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Controversial Movie Castings
After the trailer for the Nina Simone biopic Nina was released, the casting of Zoe Saldana as the legendary African-American singer was criticized online and by Simone's estate itself. But Saldana, who was first slammed for the role in 2012, isn't the first celebrity to find themselves at the center of a casting controversy.
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Scarlett Johansson as Motoko Kusanagi in Ghost in the Shell
The upcoming Ghost in the Shell is based on an anime and manga series of the same name starring a Japanese woman named Motoko Kusanagi. The live-action adaptation, however, stars Scarlett Johansson, a white actress. Soon after DreamWorks revealed their casting decision in 2015, petitions sprung up demanding that Hollywood "stop whitewashing Asian characters." In April, the studio released a first look at Johansson in her lead role, prompting a fresh wave of criticism from actress Ming-Na Wen, Yahoo’s Jason Chen, the Angry Asian Man blog, and many more influential figures in the community. No one associated with the film has publicly responded to these complaints. —Ariana Bacle
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Rooney Mara as Tiger Lily in Pan
The same year that she starred opposite Cate Blanchett in the critical darling Carol, Rooney Mara hit the big screen as a slightly more controversial character. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo actress was tapped to play Tiger Lily in 2015's Pan — a role many thought should've gone to a person of color based on the character's Native American roots. Mara weighed in on the issue in a 2015 interview with People, saying of the controversy, "It wasn’t great, I felt really bad about it. It was something that I thought about before I met with [director] Joe [Wright]. When I met with Joe and heard what his plans for it were, it was something I really wanted to be a part of. But I totally sympathize with why people were upset and feel really bad about it."
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Emma Stone as Captain Allison Ng in Aloha
A star-studded project from Cameron Crowe and Scott Rudin and starring Emma Stone, Bradley Cooper, Rachel McAdams, Bill Murray, and John Krasinski among others, sounded like a recipe for box office gold — but the film quickly went in another direction. Aloha came under fire in 2015 for the casting of Stone as an Asian-American woman named Captain Allison Ng. After widespread outcry, Crowe commented on the casting, writing in a statement, "I have heard your words and your disappointment, and I offer you a heart-felt apology to all who felt this was an odd or misguided casting choice... As far back as 2007, Captain Allison Ng was written to be a super-proud 1/4 Hawaiian who was frustrated that, by all outward appearances, she looked nothing like one." Stone herself also added her two cents, saying in an interview that she "learned on a macro level about the insane history of whitewashing in Hollywood and how prevalent the problem truly is," adding that the discussions "ignited a conversation that’s very important."
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Zoe Saldana as Nina Simone in Nina
Zoe Saldana continues to face heat for her role as Nina Simone just months before the release of Nina. While the decision to cast the Guardians of the Galaxy actress as the famed musician has been a controversial one since it was first announced, the drama bubbled back up in March 2016. After Saldana tweeted a quote from Simone reading, "I'll tell you what freedom is to me- No Fear... I mean really, no fear," the late singer's estate responded from her Twitter account, writing, "Cool story but please take Nina's name out your mouth. For the rest of your life." Director Cynthia Mort weighed in as well, telling EW, "Zoe gave an amazingly courageous and great performance. I think that’s all that should matter."
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Christian Bale as Moses in Exodus: Gods and Kings
Christian Bale played Moses in the 2014 film Exodus: Gods and Kings, raising the eyebrows of viewers and critics. The British actor was taking on a character with Egyptian roots, leading white-washing controversy to surround the flick. Director Ridley Scott addressed the issue in an interview with Variety, saying, "I can’t mount a film of this budget, where I have to rely on tax rebates in Spain, and say that my lead actor is Mohammad so-and-so from such-and-such. I’m just not going to get it financed. So the question doesn’t even come up." Costumer designer Janty Yates also weighed in, telling EW, "You can’t expect studio to back you because they want box office. So they want names they recognize. Ridley’s not like that at all. If you look at Kingdom of Heaven, Saladin was played by a Syrian actor."
