Media Consumers for Entertainment Equality


“47 Ronin” and the Hollywood Outcast

January 29, 2013

Next Christmas, Keanu Reeves stars in 47 Ronin, a fantasy film based on the historical event known as ChushinguraIn the early 1700s, a group of forty-seven Japanese samurai avenged the murder of their master. 47 Ronin is a major tentpole film and does provide an opportunity for actors of Japanese descent to be featured in a film that will be distributed in America (even if most of the actors are not Asian American and many Asian American actors are still locked out of their home industry.)

The compromise for hiring so many Japanese actors seems to be the addition of Reeves’s character, who is not from the original mythos–his character was created exclusively from the film. Reeves plays “Kai,” a half-Japanese, half-British “half breed” and “outcast” who joins the group of Samurai.  His character was created solely for the film, even though the likelihood of such a character existing during the era of sakoku is pretty slim. (Did he replace one of the 47? Or is he 48? Were none of the original 47 worth depicting in the lead role?)

Keanu Reeves stars in 47 Ronin as Kai, the “outcast”

Reeves’s brand new character is considered so integral to the production, that the studio seized control of the production from director Carl Rinsch, reshooting scenes to place more emphasis on Reeves’s character–rather than, say, the titular forty-seven ronin.

“Universal opted to reshoot a major fight scene near the end of the film, as well as a few other scenes to sharpen the focus on Reeves’ character Kai.

“[Originally,] Kai was not even present in the final battle scene, whereas the new scene pits Kai against a supernatural creature.

“In addition, the studio added a love scene, close-ups and individual lines to boost Reeves’ presence.” [source]

Keanu Reeves is 1/8 Chinese and 1/8 Hawaiian. Although Keanu Reeves has built his career primarily portraying white characters, it is important that he has managed to stay in Hollywood while using his real name (rather than the “K.C. Reeves” moniker he has used previously) when so many actors are pressured to change them. It is significant that Keanu Reeves has starred in a number of “cultural zeitgeist” films

What boggles my mind about Hollywood, and about 47 Ronin, though, is not the fictional inclusion of a hapa (hafu?) character, but more the context in which this is framed. I guess I am thinking of another production from a few years ago that wanted to whitewash a Chinese American character. When I spoke with the producer, I noted that the character had a Chinese last name and his entire character arc was about accepting he was Asian and handling feeling different. “How will you explain his last name?” I asked. “How will you keep the story arc of Tommy feeling like an outcast and learning to accept his identity?”

The producer said, “Well, perhaps he can be a white person adopted by a Chinese family. He could be bullied all his life for being white and having a weird Chinese name and feel left out and not truly a part of things.”

What struck me was how horrendously, cluelessly backwards this all was. Here was a production that was deliberately excluding Asian American actors due to their race, their “weird Chinese names” seen as not marketable, etc. While there are countless narratives of transracial adoptees facing discrimination, those children are usually children of color bullied in white communities, not the other way around. Yet, in order to cover for it, one of this production’s ideas was to tell a story of a white man being excluded by Asians. An industry that routinely, systemically casts out Asian Americans in favor of casting white actors wanted to tell a story about mean Asians excluding a white guy.

This was also a part of the character development for the whitewashed Kyo Kusanagi character in the King of Fighters (2010) film adaptation. The character was Japanese in the video games but played by a white actor in the movie. His father was depicted by an Asian actor to suggest he was hapa. The sneering villain, Iori, played by an Asian actor, pejoratively called the hero a “half breed.”

Kyo Kusanagi (Sean Faris) talks to the ghost of his dead father (Hiro Kanagawa) in King of Fighters (2010)

The implication was that Kyo experienced oppression from the bad guy because he was not fully Asian–that he was victimized and targeted for his white side. Yet, newcomer Sean Faris’s white identity was precisely why he was the main lead while all the more-experienced Asian actors played villains or side characters. If it was important enough to change Kyo to explore his experiences as someone of mixed race, why not cast a mixed race actor? While the experiences of people who are hapa are very real, raw, and painful, here it was used to villainize and whitewash.

Hollywood doesn’t just whitewash Asian characters. It makes Asian characters white and then depicts how the white characters face discrimination from Asians. It’s bitter irony. It’s a complete lack of self-awareness. What they do to Asian American actors in real life they depict happening to white(washed) characters on screen. In the story, being part white is depicted as a liability. The people of color in the film are exclusionary. Yet, these films inadvertently demonstrate that in Hollywood, it’s the opposite–characters of color are whitewashed. People of color in the film industry are excluded, even when the main characters were originally people of color.

I suppose the situation with the “Kai” character is somewhat different, because he is written as the son of a Japanese woman and a white British sailor, portrayed by Keanu Reeves and therefore mixed race. It is absolutely true that children who are hapa experience prejudice from both sides. In Hollywood, specifically, though, the portion studios consider to be “the problem”–that part triggers the discrimination– is the part that is non-white. Actors like Daniel Henney and Maggie Q experienced difficulty breaking into Hollywood not because they were part white, but because they were part Asian. In fact, Asian countries’ film industries embraced them more than than the North American film industries they originally hailed from did.

The story of 47 Ronin is of “Kai” being rejected for being part white, yet the film felt that adding a bit of “whiteness” was so important that it could not go forward without it. So important, that reshoots were mandated to emphasize his importance. The fact that the character and actor are part white is precisely why he was welcomed into the American-targeted script. They had 47 Japanese characters from the original tale to pick from for the main character–forty seven!–and still felt they had to create a brand new lead. If the film genuinely wanted to focus on the pain experienced by Japanese people of mixed descent, why not cast award-winning actor Tadanobu Asano–an actual Japanese person of mixed descent–in the role of the heroic Kai rather than as the villain? Presumably, exploring hapa or hafu identity was not why Keanu was crammed into the story. Kai’s “outcast” status is presented as an injustice, but the character is an outcast in more ways than one. He’s the Hollywood self-insertive fantasy. Of course he’s the outcast–he comes not from 18th century Japanese fanciful history, but from 21st century Hollywood studio meddling.

Promotional image from 47 Ronin

Perhaps this is more of the contradictory and fickle nature of Hollywood. We repeatedly see films where white male leads are depicted as the odd-one-out, the outsider, the tourist who needs must prove himself and take his rightful place as the focus of attention with the chief’s daughter by his side. (Reeves’s fictional character in 47 Ronin, of course, raises the hackles of the other samurai by starting a romance with their master’s daughter. The studio even mandated extra love scenes.) At the same time, these same films are structured in a way that positions the very characters of color who are excluding the hapa lead (because he is white) in a subordinate position–whether they are subjugating the “outcast” or not in the movie, they’re the true outcasts in Hollywood.

Perhaps 47 Ronin is different and a step up from previous iterations of this trope because it depicts a hapa character instead of simply a white male lead. To critique this feels counter-intuitive because the experiences of people who are of mixed race are often marginalized by Hollywood, and this is a rare depiction. On the other hand, does 47 Ronin earnestly intend to explore what it means to be hapa and to face prejudice from the community of color you belong to? Or is the addition of “hapa oppression from Asians” being used to justify why Hollywood felt the need to insert “whiteness” or “white identity problems” into an Asian historical fiction at all? I sincerely hope it is the former–because that is worth exploring, and we don’t see very many hapa heroes–but based on what we’ve seen in Hollywood before, I strongly suspect the latter.

And when 47 Ronin–which is rapidly congealing into a swirling miasma of major delays,unnecessary 3-D, the Hollywood makeover of a classic story, studio meddling, and a increasingly swollen budget— ultimately fails…will the majority-Asian cast take the blame?

Categories: blog, Featured, History and Concepts
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About the Author

Marissa Lee is one of the co-founders of Racebending.com

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  • Hasdi Bravo

    Marisa, please look up audience surrogate because that is Keanu Reeves’ character (Kai) is supposed to be, a story-telling device for the white-majority American audience to project themselves into an unfamiliar Japanese world of 47 Ronin. He serves as a proxy for an American audience that other Japanese characters can explain the cultural differences to by way of (gasp!) exposition (Unless you rather have the “cultural footnotes” like in some anime subs). Kai serves an important role, but main story is on Hiroyuki Sanada’s character, the Ronin leader Kuranosuke Oishi. At least, that was the plan until Universal allegedly freaked out with the reshoots.

    Our sad economic reality is that only Keanu Reeves is well-known to the American audience, whereas in Asia, the other actors are pretty much rock stars. So, we are looking at the possibility of an international theatrical cut AND a separate US theatrical cut that feature more Keanu Reeves, which is still BS. Then again, delaying its release enable the Asian actors to be on par with Keanu Reeves, exploiting the popularity boost from Pacific Rim (Rinko Kikuchi), The Wolverine (Hiroyuki Sanada), Thor: Dark World (Tadanobu Asano), and season 2 of Mortal Kombat: Legacy (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa). This may improve their time on screen. We’ll see.

    The story of 47 Ronin with an all-Japanese cast has been done to death already, like Hollywood has done with Three Musketeers, Robin Hood, Titanic, and Snow White. This movie is a fantasy take on a real event of Japanese history “in a world of witches and giants”, so don’t expect it to be any more acurrate than Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is to the life of Abraham Lincoln, or X-Men: First Class is to the Cuban missile crisis. Putting a half-white man in 47 Ronin is the least of its deviations.

