Study Finds Hollywood Casts Light-Skinned Actors to Appeal to China

An academic study has found that Hollywood cast more light-skinned actors in starring roles to appeal to Chinese audiences, according to a report on Tuesday by Axios.

Since 2012, US filmmakers were made aware of the aesthetic preferences of Chinese movie-goers — who place a higher premium on light skin — a practice known as colorism, citing a 2017 study published by Johns Hopkins University, The New York Post reported.

“The researchers concluded that Hollywood is not only influenced by Chinese censors but by cultural preferences, as well.”

The study, “Impacts of Chinese Colorism on Hollywood Castings”, looked at 3,000 films between 2009 and 2015 and discovered that the movies made after 2012 showed an 8 percent increase in the number of light-skinned actors in starring roles.

That means that “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,” which the study’s authors termed “light-skin shift.”

This light skin casting only happened in film genres that the Chinese government typically allows into the Chinese market, such as action movies and big summer blockbusters. U.S. studios increasingly create these films from start to finish with the Chinese market in mind.

Horror and comedy movies that aren’t produced with the Chinese market in mind didn’t show the same “light-skin shift.”

The study’s author said a promotional poster for “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” in 2015 that minimized a black actor in the lead role, leading to racism allegations, prompted the examination.

“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,” Manuel Hermosilla and the other co-authors wrote.