The practice of “whitewashing” or replacing characters of color with white actors has made headlines lately, and for good reason. We are well into the 21st century and this discriminatory practice is still happening all over the country, and not just in Hollywood. Porchlight Theater Company, a local Chicago semi-professional company has even participated in whitewashing.
According to Buzzfeed News, the theater chose to cast a white Italian actor as the main character, a role that Lin Manuel Miranda typically plays. The cast is typically filled with mostly Latinx actors, and the theater has been criticized for their whitewashing. Porchlight admitted that they “fell short” but chose not to recast the actor.
It is hard to believe that in such a diverse city as Chicago, filled with aspiring and professional actors of all types, talents, and ethnicities, that they could not find an Latinx actor that was qualified to take on the role. Chicago is a diverse city and it is filled with many talented people.
Of course there are many people who do not understand why it is important for theaters and movies not to whitewash roles, and why casting actors of color in roles written for actors of color is important. A well known Chicago theater critic recently ruffled feathers when she went as far to say that it is acting, so why does it matter.
But the truth is that it does matter. Yes, most roles are not written in such a way that they cannot be played by an actor of another race or gender. Not all roles are written this way. In the Heights is specifically about the Latinx experience in the United States, and as such it as disservice to the many capable Latinx actors to cast white actors in these roles.
Whitewashing is also a problem because minority actors have to fight hard for the few roles that are available to them. When one of the few dynamic roles available to non-white and minority actors is given to a white person, it is a slap in the face. It says that only white people are talented and dynamic enough for this kind of role. The only way to end this kind of discrimination and disrespect is for casting directors to stop the practice of whitewashing.