Whitewash: White subjectivity and Asian erasure in Hollywood

11/10/2018 (Thursday) 13:00-14:00 E21-G002

In a current book project, I theorize the popularly used concept of filmic “whitewashing,” differentiating it from White supremacy, White privilege, and Whiteness theory while noting its relationship to all three of these foundational concepts. The presentation, which is based on the theoretical foundations set forth in the book’s introduction, examines the whitewashing of Asian/American roles and stories. To do so, I explore not only the construction of Whiteness but the symbolic erasure of Asianness. Furthermore, borrowing from Afro-futurism, I engage my scholarly imagination to consider how meanings change if the characters are not whitewashed but played by Asian Americans, instead. Like William Yu, the digital strategist whose photoshopped images of actor John Cho on major motion picture posters sparked viral sharing, activist optimism, and imagination, I consider the possibilities and implications of Asian American actors in these roles. To do so, I draw from literature on symbolic annihilation, Whiteness theory, and Asian/American representation in media in order to analyze contemporary cinema through a critical cultural approach rooted in communication studies. With the exception of a single, short article by LeiLani Nishime, there has been no scholarly work on whitewashing despite its salience in Asian American activist and creative producers’ discourse. This book project and presentation hopes to take a step toward bridging this gap.