    FYI, only 46 ronins committed seppuku. The 47th ronin was pardoned by the Shogun for reasons debated until today, and died at an old age of 87. His name was Terasaka Kichiemon. Is “Kai” a play of “Kichiemon”? See, I just spoiled the ending for you. xP

    • It’s interesting to deconstruct the “viewer surrogate” argument for what it is trying to imply. Viewers of color generally seem to have no problem embracing the glut of white male characters in media. “The Avengers”, for example, was popular in Japan even though there was no Japanese character explaining the nuance or helping them plug into the American/fantasy Norse etc. cultures they were observing. It would be ridiculous, for example, to argue that it would be necessary to insert a “half Japanese half French” character (played by a Japanese actor with one white grandparent) in “Les Miserables” with the belief that viewers of color would not be able to relate to the French characters simply because they were not Japanese. Over and over again, media consumers of color are able to demonstrate the human ability to relate to another person or character even if that person is of a different racial or ethnic background from them. Very rarely are steps taken to “accommodate” viewers of color by providing them with a viewer surrogate who shares their background.

      The premise behind the “white viewers need a viewer surrogate” argument basically implies that white viewers are less capable of being empathic or relating; that we simply must expect white viewers to have a deficit in empathy and inability to grasp other cultures, that they would be lost without inserting themselves in the story, that they are entitled to the accommodation of being inserted in the story simply because they would be lost. Were I a white viewer I would be insulted by being coddled in this way. If this argument is true it is incredibly sad that Hollywood has chosen to enable the stereotype that white viewers are less capable of being empathetic then viewers of color are–especially since there is evidence, such as films like “The Last Emperor” that white viewers are able to relate to a protagonist and historical context with a world experience entirely different from their own.

      • Hasdi Bravo

        Certainly there are alternatives to audience surrogate to convey a story in an unfamiliar context. The Last Emperor in particular uses the prison narrative and also Pu Yi’s naiveness and ignorance of the world outside the Forbidden City to explain to him of it (and by extension, the audience). They could use an approach used by Ang Lee in Life of Pi, e.g., by having Terasaka Kichiemon in his later years meeting up with a British sailor and then recount to him the events of 47 Ronin and explain to him any cultural aspects he may not understand. Bear in mind that many American shows are broadcast in Asia, so many Asians over there already have some familiarity with the Western culture, so much that their governments had to take steps to preserve the local culture. Moreover, not all Hollywood movies are released internationally, and the one that does avoid using American-specific references that are less familiar to a foreign audience without some device to explain it.

        Anywho, an audience surrogate is what they have chosen to tell the story of 47 Ronin for “American viewers”, NOT necessarily “white viewers”. Understandably, one would assume that “American” means “white”, since whites are the majority and Asians are only 5% of the US population. Apparently, there is only ONE such character that can be reasonably be embedded into the story of 47 Ronin without too much departure, so it cannot be “any white actor” but a “bankable actor” who can pull a sizable American audience, especially when $200M is at stake. Could they have used an American actor of Japanese descent like Dean Cain? Maybe, but even at the height of his popularity as Superman in Lois & Clark series, he may only be bankable enough for $100M budget or so. Will Smith could justify a higher budget, but he is busy working on his own project with somebody else.

        As for the Japanese audience, it would be Hiroyuki Sanada’s character, so it may be a similar set-up with Rush Hour movies, where Jackie Chan serves as a surrogate for the non-black audience, while Chris Tucker for the non-Chinese audience. Sanada does not have to be as bankable as Keanu Reeves since there are other Japanese actors they can cast to pull in the audience. Jin Akanishi for example, is like Justin Timberlake of Asia, so the girls would histerical like “JIN!!! I want to have your baby!” while the Americans would go “Who is Jin Akanishi and why are people calling him Bakanishi?” -___-

        • Hwang

          Seems you’re not addressing the core issue here. Let me ask – when was the last time you’ve seen an Asian American in the leading role? And no, not one of mixed descent who’s portrayed as more ‘white’ than ‘asian’, like Keanu. It’s bad enough that many race-neutral roles specifically exclude casting minority actors, it’s another that roles that minorities would be perfect for – due to the historical and/or mythological context of the story – are still given to Caucasians instead. When pressed on why that is, all we get are excuses, and more excuses.

          You say that the Japanese are more accustomed to American culture due since many American shows are broadcast over there. So, what, America, with it’s more diverse demographics, need white surrogates where the Japanese do not?

          ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’ was a huge success when it was first released stateside. Following wuxia movies, such as ‘Hero’ were also successful – and at least in theaters I went to, they were in *subtitles*, not even dubbed. Sure, some of the cultural specifics were lost, but they were great movies enjoyed by more than just Chinese. So why is it that Hollywood must assume that new movies cannot succeed without a white lead?

          And bankability? Not every movie that has succeeded relied on the names of its cast. And why not give new actors a chance? Thing is, where are all the hot, new minority actors? How can there be bankable minority actors when they’re not given a chance because it’s assumed that they’re not ‘relatable’?

          Let me say this – there’s nothing wrong with casting Keanu Reeves in the lead role in and of itself. There’s nothing wrong with having a revision of 47 Ronin with a mixed race character in and of itself. But when stories with lead minority character roles are made white to make it more marketable, over and OVER again, what kind of message do you think that’s giving us?

          • Hasdi Bravo

            If Hollywood wants an excuse to hire white actors, they can just avoid materials that feature minorities in the first place, be it due to “historical and/or mythological context of the story”. It is not as if there is a shortage of those. Otherwise, they can always rip it off with substantial changes and call it something else, like Initial D with Tokyo Drift, or Evangelion with Pacific Rim. ^.^; Do you want Asian-American actors to be successful, or do you just want white actors to fail, including “tainted” ones like Kristen Kreuk, Dwayne Johnson, Maggie Q and Olivia Munn?

            You can’t seriously expect a studio to place a large bet on an unproven talent or concept. Like any investments, risky ventures with huge potential payoff are financed a lower budget, so Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon was given a $17 million budget while the Karate Kid remake was given $40 million. The higher the budget, the more steps the studio will take to ensure a return in their investment, one of which includes the bankability of the leading actors. Even George Takei acknowledged that problem in an interview:

            Can you name one bankable Asian-American star? No. There isn’t. You have Denzel Washington, Samuel Jackson. A whole host of them. One can’t name a single Asian-American whose name you can take to the bank and get a project financed. We are making headways. I’m not a pessimist. We have made tremendous headways from the time I started in this business in 1957.

            A white actor is not necessarily bankable. Taylor Kitsch in the lead couldn’t recoup Battleship and John Carter. The odds are against minority actors to be bankable, as they have to earn their place in the hearts of American audience, of which majority are whites. How can Asian actors be treated as equals by whites, when Asians are not willing to do the same with white actors?

          • Hwang

            “If Hollywood wants an excuse to hire white actors, they can just avoid materials that feature minorities in the first place” Hollywood *does* do that, even with materials that feature minority lead roles. Either that, or we get “tokenism” diversity. Your point?

            Oh, and nice job on insinuating that I “want white actors to fail, including “tainted” ones like Kristen Kreuk, Dwayne Johnson, Maggie Q and Olivia Munn?” And where the hell do you even get the idea I think of them as “tainted”?

            Read the last paragraph I wrote above. I’ve flat out stated that there is nothing wrong with the concept of the new 47 Ronin movie “in and of itself”. As in, I am neither for nor against the movie pitch as an abstract idea. In context – and that’s the important part here – it’s just another example of institutional racism. In another universe, placing Keanu Reeves in the lead role might be a revolutionary step towards improving on-screen diversity due to a dominance of Asian actors. We’re not in that universe – quite the opposite.

            So yes, bankability. You’re right – I shouldn’t expect studios to make gambles on “unproven talent or concepts”. But Crouching Tiger was a success – certainly not an “unproven” concept. That was in 2000. Between now and then, where were the risks taken on bringing up the hot new minority actors? If we’re still having issues casting a non-white actor in the lead role over a decade later, our issue here seems to go past “unproven talent or concepts”.

            “The odds are against minority actors to be bankable, as they have to earn their place in the hearts of American audience, of which majority are whites”. You don’t see the problem here? Minority actors having to “earn” their place on more than just their acting skills, due to their status as a “minority” in society? That’s discrimination.

            Which leads to the statement, “How can Asian actors be treated as equals by whites, when Asians are not willing to do the same with white actors?” Rather baffling, considering you yourself stated that American movies are more widespread in Asia than vice versa. Either way, this is hardly a universal sentiment on either side of the ocean, given what you and I have already discussed. Yes, discrimination and racism exists among customers, but that’s all the more reason to speak out and endorse diversity beyond tokenism.

            But let me step back and ask what your real point is anyways. You’ve defended the casting on “cultural surrogate” and “bankability” grounds. Are you saying you think a lead Asian actor would be a *bad* thing? If so, at what point would it stop being *bad*?

            Have you thought at all on “when stories with lead minority character roles are made white to make it more marketable, over and OVER again, what kind of message do you think that’s giving us?”, beyond the *money* angle? I’ve seen your profile on the A:TLA wiki via your interview link – you certainly seem intelligent and well-meaning. So please tell us all what benefit there is to defending yet another lost chance of casting minority lead.

          • nuggety

            Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Bruce Lee, Chow Yun-Fat. Or maybe they don’t count?

          • Venom

            Lee has been dead for 40 years. The others are not Americans.

          • q q

            ALL martial arts. Doesn’t count.

          • Andre

            Not really. The problem with them is that like Venom said Lee is dead and became a star in China, so he was basically a Chinese star and not an American one, Chan, Yun-Fat and Li are also only popular because of their success in China, so as good as they might be in some way they are enforcing the stereotype of the eternal foreigner.

          • Bruce

            @Hasdi Bravo

            Well Jackie Chan is considered bankable but retiring or retired. I don’t feel domestic box office tickets matters these days because there are overseas tickets. Some movies have done better overseas than domestic. I understand you need a big name for recognition but it should be equal and not just focused on one actor just because of a big name. Also, this isn’t about failure or successes of actors regardless of their race, this is more about fair representation. Otherwise, Hollywood filmmakers will continue their tradition of exclusion just to benefit for themselves even if there is discrimination involved. American media (even though they’re considered liberal), have not been and still not very fair…they’re greedy and scared.

          • Andre

            What is a “tainted” white actor?

          • nuggety

            “when was the last time you’ve seen an Asian American in the leading role? And no, not one of mixed descent”

            What a joke. And may I ask you, my friend: why are you not accusing Ang Lee of being a filthy racist for not including black actors in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon?

            Do you even realize how difficult it is for a black actor in China? Why are you not accusing Ang Lee of being racist? Why are you not deconstructing the Chinese film industry’s racism against minority actors (including whites, blacks, and hispanics, in China)?

            See, I’ve got you now. You can’t tell me that black actors being excluded in China is okay because of white privilege, because black people don’t have white privilege. You can’t say that the Chinese film industry is racist, because that would imply that the Chinese, who count as PoCs in your social justice book, are racist, and we all know that PoCs can’t be racist.

            It’s almost as if a film studio in a country which has an ethnic majority like to cast actors with whom most of their audience will identify. Imagine that. But nah, there has to be a racist conspiracy by those filthy, privileged, Jewi-, oh, wait. Many writers and businessmen in Hollywood have Jewish heritage. So, are they PoCs? Because that seems to change depending on your argument. Jews are PoCs when they’re getting gassed, but they’re filthy crackas when they’re writing movies.

            So tell me – do Chinese people have privilege? Are the Chinese racist? Are you a racist for now considering the Chinese as if they are real people, instead of some ridiculous orientalized fantasy like you make them out to be? Are Jewish people PoCs, or white, or does that depend on whether the distinction wins you the argument? And why do you hate Chinese black people?

          • happyappa

            What a joke…

            “What a joke. And may I ask you, my friend: why are you not accusing Ang Lee of being a filthy racist for not including black actors in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon?”

            Gotta love racists who, when in a discussion about racism in America, will retort with “But in China…” Do you even realize how diverse America is, and how pocs were/are treated and represented in media in America?

            And the fact that you said whites are a minority in China and experience racism is raising red flags.

          • Venom

            Why should he have? Was Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon set in Africa? The story a traditional African tale with African characters?

            The #1 movie right now stars cartoon monsters. Gee, how did people identify with that?

            And yes China does have its own issues with racism. Just look up Lou Jing. But as you noted, this is about Hollywood not anyone else. With all due respect, the film industries of other countries are pathetic. Those to Hollywood is like Pluto to the Sun. They have no power to influence how the whole world thinks.

          • Fan With Facts

            New Jack City, Coming To America, Friday, Do The Right Thing, Malcom X, Crooklyn – where are the Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Phillipino, Thai, Vietnamese in productions that were produced in modern America?

            Let’s ask Spike Lee why he didn’t cast an Asian woman to play Yuri Kochiyama’s role.

          • Andre

            “Not every movie that has succeeded relied on the names of its cast. ”
            And many that relied on the names of its cast failed. See the summer blockbusters this year.

      • Well said.

      • Andre

        Isn’t it also often stated that in the Western world white viewers no matter the ethnicity they have, have the luxury to ignore race? So wouldn’t that also speak against the viewer surrogate stuff?
        And when you not only look at the popular films of the last 20 years but also the entire bulk of human literature regarding fiction, legend or folklore, you see that humans of every country identified with anthropomorphic animals, grotesk monsters, inhuman looking aliens and totally inhuman looking machines. We could and can identify with all that but simply because someone does not physically fit in the physical range of the major ethnicity in a region we are supposed to be unable to do so?

    • Raiden

      Didn’t Abraham Lincoln Vamp Hunter Flop at the box office Hasdi? If your comparing it to that, then this film is likely doomed

    • Well then what are black people and other groups to do? Is it that we won’t relate to the real human being because he is Japanese? I watch plenty of foreign films and I can relate just fine. But I admit I am different. This is so stupid, but probably accurate sadly to say. If the main character is Japanese on the cover I can just see middle America walking right on by.

      • Hasdi Bravo

        You are welcome to promote black and other minority actors who have successfully connect to most white American audience like Will Smith, Dwayne Johnson, Lucy Liu, etc.. Jaden Smith showed some promise but American critics wrongly accused AFTER EARTH of Scientology and nepotism. I only see NewsOne called out the racial hypocrisy in the nepotism allegations, especially when it was fine and acceptable back then in THE KARATE KID (2010).

        Who knows, if 47 Ronin is a hit, Jin Akanishi might end being more successful than Jay Chou in future endeavors with American audience, even though he is playing a side Japanese character. Jet Li started out as a villain in Lethal Weapon 3.

        • Brodie

          Lethal Weapon 4.

  • T.Chicken

    I hope it didn’t end with Keanu Reeves commiting Seppuku to save the world.

    • Andre

      I heard that he and the surviving Ronin actually did just that.

  • Why is it that white people are incapable of writing stories about prejudice unless the victim is white? The main characters are always white vampires, white mutants, white mudbloods, white activists who join civil rights causes, or half-white people in non-white lands? Why do they always write stories about marginalization from every point of view except for real-world marginalized populations?

    • Such a good fucking question. And one that Hollywood is in no great strain to answer any time soon.

      • Raiden

        Part of the reason (but surely not the only reason) is that people in Hollywood simply don’t know how to write characters of Color, in stories about prejudice or otherwise. Lets be honest, most of the guys in the writers room are white, and since they are crammed for deadlines, and starved for creativity its obvious they’re going to write who they know best, who they’re confident in writing, namely white lead males.

        • For sure. Write what you know! And for what you don’t know, do some research. Unless it’s about people of color. Then just don’t bother.

          I’ve also seen these reasons: they feel like it’s ‘too hard’, or they float by on the excuse that ‘we can never make people of color happy with our writing because they always complain’, or they tried before, got flack for it, then deigned to never try again, etc.

          There’s always a reason why they won’t.

          • Raiden

            The thing is when one is writing about a delicate subject like racial prejudice or interracial romance you’re inevitably going to tick someone off.

          • So writers should remain humble and own up to their mistakes, instead of running off and burying their heads in the sand at the slightest hint of criticism and offense.

            It’s delicate because people keep refusing to confront these issues head on and SOLVE them.

    • Eustace Cromartie

      The answer is simple. Try to make profit of off a movie in America with people of color in the lead. America is 78% white and they only want to see whites in film. That is why there is always a white lead or co lead.

      • Raiden

        According to Fox News, Whites will be the minority in about 30 years if current trends continue.

        • anen

          Well then racebending should wait 30 years to reach credibility

          • happyappa

            In the entire world, whites are minority and they still have societal, economic, political, etc. power. I’m not sure what you’re getting at, but just because whites become the minority in america, doesn’t mean that power will be flipped or they’ll lose privilege.

      • Dwight Egan Sora

        I think that’s partially correct. I think there is a PERCEPTION in the industry that only films with a white lead will be profitable. If that was true, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (which not only had non-white leads but no white people at all and was in a foreign language) would not have been a blockbuster hit, not to mention the U.S. films of Jackie Chan and Jet Li (which have scored some minor successes) or the Blade films starring Wesley Snipes (which made money, if of variable quality). It feels like folks at the studio level regard these successes as flukes. Personally, I think if the film is good, no one will care about the color of the star.

        • Venom

          Plus 42, Django Unchained, Slumdog Millionaire, Tyler Perry, and oh yeah, twice electing a man of color president. Not to mention in nearly every other pop cultural field have POC succeeded and even dominated (music, sports, etc.). That “perception” is a LIE, and they know it’s a lie. They only perpetuate it as an excuse for their racism.

      • Yes, unfortunately films appear to be cultural.

    • Here is your sobering answer, just replace black with Asian. It’s the same issue unfortunately: Why White People Don’t Like Black Movies | Shadow and Act

    • Andre

      This is insulting. Of course there are white authors who can, but these are not the ones that are shown to the white audience.

    • niggity

      Yeah, because black people write so many stories about white people.

    • AlanMorlock

      In the case of the mutants, and in particular in Brian Singer’s films (especially Xmen 2) the whole mutant thing is not subtly about homosexuality. “Have you ever tried…not being a mutant?” Do they need to include more POC? Certainly, but lets not act as if prejudice only exists along racial lines.

    • Andre

      What is it with someone like you not being able to look past your own notions. No idea how it is in your country, but over here we “white” people can actually write just such stories and we did already. So thanks for being ignorant.

    • davidthornton

      Your question reveals your lack of grasp on economic/commercial realities.

      Regarding financial vehicles such as movies intended for majority white audience, people write and cast according to what will appeal for majority white audiences. There is no purpose to write and create a product that will not sell to the intended audience.

