Episode 20: Whitewashing in Hollywood and Interview with BuzzFeed News Senior Writer Doree Shafrir

May 17th 2017

ATTN: Staff


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Zach McGowan was cast to play a Hawaiian native Benehakaka “Ben” Kanahele in a biopic about Kanahele's heroism during WWII.

Kanahele and his wife were held hostage on the island of Niʻihau (where they lived) by a Japanese pilot who crashed there after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Kanahele and his wife Kealoha escaped their captors, which also include other island residents of Japanese descent, and killed the pilot. (An account of the incident can be read at the Hawaii Reporter.)

A United Kingdom-based team is bringing this story to the silver screen in the film "Ni'ihau." The issue is that McGowan isn't a native Hawaiian: He's white. And many on Twitter pointed to the continued trend of whitewashing Asian or Pacific Islander stories, recent examples of which include Scarlett Johansson playing the lead role in "Ghost in the Shell," or Emma Stone as a part Chinese, part Native Hawaiian in "Aloha."

The ire was even more intense in this instance, because Kanahele's story is based on true events, and seen as less open for interpretation than fictional stories For example, in "Ghost in the Shell," Motoko Kusanagi was reinterpreted as a Japanese girl, who was taken and turned into a cyborg who looks white and goes by Mira Killian.

Whitewashing not only takes a role away from an actor of color, it limits the representation of diverse casts and stories to audiences.

But as Senior Analyst and first-time "Got Your Attention" panelist Katie Fleeman pointed out, Asian Americans are fighting back with comedy troupes dedicated to the Asian American experience and T-shirts calling out whitewashing in the film industry. (The panelists also cover Kellyanne Conway's alleged comments about President Donald Trump during the campaign, a millionaire's comments about avocado toast and buying a house, and how the news cycle has become one of two separate sets of facts, depending on what channel you turn on.)

The podcast episode also tackles issues with another large industry: tech. Our interview guest Doree Shafrir, a senior writer at BuzzFeed News, touches on sexism and racism in tech culture in her debut novel "Startup." The fictional tale (which reads as a loving send-up of the New York City startup scene) examines the tech industry from multiple angles (tech journalism, and an up-and-coming startup) and from disparate perspectives (a young founder, and several women). And some of its subject matter could have been ripped from tech headlines of the last few years. (Shafrir said she'd give the book to Uber CEO Travis Kalanick or Snapchat founder and CEO Evan Spiegel.)

Podcast notes:

Read more about the stories we did (and didn't) talk about this week on "Got Your Attention."

What is the "Got Your Attention" podcast?

If you've ever wondered how the staff pitch and select the stories that you read or watch on ATTN:, we're giving you an inside listen. ATTN: Media is excited to announce "Got Your Attention," a podcast where ATTN: staffers compete to have their pitches accepted by our host — while also unpacking some of the week's most important headlines.

The game is simple: Three ATTN: staff members—Senior Analyst Katie Fleeman, Senior Editor Sarah Gray, and Senior Social Trends Editor Omri Rolan—pitch their best stories to our host and Head of Editorial Mike Vainisi. If Mike picks their story, they get a point, and the four discuss the story.