With Marvel's Phase 4 starting to kick off and a rumoured Star Wars trilogy on the horizon, it’s time we discussed something. Namely, Disney and similair corporations whitewashing movies to appease audiences overseas.
We’ve all seen them at some point. Whether it was Disney’s removal of Finn from Star Wars material in China, or Marvel placing a helmet over Black Panther to hide his blackness. Movie corporations have done it for years, carefully altering elements of movies or the promotional process to cater to different markets.
Some would argue that it’s just businesses trying to make the most profit they can. Places like China and Saudi Arabia are vast markets, and corporations want to make the most of each consumer base. However, editing out people of colour, or removing scenes that might cause offense in certain regions is not only damaging, but it’s hypocritical.
Firstly, when we say corporations, we mean the studios behind creating and promoting films. Corporations have had a long, and pretty murky history with racism and inclusivity. However, in recent years, it seems like studios have made more of an effort to create more diverse viewing experiences. This is, of course, a good thing. Ultimately, we all want to see stories that reflect our day-to-day experiences, and that should extend to people of colour.
The only problem is, many of these studios like Disney want be an ally, without fully embracing a more inclusive method of operating. Over the past few years, there are countless examples of movie promotions whitewashing marketing efforts. Fans have caught Disney whitewashing on numerous occasions. Most recently for removing Finn from its promotional materials for Force Awakens in China.
Black Panther’s marketing was also famously edited, with promotional posters of T'challa adding a helmet to his character in Chinese posters. Hiding the late Chadwick Boseman’s skin colour. There are some who refute this, claiming that other posters in China showed the character without his helmet. However, we couldn’t find any proof of this.
Whitewashing isn’t just a problem in sci-fi and fantasy. The 2009 film Couple’s Retreat, faced backlash when it tried to obscure and downright hide the fact it had a black couple as part of its cast. Faizon Love, who played Shane in the film, filed a discrimination suit over the film’s promotion, and rightfully so. In the film, each couple gets equal air time so removing the one couple of colour is pretty shocking.
Hollywood The Ally… Sometimes
All of this stuff is pretty terrible on its own. However, when you consider how often big studios try to come across as inclusive, it shows how empty it is. Obviously it’s brilliant when the likes of Disney create movies like Black Panther. Seeing African-focused movies on the international stage is a positive step-forward. However, we shouldn’t be so quick to pat these organisations on the back.
As we move forward into the next phase of the MCU, and with numerous Star Wars projects on the horizon, we need to hold Disney and other businesses accountible. However, this issue isn't limited to race. We’ve seen producers proudly gloat about LGBTQ+ inclusivity. However, when a film released in certain markets, editors have cut any LGTBQ+ inclusive scenes out. Honestly, corporations are inclusive when it benefits the bottom line. With a country or region that isn’t LGBTQ+ friendly, or is perceived to have a racial bias, corporations would rather alter elements of the product than stand by the beliefs they supposedly portray.
Ultimately, corporations like Disney need to decide which side of the fence they are on. They can create universal experiences that aren’t edited on a market-by-market basis. Or continue forward, skirting both sides of the argument without ever truly committing. If those higher ups really cared about creating inclusive and diverse experiences, they would maybe stop editing out ‘offensive’ elements of their content.