'd originally been depicted as Asian in the 2010 film "The Last Airbender," which is based on the Nickelodeon animated series "Avatar: The Last Airbender." American actors Nicola Peltz and Jackson Rathbone starred as Katara and Sokka, while Jesse McCartney was originally cast as Zuko. (Dev Patel ultimately took over the role when the singer-actor was forced to drop out due to scheduling conflicts.) "I think it's one of those things where I pull my hair up, shave the sides, and I definitely need a tan," Jackson said, responding to the casting controversy. "It's one of those things where, hopefully, the audience will suspend disbelief a little bit."
Canadian Justin Chatwin and American Emmy Rossum starred as Goku and Bulma in "Dragonball Evolution," the 2009 live-action adaptation of the Japanese manga franchise "Dragon Ball."
Half-Chinese British actor Max Minghella portrayed Divya Narendra in 2010's "The Social Network." The real-life Divya, who co-founded ConnectU with former Mark Zuckerberg collaborators Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, is the son of two doctors who immigrated to New York from India.
Back in 1984, white American actress Linda Hunt won an Oscar for her portrayal of Billy Kwan, a male Chinese-Australian photographer, in "The Year of Living Dangerously."
Mickey Rooney infamously portrayed Mr. Yunoshi, Holly Golightly's Japanese neighbor, in the iconic 1961 romantic comedy "Breakfast at Tiffany's." The American actor memorably wore a mouthpiece to transform into the character. (Many of the filmmakers involved in the production have since expressed regret over the casting choice.)