Posted on September 21, 2018

“Whitewashing” vs. Affirmative Action Casting

Gregory Hood, American Renaissance, September 21, 2018

Eastern Europe is having more of a cultural impact as the cult of “diversity” expands across Western Europe and North America. One of the region’s most popular exports is The Witcher, a series of books by Andrzej Sapkowski about Geralt of Rivia, an adventurer who hunts monsters. Based on Polish folklore, the series is hugely popular in Eastern Europe, though Americans probably know the character from the video games it inspired. The most recent installment, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, has been praised as the greatest game ever made. It was produced by a Polish company with a founder who describes the games as “very Slavic.”

Yet Geralt of Rivia is about to meet his greatest foe in the Social Justice Warriors that run Western media companies. The Witcher will be the subject of a new television series hosted by Netflix. Henry Cavill of Superman has been cast as the main protagonist, but it’s the casting of “Ciri,” a major supporting character, that has caused controversy. According to a posting on the National Youth Theatre, casting officials requested a specifically “BAME” girl to play the character. BAME refers to “Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic,” meaning that whites are excluded from reading for the part. Ciri has white skin, grey-white hair, and green eyes.

Ciri, as depicted in The Witcher video game.

On Twitter and on forums and discussion groups, many fans expressed frustration that Ciri’s appearance was being changed to comply with political correctness. Interestingly, much of the hostile reaction has come from Polish fans who protest on the grounds of nationality, not race. “Westerners are trying to destroy our culture,” protested one Polish Twitter user. “The people of Poland want our story told the way it was written,” said another. “We’ve waited too long for this as a people to have it molested by foreigners.” As of this writing, over 53,000 people have signed a petition on asking for Ciri’s casting not to be limited to BAME actresses.

The resulting backlash forced showrunner Lauren Hissrich to leave Twitter. It also prompted media outlets to defend changing Ciri’s race and dismiss fan outrage as “racist.”

The casting decision wasn’t surprising given Lauren Hissrich’s politics. She has already mobilized The Witcher’s writing staff to publicly criticize President Trump’s immigration policies:

She’s also publicly declared her “Social Justice Warrior” beliefs, though she claimed they would not unduly affect the show:

Of course, the Ciri casting fiasco suggests they already have. There are some indications this was the plan all along, as some journalists were already urging the television series to incorporate non-white characters regardless of what fans thought.

All the way back in July, Paul Tassi of Forbes dismissed fans who were “worried” (his scare quotes) that progressive politics could distort the show. He similarly derided those who thought it was “offensive” (again, his scare quotes) to “artificially diversify” characters “rooted in Polish folklore.” As noted in all the articles above, many journalists explicitly support inserting non-whites into The Witcher series as a political gesture. While journalists call it “racebending,” it would more accurately be termed affirmative action casting.

While affirmative action casting is taken as a self-evident good by many media outlets, casting white actors in non-white roles is blasted as “whitewashing.” Even the most politically correct actors now find themselves accused of it, and some have pulled out of projects lest they be called racist.

Even fantasy films can be accused of “whitewashing.” For example, when cast as the Norse god Baldur in the Thor films, Idris Elba stated that it was absurd for fans to think a black god was unrealistic but flying hammers could be taken in stride. However, entertainment company Lionsgate and director Alex Proyas both apologized for the mostly white cast of 2016’s Gods of Egypt, a fantasy film rooted in Egyptian mythology featuring warring deities. Critics complained that the cast should have been black — even though, historically, ancient Egypt’s ruling caste was not black.

Some critics accused Game of Thrones’ Peter Dinklage of “whitewashing” because he’s playing Herve Villechaize in an upcoming film. Villechaize is best known from Fantasy Island and The Man with the Golden Gun and is assumed by many to be of Filipino or Southeast Asian descent because of his appearance. However, as Mr. Dinklage points out, Villechaize was French by nationality and of European descent racially. Those who accused Mr. Dinklage of “whitewashing” thus ignored Villechaize’s real identity in their eagerness to accuse someone of racism. It’s more accurate to describe these critics as “racist,” because they assumed someone’s nationality simply by appearance.

Kendall Bazemore, in an article condemning “whitewashing” and praising “racebending,” defends the double standard in “Whitewashing Vs Racebending.” He quotes José Esteban Mu:

Whiteness claims affective normativity and neutrality, but for that fantasy to remain in place one must only view it from the vantage point of US cultural and political hegemony. Once we look at whiteness from a racialized perspective, like that of Latinos, it begins to appear flat and impoverished.

Thus, Mr. Bazemore concludes the double standard is justified:

Whitewashing takes characters of color and removes vital components of their identity and ultimately changes the story that character belongs too [sic]. While on the other hand, racebending adds to white characters, whose stories or personality traits aren’t changed in adaptation films. Racebending is to fill up, while whitewashing is to take away.

The implication is that whites do not possess an identity except as a kind of bland cultural default. Thus, non-whites can demand access to white spaces and institutions and demand changes to make them feel more comfortable. Meanwhile, they can claim exclusive control over their own identities, traditions, and institutions. This dynamic plays out even in battles over pop culture. Though The Witcher is a product of Polish culture, many journalists act as though there is a moral obligation to insert non-whites for the sake of diversity, or to “fill up” as Mr. Bazemore puts it. At the same time, the race of any non-white character in literature, film, or video games is deemed essential to that character’s identity, and portrayal by a white actor is “whitewashing.”

The truth is that race is an essential part of every European’s identity, just as it is for every other human being. Though it obviously does not encompass a person’s entire identity, to deny that a person (or fictional character’s) race matters is to deny that his or her sex, family, or physical makeup matters. It dehumanizes a person — or, as Mr. Muñoz puts it, renders him “flat and impoverished.” As progressives recognize when it comes to non-whites, representation matters. It matters for whites, too.

Critical Race Theorists often bemoan how whites constitute the “default,” even in an increasingly non-white polity. Whites should take them at their word. Our culture belongs to ourselves alone, as do our institutions and nations. Cultural products that are firmly rooted in a particular people’s heritage are more meaningful and compelling than the “flat and impoverished” products of diversity that are chiefly designed to be inoffensive rather than inspirational. For that reason, affirmative action casting that artificially inserts non-whites is artistically destructive; it is also cultural appropriation against whites, and insulting to non-whites who have any semblance of pride.

This applies to Netflix, too. The Witcher is white — and while we are at it, so is the Western canon. People of color shouldn’t begrudge us taking a proprietary interest in our cultural heritage. After all, they’ll always have Wakanda.