White-Washing Controversy Grows Over 'Ni'ihau' Casting of Zach McGowan as Hawaiian

Actor Zach McGowan has been cast in the lead role in the historical drama Ni’ihau, Deadline reports. McGowan, of Black Sails and Shameless fame, will also hold an executive-producer credit on the film. The movie is based on a true story in which WWII Japanese Navy Air Service pilot Shigenori Nishikaichi crash-landed on a Hawaiian island after the Pearl Harbor attack. Ben Kanahele, an islander, saves Nishikaichi, not knowing who he is, and ultimately kills him. The Ni’hau Incident led to President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s internment of almost 120,000 Japanese Americans.

Controversy is already brewing. On the heels of the casting of Scarlett Johansson, Cate Blanchett, Emma Stone, and other white actors, in roles that could or should have been played by Asian actors, there’s a question of why McGowan, a white actor, was cast to play Kanahele, a Native Hawaiian.