When Netflix announced a Winx adaptation, Fate: The Winx Saga – fans of the original cartoon were thrilled. They envisioned a return of a childhood classic filled with bright colours, girly outfits, and real diversity.
However, upon the release of the trailer, the series was overcome with controversies, ranging from the critique of the stylistic choices to the issue of casting. This has led to Netflix coming under fire on social media platforms such as Twitter, as fans have become angered by Netflix’s casual whitewashing.
Whitewashing refers to the practice of casting a white actor to represent a non-white character, and it is a deeply problematic issue ingrained in the media industry. Within the Winx adaptation, two characters have been whitewashed. Musa, the Fairy of Music, who was East Asian in the animated series is played by Elisha Applebaum, who is 3/4 white and 1/4 Singaporean.
Despite Applebaum being partly Asian, she is still predominantly white and represents the common practice of whitewashing. This casting decision demonstrates how Asian characters are often played by actors who are only partly Asian, and white-passing. This sends a clear message to POC actors, that they can only exist on television if they are mixed or largely white.
Netflix’s Winx casting was a massive disappointment to fans worldwide
Furthermore, Flora, the Fairy of Nature, had a noticeably brown skin tone in the cartoon and was inferred to be Latina. In the Netflix production, she was replaced by a white character with similar powers, named Terra. This not only demonstrates whitewashing, but it also illustrates the erasure of POC characters in the show. While Terra did not explicitly replace Flora, she embodies her characteristics and powers while erasing her ethnicity. Netflix’s Winx casting was a massive disappointment to fans worldwide since the original Winx series made POC children feel seen and represented within the media.
Surprisingly, not all POC characters were whitewashed or erased. Aisha, the Fairy of Waves, is played by a darker-skinned black actress. Since many black roles go to light skin or biracial actresses, Netflix rejected the colourist trends that continue to exist within the film industry. So why, if Netflix is open to casting and representing POC, did they whitewash two Winx characters?
Whitewashing also keeps minority characters invisible and marginalised
Whitewashing has been a prevalent problem in Hollywood for decades, with racism and white supremacy factoring into the dominance of white actors in the film industry. Even when POC actors are hired, they are likely to be cast by mixed or light skin actors, perpetuating whiteness as the norm.
Whitewashing is problematic for multiple reasons. Whitewashing denies jobs to minority actors; while POC actors compete with white people for POC roles, it is rare to see white characters portrayed by POC. This further pushes minorities away from the media sphere. Whitewashing also keeps minority characters invisible and marginalised, demonstrating how they are replaceable and not valued to the same extent as their white counterparts.
It also has deep psychological consequences for minority children who are not fully represented in the media
Whitewashing not only reduces opportunities for POC actors, but it also has deep psychological consequences for minority children who are not fully represented in the media; it perpetuates racist ideas that POC are not important enough to be represented. Furthermore, whitewashing shows whiteness as the norm in society and encourages the rejection of non-Eurocentric features to conform to white beauty standards. All of these ideas are rooted in white supremacy.
Whitewashing in Netflix productions is not limited to the Winx adaptation. While whitewashing may seem like a concept that has been challenged and overcome in recent productions, I want to bring attention to a recent Netflix production that includes similar concepts to whitewashing, including race-baiting and performative diversity – Bridgerton.
Even in shows that Netflix claims to be diverse and inclusive, diversity is merely performative
Despite Bridgerton being advertised as a fully inclusive, colour- blind series, Youtuber Khadija Mbowe highlights the problems in Bridgerton. Most of the black characters within Bridgerton are decorative props used to appease audiences, Asian representation in Bridgerton is non-existent, and the main black characters are of light skin with Eurocentric features. Even in shows that Netflix claims to be diverse and inclusive, diversity is merely performative. Netflix has demonstrated a consistent pattern of performative diversity and whitewashing within their productions.
Being one of the largest streaming platforms worldwide, the streaming service has a responsibility to its viewers to create inclusive and diverse content. Despite claiming on their website that ‘since 2017, we have been building the foundation for inclusion to take root within Netflix’, this is not reflected in their recent productions.
Netflix continues to participate in whitewashing, alienating POC actors, and engaging in performative diversity. Fate: The Winx Saga not only whitewashes existing POC characters but also erases POC characters and enforces white dominance within popular culture.
Featured image courtesy of Glenn Carstens-Peters via Unsplash. Image use license found here. No changes made to this image.
In article video courtesy of Netflix via YouTube.
In article images courtesy of fatenetflix via Instagram. No changes made to these images.
For more content including uni news, reviews, entertainment, lifestyle, features and so much more, follow us on Twitter and Instagram, and like our Facebook page for more articles and information on how to get involved.