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Jake Gyllenhaal as Dastan in Prince of Persia: the Sands of Time
Jake Gyllenhaal picked up the lead role as Persian prince Dastan in 2010's Prince of Persia: the Sands of Time — the only problem? Gyllenhaal is decidedly not Persian. The controversy had enough of a legacy that John Oliver referenced it six years after the movie's release, saying in a segment on Hollywood white-washing of Gyllenhaal, "a white American with a Swedish last name was cast to play the prince of Persia from, you know, Persia."
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Angelina Jolie as Mariane Pearl in A Mighty Heart
In 2007, Angelina Jolie hit the big screen in A Mighty Heart. She played real-life journalist Mariane Pearl in the film, bringing Pearl's memoir to the big screen. Chatter began, however, with the decision to cast Jolie as the woman who wrote about her husband's kidnapping and killing in Pakistan. Born in France to a Dutch and Cuban parents, Pearl wasn't quite an exact physical match to Jolie. Public outcry followed, as fans questioned the techniques used to get Jolie to more closely resemble Pearl.
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Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games
Jennifer Lawrence may have aided The Hunger Games in its massive box office hauls and become a bona fide superstar during the franchise's run, but before all of the success and fanfare there was casting controversy. Fans of Suzanne Collins' original Hunger Games books took issue with Lawrence playing the role of Katniss. In the first book, Katniss looks over at Gale, describing their shared physical attributes as ones of "straight black hair, olive skin," and "the same gray eyes." Katniss goes on to add in the book that her mother and sister Prim, "with their light hair and blue eyes, always look out of place." Fans raised eyebrows at the casting of a light-haired, blue-eyed Lawrence, but author Collins later told EW, "They were not particularly intended to be biracial. It is a time period where hundreds of years have passed from now. There’s been a lot of ethnic mixing. But I think I describe them as having dark hair, grey eyes, and sort of olive skin. You know, we have hair and makeup."
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Ben Affleck as Tony Mendez in Argo
Ben Affleck stepped behind the camera to direct and produce the Oscar-winning Argo, but also starred in the film as CIA agent Tony Mendez. Some viewers took issue with Affleck playing a real-life person with roots in Mexico. After it became an issue, Affleck said in an interview that he "sought [Tony's] approval" before playing him, adding, "I felt very comfortable that if Tony was cool with it, I was cool with it." Mendez himself seemed to take little issue with the casting as well, telling NBC in an interview that his family moved to the United States around 1900 and he never learned Spanish, growing up with his mother's side of the family, which is not Hispanic. "I don’t think of myself as a Hispanic," he added. "I think of myself as a person who grew up in the desert. If I had been in a different family circumstance, I might have felt that way. But, mostly, my family was at odds with each other in a playful way, they weren’t talking about heritage in that regard."
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Jim Sturgess as Hae-Joo Chang in Cloud Atlas
In the sweeping, ambitious Cloud Atlas, Jim Sturgess spends a sequence playing a character by the name of Hae-Joo Chang, who is living in Korea. Questions were raised as to whether Sturgess, a British actor, underwent "yellow face" makeup to look more like his character. The Media Action Network for Asian Americans spoke out against the casting, with founding president Guy Aoki releasing a statement reading, "Cloud Atlas missed a great opportunity. The Korea story’s protagonist is an Asian man--an action hero who defies the odds and holds off armies of attackers... The message the movie sends is, it takes a lot of work to get Asians to look Caucasian, but you can easily turn Caucasians into Asians by just changing the shape of their eyes." The Wachowskis also weighed in, telling HuffPost Entertainment, "That's good that people are casting a critical eye. We need to cast critical eyes toward these things. What are the motivations behind directors and casting? I totally support it. But our intention is the antithesis of that idea. The intention is to talk about things that are beyond race. The character of this film is humanity, so if you look at our past work and consider what our intention might be, we ask that those people give us a chance and at least see the movie before they start casting judgement."
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Gods of Egypt
Amid controversy over the film's casting choices, Gods of Egypt hit theaters stateside in February, earning just $31.15 million on its estimated $140 million budget. The movie, which featured Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Brenton Thwaites, Chadwick Boseman, and Gerard Butler, among others, scored an additional $119.5 million in foreign box office totals.