McGowan’s casting as Hawaiian stirs up whitewashing controversy

American actor Zach McGowan has been cast as Hawaiian native Benehakaka “Ben” Kanahele in historical drama “Niihau”, which has reignited the debate around whitewashing in Hollywood where Asian and Pacific Islanders are portrayed by white actors.

The film chronicles the true story of the Ni’ihau incident, in which Kanahele rescued Shigenori Nishikaichi, an Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service pilot who participated in the bombing of Pearl Harbor, after he crashed his plane onto the Hawaii island of Ni’ihau.

McGowan, who has appeared in “Shameless” and “Black Sails”, is Caucasian with brown hair and blue eyes. Kanahele was a native Hawaiian with brown skin and dark hair. McGowan’s casting is the latest in a series of whitewashed roles, reports

Other examples include Emma Stone’s casting as a half-Hawaiian/half-Chinese character in the Bradley Cooper film “Aloha”, and Tilda Swinton’s casting as The Ancient One in “Doctor Strange”, a mystic who was depicted as Tibetan in the original comics.

Actress Scarlett Johansson also came under fire after being cast as the lead in “Ghost in the Shell”, which was adapted from a Japanese manga comic series.

This latest instalment of Hollywood whitewashing has prompted a backlash on Twitter. Some posted side-by-side photos of Kanahele and McGowan, reports

One user wrote: “Zach McGowan to play Ben Kanahele in film, Ni’ihau–based on a true story. This whitewashing is unacceptable” while another wrote ” Ni’ihau is also actual history involving a real place and a real person. Benehakaka Kanahele. Whitewashing him is insulting to him”.

Another one posted: “Iron Fist and GITS annoyed me, but they were at least fictional. Whitewashing actual history is rage-inducing”, and one user said that it is shocking one is “just going to erase who he is”.


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