By Amanda Michelle Steiner
Updated February 22, 2016 at 01:39 PM EST
Credit: HBO; Neal Preston

“Hollywood whitewashing: How is this still a thing?”

That was the question posed by Sunday’s Last Week Tonight segment “And Now This,” which sought to highlight a persistent issue in Hollywood.

Following this year’s Oscar nominations — which for a second year in a row featured an all-white slate of acting nominees — many called out the industry’s failure to create roles for people of color. But as Last Week Tonight pointed out, sometimes the roles are there. They’re just played by white actors.

The segment went on to cite Jake Gyllenhaal’s titular role in Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time — in which “a white American with a Swedish last name was cast to play the prince of Persia from, you know, Persia” — as well as Emma Stone’s controversial role in Aloha as the most popular contemporary examples of Hollywood whitewashing. Exodus: Gods and Kings and Gods of Egypt didn’t escape scrutiny, either.

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The practice is nothing new, however; Mickey Rooney’s performance as Mr. Yunioshi in Breakfast at Tiffany’s was praised by The New York Times in 1961 for being “broadly exotic,” says Last Week Tonight, and of course there’s Natalie Wood as Maria in West Side Story (1961), John Wayne as Genghis Khan in The Conqueror (1956), and many other examples.

“And maybe all of this would be less egregious if any time an actor of color took on a traditionally white role, half the country didn’t go apesh–,” added the Last Week Tonight narrator, citing the outcry that followed Michael B. Jordan’s casting as Johnny Storm in Fantastic Four, Quvenzhané Wallis’ title role in Annie, and, most famously, John Boyega’s inclusion into the Star Wars universe as stormtrooper Finn.

For more — including a refresher course on films ostensibly about people of color which manage to have white people in the foreground — see the full segment below.

Last Week Tonight With John Oliver

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