      Also, actors/actresses, in terms of business, are products produced through PR. They have a shelf life. And movie companies attempt to take full advantage of their products as long as they can. And, like any product, many things effect the longevity of a product. That is the whole point of box office appeal. When an actor/actress is no longer able to pull the requisite load, due to outgrowing the age range of a part, due to bad performances, bad PR, type casting, they quit getting parts and a new star is born to take the part that used to go to another actor. Furthermore, actresses’ shelf lives, right or wrong, are much much shorter than men by comparison.

      Bottom line.. its all about the money

      • Venom

        And for the millionth time, that majority white audience is by and large NOT racist. They have made numerous films with non-white leads successful. And you do know who the president is, right?

  • Excellent article on the 47 Ronin. What still sticks in my craw is how easily H’Wood readily assumes that American audiences couldn’t or wouldn’t accept an all Japanese cast in this film. I understand the economics behind Reeves casting (his name, fame, etc), but if the material is good and the direction–no matter who is starring in it they will fill seats. I recently had a long discussion with some friends who share an interest in screen writing, comics and genre films. The central theme of our discussion happen to be why marvel Studios rushed along and green lit Guardians of the Galaxy film while there is no talk on a Black Panther movie. How long have we (fans) have waited for T’chila to make an appearance on the silver screen? Twelve years? Twenty? Yet Marvel went right along and chose to make a film about an obscure intergalactic police squad led by (of course) a WHITE MALE CHARACTER–Peter Quill aka Star Lord! Why? Why is it so easy for white producers of today to simply create or bring to life these characters while ignoring that the complexion of the population has changed? Where are the films led by a Latina or Asian or Native American female character? Why couldn’t Dr. Shaw in Prometheus be a woman of color? Charlie Hunnan (love him in Sons of Anarchy) is leading the attack in Pacific Rim–a Kaiju film? A new series of Star Wars film are soon to be produced. Do you think J.J. Abrams will have new character who is a person of color at the center? Don’t hold your breath!

    • Hasdi Bravo

      Wesley Snipes tried to do Black Panther back in 1992, but managed to the Blade movie instead, which if you are familiar with the Night Stalker series, is a composite of a black man (Blade in the comics) and two white man (Hannibal King and Frank Drake in the comics). A Black Panther movie is progressing but you know how it is with “development hell”. We already have an originally white character like Nick Fury played by a black man, and Norse gods played by a black and a Japanese in Thor, so I am not too pessimistic about seeing more minorities in the lead in the near future. I just don’t feel we have to heckle talented white actors to achieve it. Color-blind casting is a two-way street, so if minorities can play traditionally by white actors, then whites can play traditionally Asian actors.

      • Robert Wilson

        For the 100,000th time, Ultimate Nick Fury is Black. There was no race swap. You have Nick Fury (white) and Ultimate Nick Fury (black). Heimdall (the guy from Thor) is as obscure to the general audience to the other characters not named Thor, Loki and Odin so that doesn’t count and what Japanese guy was in Thor? See? I didn’t even know that. Yet you say these parts are just as good as the lead. Really?

        • Fan With Facts

          It’s either Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury, or David Hasselhoff’s Nick Fury.

          (Oh, and for continuity’s sake, print media Marvel’s Nick Fury from WWII sired a mixed race son, who coincidentally looks like a young SL Jackson.)

      • happyappa

        “… and Norse gods played by a black and a Japanese in Thor, so I am not too pessimistic about seeing more minorities in the lead in the near future.”

        That’s like saying there are actual Asian people in Red Dawn playing all the enemies and extras, so I am not too pessimistic about Asians being in positive lead roles very soon!

        “if minorities can play characters traditionally portrayed by white
        actors, then whites can play characters traditionally portrayed by Asian

        No. I am not sure how you can equate some minor roles or a few movies with poc actors, to the many yellowface, whitewashed roles where white actors play characters written for asians. Or let’s not forget casting that calls for “whites only” when race is not even specific to the role.

        • Hwang

          It’s “throw-em-a-bone-so-they-shut-up” diversity. As in, “Hey, there’s an Asian on screen (for two seconds)! So shut up, we’re diverse!” A form of diversity that’s (ironically) skin deep.

      • nycplayboy78

        Oh God please don’t give me that color-blind crap……

    • nuggety

      Yet you don’t complain when Japanese films cast Japanese actors as their leads, or Chinese films cast Chinese actors as their leads, or Indian films cast Indian actors as their leads, or Egyptian films cast Egyptians as their leads, or when Chilean films cast Chileans as their leads, or in general when filmmakers cast people who share their ethnic background with most of their audience/country in the lead roles. I mean, how dare a director actually make a choice about his/her own movie? That choice should be made by a committee dedicated to bringing in the least-privileged actor to play the role. In fact, from now on, it should be the law that every lead role in any movie must be played by a disabled, overweight, genderqueer transwomyn of color, who is also a self-diagnosed autistic furry otherkin.

      Furthermore, I love how Keanu Reeves is partly of Native Hawaiian and Chinese descent, and you’re belittling his eeeevil whiteness. No wonder mixed-race children feel so left-out – white racists don’t like them, glorious BBW PoCs (who could never be racist because they are so childishly innocent and wonderful) don’t like them, and social justice warriors (drumroll) hate them too! Turns out that it’s totally okay to hate those filthy half-breeds, as long as you justify your hate by claiming you hate their white side.

      And as for your wonderful Black Panther movie, gee, I wonder why Hollywood won’t spend 200 million dollars on a movie featuring a hero named after a violent, sexist, racial-supremacist terrorist group. That sure wouldn’t alienate 70% of their audience and cause them to lose money. But capitalism is the tool of the white cracka’, isn’t it.

      • Herostratus356

        The article is not saying Reeves is “eeeevil” because he is white. It is saying he is privileged because he is white.

        And the Black Panther superhero was created before the Black Panther Party even existed.

        • happyappa

          Reeves has white-passing privilege. I’m not sure how he identifies, but most of his roles have been white characters.

      • happyappa

        “Furthermore, I love how Keanu Reeves is partly of Native Hawaiian and Chinese descent, and you’re belittling his eeeevil whiteness.”

        Keanu Reeves is the go-to guy for diversity in movies because he is white-passing and mixed race. The point is not saying that mixed-race Asians are “not really Asians” or “not human” (which is monoracist), or that Reeves is “evil” because he is part white.

        About a Black Panther movie – “That sure wouldn’t alienate 70% of their audience and cause them to lose money.”

        I just realized you are talking about the movement and not the superhero. But Black Panther Party was at its core anti-white power and anti-racism. Who is the 70% you’re talking about?

        “Yet you don’t complain when Japanese films cast Japanese actors as their leads, or Chinese films cast Chinese actors as their leads, or Indian films cast Indian actors as their leads, or Egyptian films cast Egyptians as their leads, or when Chilean films cast Chileans as their leads…”

        Why are you always listing pocs? Just who the hell are you. Why don’t you complain about why there are so many white leads in American, Canadian, French, Swedish, Norwegian, Irish, Scottish, British movies, etc. basically ALL OF EUROPE.

        Your comments also include wanting representation of whites in China, and calling out so-called “white haters”. Strange.

      • AlanMorlock

        Chinese people playing Chinese characters and Egyptians playing Egyptian characters? How shocking. In this case you have a white, or half white character being forced into a Japanese story.

    • Fan With Facts

      “How long have we (fans) have waited for T’chila to make an appearance on the silver screen”

      As a fan myself, don’t you mean T’Challa?

    • Johnny Luigi

      The reason Marvel greenlit GotG over Black Panther is the same reason they greenlit GotG over Dr. Strange/Iron Fist/Luke Cage/Inhumans/Runaways/etc. and that’s because they’re making that film for a specific purpose. To set up Thanos and to expand the universe. They would have made the film even if Peter Quill wasn’t white, because the movie is not about Peter Quill, it’s about the Guardians of the Galaxy (and Thanos to a certain extent). Black Panther is almost guaranteed to come in phase 3.

    • I don’t get it either. Japanese culture is very popular right now. Look at the popularity of Anime and Miyazaki films for example. This movie looks stupider by the day. Why not just make the original story with an all Japanese cast.

      • happyappa

        Would be great, but unfortunately love of a culture doesn’t always equal love of the people. There are so many movies and shows that are “Asian inspired” or take place in E/SE Asian countries but have all or majority White cast.

  • I personally have no problem with casting Keanu perse, albeit it really is a bit unrealistic, considered the setting and simply saying “its a fantasy world with mythological beings” is no excuse in my eyes. I mean would they ever have a film where Hansel and Gretel are half-mongolian? After all that is a possibility, a realistic one even.
    What I do wonder about this film is why they felt a need to insert Keanu, sure a half-japanese person can look “white” I saw examples of that myself, but still why the insertion? There must be a reason and maybe it really is the audience surrogate. And if the movie is done in the US why not cast Japanese American actors? At least some?

    • nuggety

      “I mean would they ever have a film where Hansel and Gretel are half-mongolian?”

      Yes, in Mongolia. Replace “Mongolia” and “Mongolian” with any other country with an ethnic majority.

      Reminder: this film is being made in America, which has a white majority (or rather, as of now, a white plurality, which is almost the same).

      • Venom

        Actually there is a Hansel & Gretel movie (made in the US) that stars Booboo and Fivel Stewart. Of course though, it’s a god-awful no budget DTV movie made by David DeCoteau.

        Reminder: America’s white majority elected a black man president.

        • Andre

          The Stewarts are half-whites (which is pretty obvious), which makes three of Booboo’s roles so far red-face, but anyway, yeah that movie seems awful. I agree with that. And I have no idea why they called it that way since it seems to have no similiarity with the original story.

