The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has made strides to become more diverse in recent years, but there’s a long road ahead to make up for the organization’s long legacy of exclusion.
Throughout its 90-year history, the Academy has not only failed to recognize the talent of many actors and actresses of color but awarded whitewashed roles in the industry.
Hollywood has consistently given diverse roles to white actors over the years; in fact, quite recently Tilda Swinton was cast as a Tibetan monk in 2016’s “Doctor Strange.” And the Oscars haven’t helped alleviate this long-standing issue by rewarding this kind of whitewashing.
Several notable white actors have been nominated for an Oscar for portraying people of color through the years. Many of them have actually won.
Take a look at 11 times the academy has nominated actors for blackface, brownface and yellowface.
Jennifer Connelly, “A Beautiful Mind”
Jennifer Connelly portrayed Alicia, the wife of mathematician John Nash in 2001’s “A Beautiful Mind.” In real-life, Alicia Nash (born Alicia Lardé) was Salvadorian. The actress, who has no Latin American roots, won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for the role.
William Hurt, “Kiss of the Spider Woman”
In “Kiss of the Spider Woman,” William Hurt plays Luis Molina, a queer South American prisoner. The film was adapted from Argentine author Manuel Puig’s novel of the same name. Hurt, a white man who doesn’t identify as LGBTQ or Latino, won an Oscar for Best Actor for the role in 1985.
Linda Hunt, “The Year of Living Dangerously”
Actress Linda Hunt won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in 1983 for portraying Billy Kwan in “The Year of Living Dangerously.” In the film, Kwan is a Chinese-Australian male photographer with dwarfism working in Jakarta, Indonesia.
Laurence Olivier, “Othello”
Shakespeare’s “Othello” is a Christian Moor, who is often portrayed as having a dark-complexion. Legendary British actor Laurence Olivier wore blackface when he portrayed Othello in the 1965 film version. The actor was nominated by The Academy in the Best Actor category for the role.
George Chakiris, “West Side Story”
Greek-American actor George Chakiris portrayed Bernardo, leader of the Puerto Rican gang The Sharks in “West Side Story.” He, as well as other white actors portraying Latino characters in the film, darkened their complexion with make-up. Chakiris won an Oscar in the Best Supporting Actor category for the role.
Hugh Griffith, “Ben-Hur”
Hugh Griffith portrayed Sheik Ilderim, an Arab character who owns the horses Judah ends up using in his chariot race, in 1959’s “Ben-Hur.” The British actor won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for this role.
Spencer Tracy, “The Old Man and the Sea”
Fans of Ernest Hemingway’s novel The Old Man and the Sea might recall the book’s titular character is a Cuban fisherman. But in the 1958 film adaptation of the novel, Spencer Tracy was given the titular role. The actor, who is not Latino, was nominated for an Oscar in the Best Actor category for his role.
Yul Brynner, “The King and I”
Yul Brynner, who is mainly of Russian descent, starred as the King of Siam (present-day Thailand) in the 1956 musical “The King and I.” The actor won an Oscar in the Best Actor category for the role.
Marlon Brando, “Viva Zapata!”
Hollywood brought the story of Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata to life in the 1952 film “Viva Zapata!” The titular role went to Marlon Brando, who is not Latino. The actor was nominated for an Oscar in the Best Actor category for the role.
Luise Rainer, “The Good Earth”
“The Good Earth” is a 1937 film based on the historical novel of the same name, its story focuses on a family of Chinese farmers. Actress Luise Rainer wore yellowface to portray O-Lan, one of the film’s protagonists, and she took home an Oscar for Best Actress for the role.
Gale Sondergaard, “Anna and the King of Siam”
Gale Sondergaard portrayed Lady Thiang, the king’s head wife, in “Anna and the King of Siam.” The actress, who is not of Asian descent, was nominated for the role in the The Academy’s Best Supporting Actress category.
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