John Oliver Shows Just How Deep Hollywood Whitewashing Goes (Video)

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Next week, Hollywood’s biggest night will take place when the 88th Academy Awards take place in Beverly Hills, California. It will transpire amid a cloud of controversy related to the lack of racial diversity of the nominees in the more major categories including Best Actor & Actress and Best Supporting Actor & Actress. That conversation is itself a part of a larger issue addressing the industry-wide overwhelming prevalence of White – mostly male – players in the film and entertainment businesses, and there has been no shortage of outcries on social media about Hollywood’s repeated offenses. Recently, the issue of casting White talent in roles that should be played by people of color has been the target of the most acute scrutiny, and although the issues involved are vastly complex and serious, plenty of comedic approaches have helped make the conversation more prevalent in popular culture. For example, the #OscarsSoWhite campaign lit up Twitter, making it an issue hard to ignore, even by those who otherwise aren’t actively engaged in discussing the film industry. Similarly, everyone from Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Fallon, and Conan O’Brien have made commentary on the ongoing fiasco part of the usual fodder for their nightly monologues. Even John Oliver – the host of HBO’s Last Week Tonight – has devoted some of his airtime to Hollywood’s whitewashing, and his take may be the most (hilariously) compelling yet.

As part of an ongoing series within the show’s structure, Hollywood’s race problem was analyzed in “How Is This Still a Thing?” The segment mentions that “for the second year running, the nominees are whiter than a Yeti in a snowstorm…fighting Tilda Swinton,” but beyond comedic punchlines, it gets to some systemic problems plaguing the industry. For example, there is mention made of the fact that far too often, there simply are not many (if any) meaningful roles written explicitly for people of color. At the same time, when roles that should go a non-White actor are cast, far too often a White actor is somehow chosen despite there being a surplus of eligible actors of color – a practice that predates Hollywood with the use of Blackface existing for centuries. As the segment touches on, Jake Gyllenhaal was cast in the title role for Prince of Persia. “That’s right, a White American with a Swedish last name was cast to play the prince of Persia from, you know, Persia,” the show quips. The laughs don’t stop there, and neither does the biting social critique.

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