Wednesday April 5, 2017
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Erna Mahyuni

Erna tweets too much on @ernamh. Angry Sabah native, slave to her dog/cat and blogs at ernamahyuni.com

APRIL 5 ― Years ago, a friend-broke up with someone because he insisted it was possible to be racist against white people.

This person was Asian, by the way.

My annoyance and irritation at that incident is coming back to me now, seeing the response to Ghost in the Shell from some other people I know. Fortunately I don't friend-break up over differing movie opinions, else I would have no friends left.

My one-sentence review of Ghost would be: A movie made by a white boy who thought he could make a cyberpunk tale after watching maybe three animes.

Hearing white men in suits saying it shouldn't matter if a white person plays roles meant for other races is one thing, but hearing it from Asians just bothers me.

I've met too many Malaysians who say, that it shouldn't matter what race a person is so long as the person is good enough.

Here's the thing: what happens if, thanks to bias from mass media and advertising portrayals of white people starring in everything, people consciously or unconsciously think that white/Caucasian = good?

I still remember when I was young, reading about the woes of local models dealing with advertisers who would choose “Pan-Asians” or obviously white-blooded or white-looking actors.

It wasn't too long ago in Thailand that children who were partly white were ostracised. Now, however, mixed-blood Thais are in demand in the local entertainment industry.

One of our most successful local entrepreneurs made her fortune peddling creams of questionable efficacy, with a tagline promoting how “putih” or “white” your skin could look.

“No, Erna, people just want fair skin, they don't want to be orang putih (Caucasians).”

I wish I could agree.

It's the 21st century and yet, Malaysians still ascribe to ridiculous, white-centric standards of beauty and concepts such as whitewashing goes completely over their heads.

Look, one in every four people in the world is Chinese. You could argue then that the real default person by virtue of sheer population reach would be Chinese. But no, for some reason we think Matt Damon is the epitome of the ideal Hollywood star and that Scarlett Johansson should be first pick for any film requiring a woman run around in a leather catsuit with guns.

If you watch anything besides white people TV and film, you'd know there are talented actors of many races and who don't all live in Los Angeles.

To be honest, I'm just sad that people think Pete Teo playing a hamsap lou (dirty old man) in GITS is considered a pinnacle of achievement for Malaysia; Singaporean Chin Han got a better role in GITS.

But quite a few horny Malaysians seem to think that Teo sexually molesting Scarlett Johansson in a scene is cooler than Chin Han's role as an elite member of a strike force with actual dialogue and gets a few scenes where he gets to be kinda badass.

No wonder explaining whitewashing to some Malaysians feels like you need both a truncheon and a megaphone.

I fully intended to boycott Ghost but I wanted to see if it deserved the pre-emptive criticism it received.

Well, Scarlett Johansson plays a robot white woman who used to be a flesh-and-blood Japanese woman. So yes, it deserves all the brickbats.

White actors do not need to fear their roles will be co-opted by non-whites but non-whites have to fight for slim pickings, which are often also grabbed at by white actors.

That's the simple gist of it. The world has room for stories, more diverse roles and the default white character should have become passe by now.

So do us non-whites a favour by just not normalising whitewashing, people. At this rate we are going to have Dakota Fanning play Princess Mononoke and that is just so not on.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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