          And Obama is not black, he is brown, and even if he were black, that would be only one man and nothing more. To give you an example from the politics of my country:
          My chancellor is a woman, the still vice chancellor and the Federal Minister of Economics and Technology was born in Vietnam and my Foreign Minister is openly gay.
          Does that mean that woman are completely equal to men in my country? No!
          Does that mean that people of vietnamese descent, well the ones were it is visible, will never face discrimination because of it? No!
          Does that mean gay partnerships have the same right to marry as straight partnerships and there is no dscrimination? No!
          In each case it was just another step and not more. In each case it proved that you do not need to be a straight, white male to make it that far, but that’s it. There is still a long way to go in many fields of my society.
          So don’t put that much faith into the election of a brown man like Obama.

          • Venom

            No, he is black. He isn’t Latino, Indian, or Middle Eastern. Sure those of African descent aren’t exactly the color of coal, but whites aren’t exactly the color of milk.

            But anyway that was in response to the poster saying “Reminder: this film is being made in America, which has a white majority (or rather, as of now, a white plurality, which is almost the same).” The American public is simply not the bigot here, Hollywood and their apologists are.

          • Gelon Madison

            Not many black people are actually “black” like the color in case you haven’t noticed. In fact, many Africans in Africa aren’t that dark (the Hoi-san people for instance) with, of course, some exceptions. As you are not native to the US, it’s understandable that you don’t understand the enormity of the fact that the US was able to vote a self-identified Black Man into the White House (along with his black family). I agree that it’s not the end of the road, but it’s definite a huge step forward in this country. The idea of a Black president was impossible 10 years ago. And the most amazing this is that it could not have happened with out the support of many, many white people, as they are the majority.

      • Jono

        Reminder: The only thing you’re justifying with that white majority excuse is the stereotype that white people really don’t want to see people of color on the screen. So much so that it’s “Ok” to you that they cast White for obvious POC roles.

      • Andre

        I wouldn’t be so sure whether Hansel and Gretel would only be played by Half-Mongolians in Mongolia. Not every movie industry is as racist as the Americans.
        My country has a white majority and you don’t need to have to apply to the American rules of being white to be cast in big and historical roles. By the weird “mixed race” reasonings I have seen on this side and others, a number of our actors would be mixed. But they are not, they are white people.

        • SnapIntoASlimJim

          If you don’t mind saying, what is your country?

          • Andre

            I don’t mind it. My country is Germany.

    • They probably made the entire movie fantastical just to justify having a white character as one of the Ronin. But this is stupid. Japan is cool enough, no need to fantasize it.

      • happyappa

        Reeves’s character is mixed race, not White. But yes Reeves himself is mixed race, though he plays mostly/practically all White characters. This is probably a survival tool in Hollywood, but I can’t find anything about how he identifies. While I understand a mixed race identity is something fluid and can change day-by-day, they could have just cast another actor who was Asian-mixed race and didn’t play mostly White characters (Ian Anthony Dale is an example of an actor, not sure how he would work in this movie though).

        They cast a mixed race actor because it is part of the story (and there aren’t many stories about mixed race people), but I’m wondering about Hollywood’s motives for casting Keanu, and it’s probably because he’s well-known and has played White characters. No surprise there, typical Hwood.

        • Andre

          Reeves is white. So what if he has Hawaiian and Chinese ancestors? By the way he is 1/32 Chinese, not 1/8. Why does that little bit matter so much? What makes people mixed race in your eyes?

          • Gelon Madison

            I agree that there are many “white” people who have 1/4 this or 1/8 this and still (proudly) enjoy white privilege.

      • AlanMorlock

        They made the whole movie fantastical because what they wanted was a Japanese “300.”

  • Anonymous

    YEP. I’m pretty sure when the film fails, it will be blamed on the Asians. And then the execs will say, “SEE I told you. People don’t watch movies with Asian leads.” You might think this is crass and no one in a position of studio power would say this, but it’s the reason DBZ, Last Airbender and 21 were whitewashed.

    • Raiden

      only the LEAD characters were whitewashed in Last Airbender. I wouldn’t have minded shymalans “diverse” casting calls (despite the fact that everyone in the animated ATLA universe is clearly east Asian) had he done the same with the LEADS.

  • I called this as Rip Off of Shogan series and novel.

  • Raiden

    I’m not Asian, so I don’t know how to feel about this. . . but here’s my 2 cents

    I doubt this film is going to be “47 Ronin”. Its probably going to be Keanu’s character who gets any character development while the others are reduced to 2-dimensional backdrop. Call it “One Hero and 46 stereotypes”. Its been done for years in film, cast one white lead to attract audiences, and cast minorities in supporting roles.

    but about the “Steamy” scene between Keanu and the Leading lady. . . One of my girlfriends mothers was part Mexican and Asian. Interracial romance is a real thing, are you saying Interracial romance shouldn’t be shown in the film just because he’s white?

    Anyway (and pardon my language) the film Damned if it succeeds, damned if it flops. If the film is successful, maybe Hollywood will recruit more Asian Actors, but most of those roles will probably be similar to the 46 Stereotypes in this film. If it flops Hollywood will say “See! We Tried! Its obvious the Audience doesn’t want Asian Stars!” and refuse to cast an Asian American Actor in a strong lead role for another Four or Six years.

    Personally, i think a film like this should have gone one of two ways. they should have either made it grim gritty and as realistic and authentic as possible with an All Asian cast, Japanese Dialogue, and no supernatural elements. Or else made it a Story BASED on 47 Ronin, but in an entirely different setting to avoid the race issues and executive meddling of certain racially biased producers.

    How about 47 Patriots in an American Revolution Setting? 47 Mutants in a post apocalyptic setting?

    I don’t

  • Amber Shah

    I understand that you’re speaking in the context of a system that regularly excludes Asian characters, which is why the mentions of Asians discriminating against white people are noteworthy. But I have to say, as someone who is mixed Asian and Caucasian, I have faced more prejudice from the Asian community than anywhere else. Obviously it’s tough to generalize, but that has been my experience over the course of my life in many different settings (and exposures to different Asian cultures). So in my mind, there’s nothing “wrong” with a movie that depicts what I have experienced.

    • Raiden

      were not Keanu’s casting is a BAD thing. Its just people are mad that once again Hollywood seems to think that roles intended for Non-white actors can be played by anyone (including white or part white Actors) but (usually) not that Non-white can play roles intended for white people.

      besides the way this film is being marketed its not going to be 47 Ronin, its going to be one character who gets characterization, while everyone else is reduced to a stereotypical supporting role. 1 Hero and 46 Stereotypes. While in the original tale every character got development and was made sympathetic, in this adaptation it seems only Keanu is going to get development. The racial implications are just there because Keanu is (mostly) white.

      There have been many films where Whites or mixed actors who look white have been in lead roles. Keanu, the Rock, Jessica Alba, all have success, do you think they would be as successful as they are if they were clearly a certain race instead of either looking white or being “Ethnically Ambiguous?” Whats wrong with having one where there’s an Actual Asian actor in the lead non stereotypical role as a hero instead of casting a white or part white actor? How about Steven Yuen of Walking dead fame as the lead role of Kai? He’s easily the most complex character and popular actor on the show, and he’s marketable.

      • Amelia

        And here it is again. If you are mixed and look too white, you aren’t a REAL asian, no matter how you grew up or personally identify. I don’t like the fact that media is dominated by white men either, but this “actual asian” BS is racist too.

        • q q

          No it isn’t.
          Because Hollywood LOOKS for this. The rest are discriminated against.

          • Amelia

            It IS racist to tell someone else that they have no right to their own heritage because you don’t feel that they look it enough. I am not arguing and have never argued that minority actors who aren’t mixed are not discriminated against by Hollywood, but these are two entirely separate issues.

      • niggity

        You’re literally telling an Asian-American PoC that his lived experience of racism is “not real”. Holy shit, you need to check your privilege and check it hard.

    • Amelia

      Same here. I’ve never been made to feel like my non-european heritage was something to be ashamed of by a white person, but plenty of chinese/hawaiian people have told me I’m too white or that I don’t count as chinese/hawaiian because I am white. I understand the context the author of the article is coming from, but I wish people would understand that the premise of this film is actually speaking to the experiences of some mixed people.

      • Phil

        Very interesting, my experiences throughout life have been the opposite to yours – it’s the white people that have made me feel excluded and discriminated against(even though I grew up among them). While most Chinese can tell i’m not full they seem to accept me as a human being without a second thought – even when they blatantly say things like “what are you?” it comes across as solely inquisitive rather than hostile or belittling.

        Where do you live? do you look more white or more Asian? I also wonder if gender has anything to do with the difference in treatment…

      • Gelon Madison

        I agree wholeheartedly. I think it’s great that you get to be represented in a film. However, I think the article is solely about Hollywood intentions. Never before has Keanu Reeves’ Asian heritage been so proudly touted… I’m sure if you were an actress, you would want the world to know you were of Asian descent long before you got the chance to asian.

    • q q

      Keannu Reeves is only 1/6th chinese

      he is 0% japanese

  • Raiden

    This film is going to be 47 Ronin in Name only. If you guys want a decent real and authentic adaptation of 47 Ronin, I recommend picking up Stan Sakai’s (of Usagi Yojimbo Fame) excellent adaptation of the tale at your local comic shop.

