In an hour or so, Heroes will kick off its Third Season with a one hour special looking back at the previous season (good for me, I missed most of it) before the actual premiere. I was looking at online TV listings, where I saw an abbreviated version of this promo image:
It is visually striking: The repetition of faces in cold, hard light are in sharp contrast with the dark, nebulous background. After my initial aesthetic appraisal, it occurred to me that there was something off about the image: there is a difference in skin tones, but overall darker people look considerably lighter than they appear in the show, namely D.L. and Mohinder. It reminded me of the recent hullabaloo over a cosmetics ad featuring a somewhat less melanin-infused Beyoncé Knowles. If I were the graphic artist who created this particular image, I’d find myself in this sticky situation: I either keep the casts’ respective skin tones closer to reality and lose some of the visual power that making them more uniform gives the image, or whitewash them all at the risk of, well, being accused of whitewashing them and the negative implications that has.
Now, I personally as an artist have gotten into this sort of debate with people before. I remember a classmate arguing fiercely that she did not like anime because “the Japanese have never represented black people well.” Her main argument for this was the Dragon Ball Z character Mr. Popo, a genie-like being with very dark skin, pointy ears, the usual genie attire, and bug eyes and thick red lips. I will admit that within the context of dark skin the eyes and lips come off as being a bit Sambo-like. Overall, my response was that the character wasn’t even supposed to be an Earthling, so I didn’t think that Mr. Popo’s look was anything other than a design choice that unfortunately looked racist to Western eyes. In support of this I pointed to the tendency in anime to have characters with unnatural hair and eye colors, to say nothing of characters who have cat ears for no apparent reason.
So what do you think, O World? Is whitewashing as a design choice okay, or do you prefer to see the characters/actors represented closer to reality–even when they’re portraying something that is far removed from reality? Or do you even give a hoot?