Whitewashing Foreign Film

For thousands of years stories have been trade around from generation to generation and between cultures. As stories transcend the cultures they are created within, slight changes occur in order to fit the stories into the new culture. A big contemporary example of this is The United States’ Hollywood, which is often criticised for it’s whitewashing of it’s films. Whitewashing is the making of foreign sourced content with a Caucasian-centric approach. An interesting case is the original 1954 japanese film ‘Gojira’ vs the American remake ‘Godzilla’.

Gojira vs Godzilla

The original Japanese ‘Gojira’ features a giant reptile beast brought about by American nuclear weapon testing and the struggles of the Japanese victims of Gojira’s attacks. The film explores themes of corrupt politics, nuclear warfare and the role and power of science with weaponry. The film is quite well received and is considered a good metaphor for condemning the use of nuclear warfare and as such is somewhat critical of America’s involvement in the development of nuclear weapons. An English dub of this movie was created for American audiences but as well as adding subtitles to some scenes and the occasional dubbing over scenes, multiple ‘American scenes’ were filmed and spliced into the movie to localise it to American audiences.

The problems surrounding the American remake is that the American scenes break the narrative of the original and re-orients the trajectory of themes, effectively cutting a lot of the crucial social and political commentary that made the original so impacting. The inclusion of an American main character, Steve Martin, distances audiences from the plight of the Japanese victims and being an American remake, much of the discourse condemning nuclear warfare and indirectly criticising America’s involvement in the development of nuclear weapons.

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An example of how there seems to be an imagined need for characters that we want to relate to to be of the popular Caucasian variety when it doesn’t matter so much for any other character (In Godzilla, there is an added American main character but Godzilla remains a ‘Japanese’ monster)

It’s Not About Accessibility

A common response to why films are changed so much in translation is that it makes the films more accessible to the local audience. This Huffington post Article by Amanda Scherker demonstrates many cases where stories with foreign source material are strongly Americanised and characters originally of non-white appearance are often being played by white actors. Subtitles and dubbing is often more than enough to localise content, changing important aspects of a film whether it be to defend the integrity of a nation’s military practices or so audiences can relate to the characters and their habits perpetuates the idea of ‘otherness’. As David White say in an interview in B. Couleur magazine, “Unfortunately, the industry is driven by a group of risk averse decision makers who continually make inaccurate assumptions about the abilities of people of color and storylines about their communities and this persists generationally” (White, 2011). White identifies that there is an ideology that suggests we can’t make connections with people who aren’t ‘just like us’. There is a prevalent idea that people of any culture or race than our own is ‘different’ and ‘not one of us’. This can exist in extreme cases with racism and culture avoidance but also in smaller interactions such as thoughts like, “I like Italian food but not Korean food”. Can that truly be the case, that the subject dislikes all food related to the broad culture of a nation? It’s more likely that the subject dislikes a number of foods often identified as originating in Korea.

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One thought on “Whitewashing Foreign Film”

  1. I liked how you used Godzilla as a way of whitewashing foreign cinema. I definitely agree with you that the two versions of the film were extremely different in regards to cultural context and values. I think you made an interesting point towards the concerns on subtitles and dubbing. From your blog post, I have a hunch you enjoy Japanese media such as anime, and I stay true to your statement that dubbing Japanese television shows and movies does indeed localise itself for a more western audience and brings about a more familiarisation with the characters involved. The notion on ‘whiteness’ is definitely still an issue in all sectors in media, not only including film and television shows but also in advertisement and actors within Hollywood. For example have you ever noticed that celebrities like Beyoncé are always a shade lighter in photographs and videos? I think you made an interesting and honest point towards this issue, nice work! ☺

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