    Personally I’m not going to see this movie, because regardless of its cast, it is probably going to be a really bad film the same way Last Airbender was a really bad film. An Insensitive cultural mishmash, full of stereotypes, that is a total disrespect to the original source material.

  • Amelia

    And I understand that. But what you said is that Keanu Reeves is not a real asian because he is part white. Telling mixed people that they aren’t “really” a particular race because you don’t think they look it enough is ridiculous and offensive. I seriously don’t understand this obsession people seem to have with forcing mixed-race people to “choose” one race to identify with over all the others and I’m sick of it.

    Also, while there are a decent number of mixed race actors in Hollywood, they aren’t usually playing mixed race characters. Hollywood, like you, looks at mixed actors and then erases whatever part of their heritage they find inconvenient (for example, the lead actor in Psych is half white/half mexican yet both the actors cast as his parents are white). Also, the fact that Jessica “I never though of myself as mexican” Alba and The Rock are the first mixed-race actors you can think of speaks volumes as to how successful mixed race actors actually are when people don’t erase part of their heritage. I suppose Cameron Diaz and Halle Berry fall into the “not really Cuban/white” category for you.

    • Raiden

      The Thing is, casting a Mixed-race Actor to lead the Asian characters and Represent Asian Culture would have just as many unfortunate implications as if it was a black actor like Will Smith or white actor like Hayden Christensen leading the samurai as Keanu Reeves. It’s just as culturally insensitive, and sadly, although you may see it differently, many American audiences don’t see Keanu as Asian, they see him as White. Heck, until I read this article, I didn’t even know he was mixed!

      Besides, my biggest issue isn’t necessarily with Keanu’s casting it’s that the original 47 Ronin didn’t need a subplot of overcoming racial prejudice or to be overtly weighed down with supernatural elements, it was already a deeply complex story, with twists and turns and plot reveals, action, and relatable characters on par with any modern novel by King or Clancy. It doesn’t need altering, it doesn’t even need to have a film adaptation. But if Hollywood is going to do one, then the least they can do is make it as authentic to the source material, and the culture it was based in as possible without feeling the need to jack it up and alter it beyond recognition to supposedly appeal to a mainstream audience. They did the same thing to the live action Last Airbender, and we all know how that turned out.

      I do not mean to offend you or your heritage but can you at least see where it is I am coming from?

      • nuggety

        But if a black actor were actually cast as the leader of the ronin you would be hailing it as a bold move that bends our conceptions of race, and saying how great it is.

        • Raiden

          No, it wouldn’t it would be just as culturally insensitive, and as horrible and misrepresenting of Japanese culture as casting a white passing person to play the role of a main character.

          As I said before, given all the controversy, reshoots, and alterations from the source material it’s gone through, this isn’t going to be the 47 Ronin, it’s going to be 1 white/Non-Japanese guy who gets all the characterization, and the 46 Supporting roles who are reduced to offensive stereotypes.

          In short, Hollywood has turned what was supposed to be a badass story about honor, revenge, life and death, and an authentic representation of Japanese culture, into the same old ” ‘White/Foreigner guy saves the natives’ story that horribly misrepresents and fetishes the culture its set in” that we’ve seen in every other film since the start of Hollywood history.

          Last Samurai, James Cameron’s Avatar, Last Airbender, Dances With Wolves, Lawrence of Arabia, and now 47 Ronin. Isn’t it time we moved on from that dead horse of a trope, and represented the culture of a people accurately?

        • Gelon Madison

          It would be ridiculous, but novel. Because it would actually be something we weren’t expecting and haven’t seen before.

    • happyappa

      I agree that what Raiden said about “actual asians” was problematic and is disrespectful of mixed race people. I think that you can hate on the casting choices without hating on the mixed race actor/actress. Like with Nina Simone, some people said Saldana was not black enough to play Simone. That is utterly stupid and offensive. But the casting was not the best choice because she had to wear prosthetics and she darkened her skin. This however does not make her any less black.

      Yeah mixed race actors/characters have barely any good portrayals in the media. Heck, for characters who are supposed to be half white/half poc, much of the time they are played by a white actor or white actor in yellowface. The issue with Reeves is he is the go-to guy for casting diversity, but from what I know he has never identified as a poc (?) and for the majority plays white roles. He is white-passing and has white privilege. If he does identify as asian or biracial then fine. Being white-passing does not make him any less asian, but he does have that privilege, seen in the roles he has played.

      “(for example, the lead actor in Psych is half white/half mexican yet both the actors cast as his parents are white).”

      I see no problem with this if he identifies as white. But then one can’t say that he is an example of a successful mixed race actor.

      “I suppose Cameron Diaz and Halle Berry fall into the “not really Cuban/white” category”
      Cuban is not a race, it is a nationality. Cameron Diaz is racially white.

    • q q

      Keeanu Reeves is only 1/6th chinese -_-

      • Amelia

        First of all, this is impossible. That would mean that one of his parents was 1/3 chinese and I challenge anyone to explain to me how his parent is an equal mix of the genetic makeup of three different people. Second, what proportion of an ethnicity does someone have to be to count as a “real” member of that ethnicity to you? I grew up with tons of mixed people. A lot of them were “only” a quarter or an eighth of ANY of their ethnicities. So what about them? Does the fact that they were culturally influenced by/identified with all of their different ethnicities get overruled by what other people think they look like? It can be hard for people that didn’t grow up around a lot of mixed people to tell when people are mixed and I get that (I’ve been told by various people that I look Hawaiian, which is laughable, or that they thought I was full white or full asian), but that should lead to the conclusion that you shouldn’t judge a person’s background based on what ethnicity you think they are. Instead it appears to have led you to believe that you are the ultimate arbiter of other peoples’ ethnic identities.

    • Gelon Madison

      I think we can all agree that no one knows how anyone of these Hollywood actors grew up. There are many Blacks who have passed for white, have black families, and the world will never know. Keanu Reeves may or may not identifiy as Asian, who knows. We only know that Hollywood has pushed his pass-for-white persona and are now conveniently embracing his Asian heritage for the sake of explaining his unnecessary presence in this film. That is the point of the argument.

    • Andre

      If a homosexual says he/she is heterosexual would you also say that it is offensive if people tell them they are not hetero?
      And as for the heritage stuff: what do you even know of the history of our species? Do you actually think that most people on this earth are what you would call racially pure?

  • nuggety

    I love how you’re erasing and belittling and white-splaining away the real lived experience of an Asian-American, just because it doesn’t agree with your social justice narrative. Why don’t you take a hint from your own social justice blog posts and shut up, check your privilege, and stop trying to explain to an Asian-American why his experience is wrong and why the racism he experienced was “not real”.

    You people are a joke.

  • anen

    If Keanu Reeves is 1/8 Chinese and 1/8 Hawaiian that makes him 1/4 Asian, not really a “half breed”.

    • happyappa

      Native Hawaiians are Pacific Islanders not Asian. And referring to that slur I don’t think you have to literally be half x and half x to be called it.

      • anen

        hence why it’s called a slur. I was just stating obvious math

    • Amelia

      Seriously? I will never understand why people decided that Asian+Pacific Islander was a logical grouping. Do you actually think of Tongans and Samoans as being asian/think that Polynesians think of themselves as asians?

    • Phil

      Being mixed breed is not like mixing milkshakes… sure if you take 2 quarts of chocolate milkshake and mix it with 6 quarts of vanilla milkshake then you can’t say you have a half-chocolate/half-vanilla milkshake.

      Half-breed on the other hand is often used to describe someone who is no longer ‘pure’ race – some genes are much stronger and dominant to other genes which are much more recessive, and that shows through several generations at least. Someone who no longer looks ‘pure’ race is a half-breed. Don’t agree? try finding someone who is mixed and see if they truly feel like they belong to one or another of their parent races.

      • Andre

        That has no basis what you are saying. Talk like yours is the reason for the phenomenon you mentioned in your last sentence. Plus this recessive and dominant stuff has nothing to do with race. To take Reeves’ example: if you are 1/8 Chinese and 1/8 Hawaiian and the rest is all white the chance that you turn out non-white is so slim as to be zero. And someone not looking “pure” being a half-breed is only in your culture, other cultures out there have more nuanced terms. And what is “looking pure” in the first place? Do you know where once race ends and the other starts? Do you even half-way know how traits are distributed in this regard on this earth?

  • namcu

    hollywood just wants white leads. period. there is no other answer. its not that they can’t cast other ethnicity. its because they wont. until the america truly changes. especially the older generation and their children’s who take over. they will always have white leads who are highly paid known actors in major films.

  • Zen

    Well, I’m glad to announce that Ronin 47 failed big time. And guess what?
    Wolverine also failed a big time.

    Great. Hollywood, come again with those Whitewashing and pairing White guy with Asian women, we’re gonna beat up the crap out of piracy and rip your movie market out.

    • Raiden

      Wait. . . . 47 Ronin doesn’t come out until Christmas, and Wolverine made over 250 million at the box office. Could you please elaborate?

  • Tory

    My problem with this movie is that it feels it’s going to be more about the added character with the 47 ronin story surrounding it. I wouldn’t have much of an issue with Keanu Reeves if the character Kai really did exist but for them to just add him on as a possibility to get more of an audience and to make the story better is annoying.

  • Jono

    I gotta say, normally I am right in the forefront of identifying and objecting against Hollywood’s blatant whitewashing practices. However, as much as I also agree to main message/point of this article, I will say that I have no problem admitting my interest in seeing this movie. If nothing more that Keanu at least has a lot of fans from the Asian side of the spectrum that would be glad it’s him and not someone else.

