Whitewashing in Hispanic Entertainment

Hollywood has a long way to go when it comes to accurate portrayals of Latinxs and other people of color in movies and television shows.

Whitewashing — or casting white actors to play non-white characters — is not a new issue. By continually casting white actors, there is not enough representation for Latinxs and people of color. According to Mitu, there are many examples of whitewashing for Hispanic roles.

“Whitewashing in Latinx media continues to prove over and over who they represent. Telenovelas and movies always have cast for white-passing Latinx or even Spanish actors,” said Erica Maggiore, executive assistant and Sargent of arms of the Latin American Student Association (LASA) at the University of New Haven, “There is rarely Afro-Latinx representation because of the strong colorism in the Latinx community that many people refuse to talk about.”

One example is the musical, “West Side Story.” The film centers around a Romeo and Juliet love story and two rival gangs, the white gang, the “Jets,” and the Puerto Rican gang, the “Sharks.” A member of the Jets, Tony, falls in love with Maria, whose brother Bernardo is the leader of the Sharks.
Since the Sharks’ are a Puerto Rican gang, the cast should have been made up of Puerto Rican or Hispanic actors and actresses; however, this wasn’t the case. Natalie Wood, a white, American actress played María. George Chakiris, a Greek actor, played Bernardo. Puerto Rican actress, Rita Moreno, who portrayed Anita, was put in “brownface” along with other members of the cast for the Sharks to appear more “Hispanic.”

Blackface has been used to imitate and capture the stereotypes associated with people of color. A more recent movie, “Power Rangers,” included the villain Rita Repulsa. This character is typically played by a Japanese or Latina actress. The Inverse says that in the early 90s TV series, a Japanese actress played Rita Repulsa. Most recently, white, American actress Elizabeth Banks was cast in the role.

Whitewashing is not confined to just the film industry. The popular streaming service Netflix has received praise for a positive representation of people of color through the show “On My Block.” The show’s cast includes Jason Genao (Dominican) for Ruby, Jessica Marie Garcia (Mexican and Cuban descent) for Jasmin, Diego Tinoco (Colombian, Mexican, and Ecuadorian descent) for Cesar, Sierra Capri (African American) for Monse, and Brett Gray (African American) for Jamal. However, The Equinox says that the casting of white American actress Ronni Hawk as Olivia received criticism. Hawk’s character on “On My Block” is a young Latina girl whose parents were deported, which resulted in her staying with Ruby’s family.

However, Hawk’s tweets in support of President Donald Trump did not sit well with fans. In The Equinox’s article, Hawk’s tweet reads “Go @realDonald Trump please bring America back!!!” Fans of the show suggested Hawk’s character, Olivia, be killed off or recast, as they felt Hawk held views that were offensive and insensitive to the character she was portraying.

The United States does not lack diversity. What the country lacks, however, is accurately representing Latinx community on TV and movie screens, despite the obvious backlash by fans.

“Young children grow up watching these TV shows and movies,” said Maggiore, “and it’s important that they’re watching things that uplift them for who they are, make them love themselves.”