Good news: When it comes to diversity and representation, Hollywood recently did something right. It was announced on Wednesday that Auli’i Cravalho has been cast as Moana, the newest Disney animated heroine, in Moana. According to People, Cravalho is 14-year-old native of Oahu, Hawaii and high school sophomore, and clearly the entire casting department was impressed by her — after all, she was offered the role out of the thousands that auditioned. But, the thing that's the most impressive about this casting is that Disney cast a person of color to actually play a person of color. Because, in an industry where whitewashing characters (i.e. casting white actors and actresses to play people of color) has been a longstanding problem, it’s a really, really good thing that Disney has cast Cravalho to play their newest princess.
The issue of whitewashing was thrown into the spotlight after this summer’s release of Aloha. The film, which starred Bradley Cooper and Rachel McAdams alongside a mostly white cast, received a ton of criticism for casting Emma Stone as a character of Asian-American descent. The casting choice started a very important conversation about Hollywood’s history of whitewashing characters of color by casting Caucasians instead.
Even Emma Stone spoke about the issue with an Australian news site, saying she had learned a lot about whitewashing from the experience, and what a huge problem it really is. Because, the fact of the matter is that there are already so few roles out there actors of color (and even fewer that aren’t wrapped in stereotype), that it’s doubly problematic when production teams decide to cast white people to play the handful of roles that are available to them. It leads to pretty serious issues of representation when people of color — who are already so under-represented in Hollywood — are made even less visible by these casting choices. It also leads to potential cultural appropriation: Unfortunately, Hollywood has a history of actors and actresses darkening their skin or transforming into cultural stereotypes to look more like the characters they are playing.
So, even though Disney has a long history of casting people of color to play characters of color (hello, Pocahontas!), it’s still incredibly encouraging to see them still giving the roles to actors who actually fit the bill. I’m just hoping more casting directors and production teams take note. There are too many actors of different colors and sexual orientations and gender identities these days to keep casting the white, cis, straight ones.
Image: Walt Disney Pictures