    He… also, happens to be very active in his return to the movie industry, so much so that he debuting his first Director role in the movie Man of Tai Chi. In that he apparently is willing to play the villain, and the main stars of the show are a solid cast of Asian actors. Honestly, it’s kinda hard to hate on this guy.

    • Gelon Madison

      Yes, this was an excellent movie and an example of how it can be done in Hollywood.

  • Hwang

    Why should I complain about Crouching Tiger not having a black guy in Imperial China? No one’s arguing that each and every movie needs a lead minority. Read the article, or my comment – the issue is Hollywood’s *consistent* need to prevent Asians from having lead roles even when it makes sense to. Then the actual Asian characters are relegated to background, cliche roles. A one time thing isn’t a big deal, but doing it over and over again gives a different message.

    The audience surrogate thing can’t be used as an excuse all the time. Sure, a surrogate could be a good storytelling device, but the purpose is relatability. Given Crouching Tiger though, that device isn’t *needed*, as Americans have shown they can relate to a foreign film made for a foreign audience. Hollywood movies – one of the US’ biggest exports – are played worldwide all the time, and foreigners relate just fine as well. But at the same time Hollywood seems to think Americans can only relate to Caucasian-Americans. It’s even gotten to the point that movies based on real-life Asians or set in Asian settings must star non-Asians.

    Oh, and whether or not China casts minorities as leads shouldn’t reflect on whether Hollywood should or not. Bringing up the casting practices of a less diverse country with a younger film industry is pointless.

  • Venom

    No, he said “Let me ask – when was the last time you’ve seen an Asian American in the leading role?”

  • Gelon Madison

    What is your point? The ORIGINAL Black Panther Party was a direct result of the violent and institutionalized racism that took place in the 60-70s. They did preach retaliatory violence as opposed to Dr. King’s non-violent approach and were a more militant reactionary group. What you are probably referring to are the New Black Panther party,which only shares its name with the original party. Perhaps the “70% percent” you think would feel alienated by the name “Black Panther” are just as uneducated as you on the matter. Didn’t stop anyone from creating/selling the comic books, making Black Panther animated movies, or putting him in the Avengers comics in the first place.

    On to another of your points, I’ve seen plenty of white actors placed in movies of non-white origin. It seems to be hard to find Asian whites (who can speak Mandarin, Vietnamese, Japanese) or Africans whites (who can speak Swahili etc.) and so on, so it’s not overly frequent. When white actors are available, able, and WANT to act in these films, they are usually welcome.

    I agree that movies are representative of the population. I don’t agree that every movie needs to have at least one white person in it. Hollywood has the idea that white people can’t stomach movies where they won’t be represented at all, although minorities in this country do it all the time. I think it’s very silly and behind the times.

    Important note: Whites account for 63% percent of the US population (not inclucing Hispanic or Latino). This percent is getting smaller each year. That leaves 37% percent, and growing, of the population non-white.

  • Gelon Madison

    Nothing changes the fact the white privilege exist. One black director, and handful of Black films over a span of DECADES does not change that fact.

  • Gelon Madison

    Never mind that fact that there were Chinese people in the US at the time, working in mines and on railroads. I would argue that there could be a movie in set in 1850s America with an entire cast of Chinese people and only a few token whites and blacks and be accurate for that time. Gee, you seem to know very little about the historical Asian presence in the country. Scratch that, you seem to know very little about US history at all, mainly the fact that it’s always been more diverse than Native, Black,and White.

  • Hasdi Bravo

    Marissa, as you may have probably noticed, the new trailers of 47 RONIN feature more shots of Hiroyuki Sanada and Rinko Kikuchi, not just centering on Keanu Reeves (and Rick Genest). In particular, the most recent trailer on Yahoo captioned “Starring Keanu Reeves, Hiroyuki Sanada, and Rinko Kikuchi“. Apparently, delaying the movie release to Christmas 2013 enabled Universe Pictures to bank on Hiroyuki Sanada with the release of THE WOLVERINE, and Rinko Kikuchi with the release of PACIFIC RIM. Even the studio knew that banking the movie solely on Keanu Reeves’ past popularity does not justify risking $175 million. The only color that matters to studios is GREEN.

    • Hwang

      It doesn’t matter if money is the primary motivator. Casting practices are still biased, and minorities are still stuck in stereotyped, supporting roles. The Wolverine played heavily towards orientalist stereotypes, and 47 Ronin is leaning heavily on the “mighty whitey” trope. The non-white is still “The Other”. Who cares if all the studios care about is “green”? It’s still biased and insulting, and won’t change unless voices critical of this are heard.

    • Raiden

      It still doesn’t change the fact that Keanu Reeves was rewritten to be the MAIN character, when in the original version of the film he was only a supporting role.

  • Arel Walker

    Chinese Directors did direct movies set in contemporary America and we did not get any Asian lead characters in movies such as John Woo’s Face Off, or Ang Lee’s Hulk did we? Or John Woo’s first Hollywood movie Hard Target starring Van Damme but nary an Asian character in sight. So there was no Asian surrogate character required and I believe the movies did well in Asia(not too sure about Ang Lee’s Hulk).

  • gracelimzq

    It should not even be called the 47 ronin, it should be called, “Keanu Reeves, and the 47 ronin”. At least that sounds fitting.

  • Jaycee mike

    i’m wondering where all these pissed off people were when cloud atals came out. that film was soooooooo racist. 47 ronin at least has reeves who is 25% asian. happa, yes, all white cast… no. white cast in yellow face… HELL NO. fuck cloud atas.

    • Herostratus356

      They were in the exact same place they are now. You can find plenty of stuff criticizing Cloud Atlas on Racebending.

  • Herostratus356

    I feel no guilt in the schadenfreude I feel over this film’s critical and commercial failure.

    • Andre

      And why would you. I saw it and it was boring. Frankly I do not even know why Reeves was in this movie, even within the story they presented in the film there was no reason to have him for this “big” role. Had he been some hermit friend of Oishi, that would have made more sense both regarding the other’s mistrust and his bland acting. Within the movie its already ridiculous that they refer to him as a half-breed, since he looks nothing like a Japanese person, he is a full white guy. Now, when you are half-Japanese you can of course turn out white, or when you want to apply racism, he can “pass”, but either way, within the film he is constantly identified as a half-breed by the Japanese people as well as those that are supposed to be Dutch I think and as such the role requires an actor that actually looks like both sides would see something familiar and something foreign to them, but like I said, in comparison to the Japanese actors, Reeves looks all foreigner, nothing like them.

  • jesseacosta

    No, they don’t always know what race you are at first look. Being half
    Mexican half Irish American, nobody really knows my background at first glance. That is the story of mixed race people. It’s even more interesting when people think they are in a room of same race individuals, and really speak their mind. You get to see what venom they are really packing, because they assumed you were one of them.

  • snitch

    in hs i got cast to play ghandi just because i was the darkest person in drama.

