Iconic fictional characters played by actors of a different race

We all loved Ben Kingsley as Gandhi, or the great Peter Sellers playing an Indian and a Chinese man in “The Party” and “Murder by Death”, respectively. However not all of Hollywood’s choices have been that good, and it seems to be even worse when it comes to fictional characters. Here are some that made fans go crazy because they should have been played by actors with the same origin.

Justin Chatwin as Son Goku

Yes, Goku is technically an alien but still, we would all have preferred an Asian actor -or at least a bigger star- instead of Chatwin.

The Canadian actor played beloved manga and anime character Son Goku on the live action adaptation “Dragon Ball: Evolution” which was very poorly received.

Unbelievably, the movie was nominated for a 2009 Spike TV Scream Award for “Best Comic Book Movie”, losing to “Watchmen” which, even though it’s not a perfect adaptation of Alan Moore’s work, is a much better film.


Rooney Mara as Peter Pan’s Tiger Lily

She successfully portrayed one of the favorite characters of hardboiled novels’ fans: Stieg Larsson’s Lisbeth Salander from the “Millennium” trilogy, starting with the film “The girl with the dragon tattoo”.

Mara never thought she’d be accused of “whitewashing” when chosen to portray Tiger Lily, originally a Native American, in “Pan”.


Halle Berry as Catwoman

She wasn’t the first African American woman to become Catwoman but she was definitely miscast and the film was awful.

Which black woman portrayed Batman’s sexy villain before her, you ask? Singer and actress Eartha Kitt, in a memorable role in the ’60s classic TV series replacing fan favorite Julie Newmar.


Billy Dee Williams as Harvey Dent

Two-Face is one of the most important characters in the Batman universe. That’s why seeing for the first time that they were turning him into a black man was a problem for many fans. Williams played Dent in Tim Burton’s “Batman” (1989).

Still, even though Tommy Lee Jones seemed like a much better choice, the movie he starred in (“Batman Forever”) wasn’t that good -and I’m being nice here.


Will Smith as Robert Neville

Now this one particularly pissed me off. Robert Neville is the iconic protagonist of an equally iconic book by legendary author Richard Matheson. And he’s white.

But since Will Smith can apparently play every role (and many people seem to be OK with that), he became Neville for “I am Legend” (2007), which could be considered a remake or the third adaptation of the short novel of the same name.

The previous two adaptations are nothing alike: a black and white film starring the king of B-movies, Vincent Price; and a strange, very ’70s movie starring Charlton Heston which also featured a black character, in this case Neville’s female counterpart.


Marlon Wayans as Robin

What? When did this happen and why haven’t I seen that? Well, that’s because it could have happened but didn’t.

According to Marlon Wayans, he was supposed to play Robin in “Batman Returns”, the second Burton film. He was cast and even paid, but his role was then cut from the film.

True? False? Urban legend? Anyway, many would have liked to see that just for the laughs.


Liam Neeson as Ra’s Al Ghul

Liam Neeson isn’t credited as Ra’s Al Ghul in “Batman Begins”; Ken Watanabe is.

The original character was born in the desert somewhere in Arabia, so neither of them looked the part. And even though some fans loved the twist and the idea of Neeson, usually cast as a mentor, being the villain, some critics felt that the actor didn’t fit the role in the way, for example, Christian Bale did.


Scarlett Johansson as Motoko Kusanagi

Talk about iconic movies and whitewashing.

Considered a box office bomb, “Ghost in the Shell”, the live action adaptation of the Japanese animated film -which also has a fantastic anime series-, stars the beautiful Scarlet J as Major Mira Killian (actually Motoko Kusanagi).

Not even featuring fan favorite “Beat” Takeshi Kitano saved this one from the whitewashing accusations.


Christopher Lambert as Raiden

Yes, also Chris Casamassa as Scorpion and François Petit as Sub-Zero but they were ninjas. Now, a French-American guy playing the (Chinese-looking) God of Thunder?

Obviously, it has to do with Lambert’s fame at the time and the fact that the film needed a star because the rest of the leading actors were pretty unknown. And since Van Damme couldn’t play Johnny Cage…

At least New Line Cinema didn’t go with the idea of a black Raiden played by Danny Glover (!)


The entire Street Fighter cast

What a mess. You’d think that Ming-Na Wen, who plays Chun Li, is Chinese but she was actually born in Macau. We’ve got a Puerto Rican playing the villain and a Native American playing a Spaniard (!) At least, the actor who played Dhalsim was Indian-born.

Fun fact: Capcom wanted Japanese actor Kenya Sawada to play Ryu but the producers had already cast Chinese American actor Byron Mann, mainly due to his chemistry with Damian Chapa (Ken Masters). That’s why they had to create a new character for him, Captain Sawada (which also served as Fei Long’s replacement). The actor spoke little English at the time so he had to be dubbed.


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