On Sunday night’s Last Week Tonight, in addition to pouring one out for poor ol’ Jeb “Please Clap” Bush—aka “the side of plain white rice nobody ordered”—host John Oliver aired a brilliant four-minute “How Is This Still a Thing?” segment on Hollywood whitewashing. It’s pegged, of course, to this coming Sunday’s 88th annual Academy Awards, a ceremony mired in #OscarsSoWhite controversy for acknowledging the accomplishments of only white actors for the second straight year.
After calling this year’s nominees “whiter than a Yeti in a snowstorm fighting Tilda Swinton,” Oliver and Co. took aim at the counterclaim that “Hollywood just doesn’t provide enough good roles” for non-white actors. Well, that’s because when there are roles for people of color, they’re usually still played by white actors. “That’s right—Jake Gyllenhaal, a white American with a Swedish last name, was cast to play the Prince of Persia from, you know, Persia,” uttered the voiceover. “And he’s far from alone. Just last year, Emma Stone played the half-Asian Allison Ng in Aloha. Apparently, ‘aloha’ means ‘hello,’ ‘goodbye,’ and ‘you’ve got to be fucking kidding me.’”
This disturbing practice is nothing new, of course. “White actors have taken roles designed for every ethnicity throughout Hollywood history, from John Wayne as Genghis Khan in The Conqueror, to the non-Puerto Rican Natalie Wood as Maria in West Side Story, to the multiple instances of white actors playing Asian characters, from Marlon Brando to, of course, [Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany’s]. It’s a performance The New York Times in 1961 actually praised as ‘broadly exotic.’ Seriously.”
“And maybe all of this would be less egregious if every time an actor of color took on a traditionally ‘white’ role, half the country didn’t go apeshit,” said the segment, before referencing the recent racist backlash against the casting of black stars in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, The Hunger Games films, and even the mere speculation that Idris Elba would play James Bond.
Watch it here: