A report published earlier this year by Johns Hopkins University has found that Hollywood is casting more light-skinned actors for major movie roles in an effort to appeal to audiences in China.
Filmmakers have considered “Chinese society’s aesthetic preference for lighter skin” since 2012 when the Communist Party allowed more foreign films to be imported, and have cast their blockbuster films accordingly.
The report studied 3,000 movies from 2009 to 2015, and found an an 8% increase in the number roles filled by light-skinned actors after 2012. The authors call the move the “light-skin shift.”
“For 1 of every 3 films in this category, the film went from having 2 out of 3 as very light-skinned actors, to having 3 out of 3 very light-skinned actors,” the report finds.
The “shift” only seems to occur in movies that are set for release in the Chinese market. Movies not set for release in China do not experience the same shift, the report states.
China is now the world’s second largest box office market behind the U.S., and movie studios have become increasingly reliant on its business.
A 2015 promotional poster for “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” in China served as the inspiration for the study, after British actor John Boyega, who is Black, had the prominence of his character significantly diminished in the poster designated for advertisement in China.
Bizarrely, the report finds that this “light-skin shift” does not equal inherent bias. “Colorism does not equate to racism. There may be significant variation in skin tones within races, and colorism may manifest within individuals of the same race.”
The practice calls into question Hollywood’s dedication to diversity when that diversity conflicts with financial interests.