Blackwashing/whitewashing

No, this title is not referring to your laundry. It does refer to when people for instance use a white person to represent a black person in a movie.  Or to use the classic Wikipedia description:

“Whitewashing is a casting practice in the film industry of the United States in which white actors are cast in historically non-white character roles or in roles which are scripted for non-white characters.”

A keyword here is historical. In recent years I saw a lot of discussion when it came to the depiction of Egyptians in modern film/media/games.  In 2016 the movie ‘Gods of Egypt’ was released and all hell broke loose after that. The movie received a lot of backlash because of the considerable amount of whitewashing in the movie. When you Google ‘Gods of Egypt whitewashing’ you get 114.000 results. For those of you that love drama, Google this. The director and Lionsgate both released statements in which they apologize for their casting choices. For a really funny blog where a historian loses it over this movie, check this link.

Source: https://ultrahd.highdefdigest.com/32438/godsofegypt4k.html
A typical Egyptian complexion… not.

While you may be familiar with whitewashing, blackwashing has now also reached the point of controversy. Almost exactly one year ago (27th of October 2017) Assassin’s Creed Origins was released. Gamers and history buffs alike had been waiting for this game (I, a gamer AND history buff, was thrilled). But even before the release, people already started their rants on the internet. They blamed the game for ‘blackwashing’ history. The game even received racist backlash that started as early as August. The matter of skin colour is a real difficult one. Nowadays we often use our own modern views when looking at the past, but this is something that the ancient Egyptians themselves would not do ofcourse.

A lot of people turned to research when this issue spread. Some people focused on mummy portraits. These were paintings on wood of the face of the deceased. These seemingly realistic portraits can tell us a lot. But we not only see a lot of darker skinned people, we also see people with fairer skin on these portraits. And this is exactly where the issue is in my opinion. The discussion about complexion is a really difficult one to have, because what is the ‘standard’?

So even though I usually think of these discussions as absolutely rubbish, in this case I find them quite useful. People are not just playing a game, they are also learning something. And that is exactly what Assassin’s Creed is all about in my opinion. These discussions clearly encouraged people to really dig deep in the ancient sources themselves. There might not be a conclusive answer (in my opinion there isn’t), but it got people thinking instead of just killing some people in a random game that happens to be situated in ancient Egypt.

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