Peter Dinklage Is Being Accused of ‘Whitewashing’ for Playing Hervé Villechaize, Who Was White

Whitewashing is a hot topic in Hollywood right now. People generally agree that it’s bad, but the standards for what is and isn’t whitewashing vary greatly. For example, pretty much every American adaptation of a Japanese property is subject to a great deal of hand-wringing about white-washing. Much ink was spilled on if it was okay to do Death Note set in America with white and black actors instead of making everyone Asian. Same with Ghost in the Shell, where the android body inhabited by a Japanese woman (or maybe just an A.I. that thinks it was a Japanese woman) was played by Scarlett Johansson. Personally I found the suggestions of Chinese and Korean actresses to be more racist than casting Johansson. Funnily enough, there was a minor controversy about casting Elizabeth Banks as Rita in the Power Rangers movie, but not for replacing the rest of the entirely Asian cast of Kyoryu Sentai Zyuranger with actors of various ethnicity.

The latest outrage over whitewashing is Peter Dinklage playing Hervé Villechaize in HBO’s My Dinner with Hervé. Here’s where this story gets funny: Villechaize was a white guy. The reason for the outrage is that Wikipedia has dumb and arcane rules about who can edit it, and it mistakenly listed Villechaize as being half-Filipino. No one in Hervé’s family was allowed to change it and something has to be in a verifiable source to be on Wikipedia. Someone’s family with a copy of their family tree wasn’t considered a verifiable source of a person’s ethnicity to Wikipedia, but a thing a random person put on because he kind of looks like he’s maybe Filipino is. Luckily, though, Peter Dinklage doing an interview in Entertainment Weekly is also acceptable, so Villechaize’s page has been updated to refer to him as “a French-born actor and painter of English and German descent.”

The whole thing is pretty hilarious, though. Most of the time when people complain about “outrage culture,” they’re saying some variant of “If rappers can say that word, why can’t I?” But it becomes more and more obvious that there are people on the internet who just like being trolls and will be on the side of good to do it. Sure, you can make people mad by saying the n-word, but all that’s going to do is get them to block you. If you act really righteous and woke, you can bully a teenage girl to the point where she tries to kill herself because a cartoon character she drew wasn’t fat enough and people will call you the good guy! Here’s how Dinklage explained the situation.

There’s this term “whitewashing.” I completely understand that. But Hervé wasn’t Filipino. Dwarfism manifests physically in many different ways. I have a very different type of dwarfism than Hervé had. I’ve met his brother and other members of his family. He was French, and of German and English descent. So it’s strange these people are saying he’s Filipino. They kind of don’t have any information. I don’t want to step on anybody’s toes or sense of justice because I feel the exact same way when there’s some weird racial profile. But these people think they’re doing the right thing politically and morally and it’s actually getting flipped because what they’re doing is judging and assuming what he is ethnically based on his looks alone. He has a very unique face and people have to be very careful about this stuff. This [movie] isn’t Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Personally, I would never do that, and I haven’t done that, because he wasn’t. People are jumping to conclusions based on a man’s appearance alone and that saddens me.

Yeah, the old “Well, he must be… something, right? He’s pretty swarthy, kind of like The Rock. There’s got to be a racial angle here!”

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