  • Andre


    I saw this film and it was a total snorefest. Incredibly as it sounds but despite all the magic, death, fighting and all it was boring, incredibly boring. The effects, albeit ok, and the often quite beautiful scenery and costumes were wasted on this. I didn’t care for any of the characters except towards the end when Oishi’s son Chikara, played by eye-candy Jin Akanishi, was “pardoned” and I saw Oishi’s (Hiroyuki Sanada) face, that of his wife and the son. As well as that of shogun Tsunayoshi (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa). That for the first time in this movie made me actually feel something deep and not boredom and asking myself why they even act like this and that. For the most part Akanishi and Sanada had the best chemistry in my eyes. Actually the actress playing the shapeshifting witch (do Japanese witches traditionally even have this power?) was good as well, albeit her character was severely underused and the magic just for showing off (the shooting of later scenes probably explains some of her inconsistent actions, you see if she can turn into this white dragon monster to fight Kai, why didn’t she do it on the battlefield? And why was Kai the only one to use the magic sword?).
    But you know, I feel sorry for these actors, especially Tagawa, a man that managed to make the live action Tekken movie look bearable deserves more, for all of them, except Reeves! This idiot deserves the Golden Razzie for this as much as Deep does for Lone Ranger (I really hope he wins worst actor). Granted the actors did not have much to work with in general, the dialogue really was a joke, especially in the first 30 minutes, but you could see they worked with what they got, but not him. His face was so incredibly bland that I wondered shortly whether I was suffering from some sort of reverse other race effect, so that I could read the emotions on the faces of the Japanese actors but not of white actor Reeves. But that was not it. Reeves really did do such a bad performance, the actor playing the younger Kai was much better than him, you have to wonder whether this happy and lighthearted teenager was severely mistreated to turn into this bland-faced sociopath (Ps.whoever on youtube thought this kid was Asian needs to have his/her eyes or brain checked). To put it into perspective: Kirsten Stewart in Twilight and John Travolta in Battlefield Earth did it better in my eyes. At least they had some sort of facial expression that you could see without magnifying glasses (Reeves only rarely did that, even his smiles seemed forced) and their voices actually changed tone. Reeves’ face was incredibly bland and his voice nearly constantly monotone. At the end when we saw Tagawa, Sanada, Akanishi and Kou Shibasaki’s (Mika, the love interest) faces you could see the profound difference in the performances when the camera switched to Reeves. It was like when you are about to eat your favorite snack and then someone takes it away and gives you burned potatoes to eat. I was all “go away, go away” when Reeves’ face was back on the screen. Some say his and Sanada’s characters were good together, but I didn’t see it. The side characters were way more interesting than these two and when supporting cast is more interesting than the main ones the makers did something wrong. And like I said, the other actors, even small ones, did a much better performance than Reeves, whom I have no idea why he was in the film to begin with (even story wise I asked myself this time and again) apart from somehow wanting to appeal to the international crowd. But even then Reeves was a bad decision since when since Matrix did he appeal to the masses? But not just that, his whole characters seemed so grafted.
    First he was way too old for this love interest role. You could clearly see that he was closer in age to Oishi than Mika, who was about Chikara’s age (albeit I thought the actress was in her late 20s or early 30s to be honest), and I have no idea why Mika wants him to begin with.
    Second the whole half-breed stuff was so forced, just like his outsider status. Not only do I wonder why they call him half-breed to begin with, since how do they even know that, he looks nothing like a Japanese person. With someone like Eiji Wentz it might have worked, he looks Japanese/German American enough I think, or maybe someone like Mario Maurer, that could work. Also both are actors and are of the fitting age. And it’s not as though both are unknown in the Western World. But back to Reeves. Not only was this constant referring to him as a demon or some magical creature ridiculous (especially at the start when young Oishi sees him and refers to him as a demon, despite both actors looking more alike than any other in that round) and his whole half-breed topic was so forced, they constantly bring it up for no reason whatsoever apart from maybe making us feel sorry for his character. But why? Why is he a “half-breed”? There are white women in this movie, prostitutes possibly and he could have been the son of one of them and therefore got abandoned and found by Tengu (don’t get me started on them, they look like Voldemort from the first Harry Potter movie). That would have worked better. Actually if it were for me and I had to include Reeves, I could have made him an integral character otherwise:
    Since in this version the Ronin face a supernatural threat they need respective assistance. Reeves could simply be a hermit, raced by Tengu (who would look much different here), of whom Oishi knows and who serves as a bridge between the Tengu and the humans due to his outsider status (instead of this lame ass story of him knowing that he did not belong with the Tengu despite them raising him since toddler age). This would work perfectly with his bland face and monotone voice. He would be some mysterious and perhaps not trustworthy ally of them instead of this ridiculous “hero”. In this version the witch could also transform into a horse sized white dog to fight them, as a sort of homage to the Inu no Taishu from the Inu Yasha series. Maybe she even started out similar as him, being raised by Tengu or some other Yokai as well (btw. no Western names like demon, just like the Inuyasha movies over here I would stay with the Japanese terms, most movie goers won’t be bothered anyway) and their confrontation would be some sort of mirror to each other and he could only defeat her by using the powers of the Tengu, but an actual battle, not this silly excuse from the movie.
    Granted all of this IF I had to include Reeves, there was no reason for such a character to be there to begin with. Because to think we need such a white inclusion character to connect to the people is ridiculous. We are able to connect to talking animals, giant robots, weird space aliens and who knows what else but we supposedly need Reeves in a movie like this? Look around people! The East Asian market is growing in this regard, the fan base in the West is growing. You should see the hearts drawn in that book on Bruce Lee I borrowed from the library today and that was from the early 1990s. These movie-makers should wake up, we “whites” have been lusting/swooning for what they call “non-whites” (or the politically correct, albeit in my eyes equally ridiculous, term “people of color”) for some time know, although granted Lee is definitely mixed, we idolized and fantasized in that direction ever before I was born apparently. We don’t need crap like this movie and this casting of Reeves!!!!

    PS. Of course Reeves plays white characters, because he is white. And as for his ancestry… seems to be hard to pin down, since some sources trace the Chinese or Hawaiian ancestry way back and others say it was his father who was Chinese/Hawaiian. Either way, I don’t know what weird notions Americans have and I don’t care, this guy is white, end of story for me.

  • davidthornton

    First off: A Movie is a product. The VALUE of a product must be created for the intended audience. Certain cinematic formulas work for different audiences. That’s why it is often difficult for one culture to watch movies from another culture. They simply appear too strange in all areas of presentation.

    Second off: this product was very “loosely” based on an actual historical event. It was OBVIOUSLY not intended to be a literal representation of history. ONLY fictionalized accounts of the tale of the Forty-seven Ronin are known as Chūshingura.
    The actual Historical Event is NOT known as Chūshingura. The 2013 cinematic version starring Keanu Reeves contained witches, demon priest, and other fantasy creatures. HELLO!! It’s Hollywood!! So, why can it not include a half breed human, the least fantastical addition to this “version”?

    Lastly: the producers/creaters/investors of a product get to determine its color, flavor, texture, etc. It is THEIR product for artistic expression. Anyone else is free to make another artistic version (and Hollywood often does).

    • Venom

      That’s not the way the first amendment works. Freedom of speech does not mean immunity from criticism.

      • davidthornton

        Think about what you just wrote.. My comment has nothing to do with the first amendment or your right to criticize. In fact, I was exercising my FIRST AMENDMENT RIGHT to criticize your asinine critique. The first amendment also prevents the censorship that you would like to delve out. Each of my 3 points were true and you did not actually attempt to refute any point. Instead, your response was a lame declaration of “First Amendment” rights that you apparently do not recognize for others as demonstrated by your thoughtless reply.

        1.) My first point addressed Business 101 principles. A movie is a product marketed by the studios/owners utilizing the same GSTIC Pyramid algorithm as any other business would. Do you honestly believe that real movies (high budget films) are just made for sheer entertainment value without any intelligent thought of monetization? There is a calculation of variables that go into the marketability and profitability of each project. The “T” in “GSTIC” stands for “tactics” which addresses the creation, communication, and distribution of VALUE. VALUATION is based upon the perspective of the CONSUMER.

        2.) My second point addressed the apparent ludicrous expectation for historically accuracy while ignoring the OBVIOUS fantastical elements. It, also, addressed a mis-definition of the word Chūshingura. It is a FACT that ONLY fictionalized accounts of the tale of the Forty-seven Ronin are known as Chūshingura. This movie was a FANTASY and a work of FICTION. There was little to no historical accuracy beyond name and place of a real incident. The incident, as portrayed in the movie NEVER took place. There were no witches, demons, dragons, shape shifters, half-breed Ronins. Get REAL!

        3.) My third point directly addressed the “First Amendment” issue by pointing out freedom of poetic license of the creators. They have a right to express themselves just as freely as you apparently would like to. Yet, your critique attempts to hold them to YOUR ideal/perspective. Yeah, you are free to do it, but it is asinine. And, I am free to point out that it is asinine. And, then, you are free to complain, but not about “First Amendment” rights. It is ABSURD that you expect the right to critique, yet seek to deny others of the same right.


  • Andre

    Back to what? Casting actors from East-Asian countries so far didn’t seem to have helped Asian-American actors one bit, so why would this film have any influence in either direction?

  • Venom

    The comments I was replying to were about non-whites in general, not Asians exclusively. BTW Slumdog Millionaire wasn’t a “black thing”.

    • SnapIntoASlimJim

      Hey Venom, can you help me out on a discussion on another website?

      For whatever reason my comments aren’t being accepted but I don’t want to let someone get the last word on racist casting. I hope you will reply soon.

      • Venom

        I apologize for not seeing this sooner. For some reason Disqus does not work on my computer anymore. Sure I’ll take a look, what’s the address?

  • Maison Margiela The 23rd

    Despite what the critics say, I honestly liked this movie, not matter what others reviews had to say, I still understood the movie, and I myself am knowledge on the original 47 Ronin story so I can understand peoples complaints about the changing somewhat of the story for entertainment purposes, typical Hollywood though isn’t it? let’s not pretend like it is something new, I found Kai a needed character and Oishi as well, as he has seen what Kai is capable of early on and finally accepts him, that is without saying, maybe someday the original 47 ronin film can be released as well the original film where Keanu Reeves only had about 20 minutes film time because producers decided to elongate his role and basically add the love story into the film between Kai and Mika. Maybe a few scenes were pointless, as a product the movie was entertaining enough for me to have a positive review about it, very underrated and unappreciated, nothing wrong with expecting more, the problem is expecting perfect.

  • nelsonsmith

    Not all of us; and more of us a waking up all the time.

  • nelsonsmith

    I really think you need to research the Black Panther party, before making yourself appear anymore ignorant than you do. Wikipedia as you know does not count.

  • MéliMélo

    it’s a white fantasy that they can go anywhere and conquer the culture. Fantasy indeed, I loved living in Japan because most white people got pissed off that they weren’t superstars and people would bow down to them. White people lack humility or maybe they’re just so overtly insecure that they feel they need to always show themselves as superior. I pity them really…

  • Daishi88

    As someone living in Japan, I have stepchildren. Just by knowing me they face a certain degree of prejudice. Just by knowing me.

    Prejudice is a very real problem in Japan – and, unlike America, it is often on an anti-white angle. Japan is not America, and a movie set in Japan with a half-white character being bullied is, well, pretty damn accurate. Scarily accurate.

    In other words – the racial issues of Japan and Japanese society are very, very, very different from America.

  • Martaa Silvaa

    It’s the same thing, guy. A lot of historically BLACK female characters are being portrayed by half WHITE, half Black females. Why do these Hollywood directors not cast one of the THOUSANDS of actual Black women actresses in America? They are simply forcing their White washed image of what is Black beauty down peoples throats. This is coming from a half Black and half Latina girl, too.