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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

An academic study has found that since 2012, when the Chinese government began allowing more foreign films into the country, Hollywood movies have cast more light-skinned actors in starring roles.

Key takeaway: The researchers concluded U.S. film studios were casting to fulfill the aesthetic preferences of Chinese movie-goers, in a culture that places a premium on light skin — a phenomenon known as colorism.

Why it matters: It's not just Chinese government censors that are influencing Hollywood. Chinese cultural preferences are too.

Details: The study, published in October 2017, examined more than 3,000 films from between 2009 and 2015 and found that films made after 2012 demonstrated an 8% increase in the number of "very light-skinned" actors in starring roles.

  • The 8% shift meant 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."
  • The study's co-authors called this phenomenon a "light-skin shift."

The light-skin shift only occurred in film genres that the Chinese government typically permits 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.

  • Film categories that aren't typically created with the Chinese market in mind, such as horror and comedy, did not show this "light-skin shift."
  • It also didn't occur among voice actors for animated films, which are popular in China and thus are otherwise often shaped by the Chinese market.

It was a Star Wars movie poster that originally inspired him to study the effects of China's colorism on Hollywood, study co-author Manuel Hermosilla told Axios.

  • In 2015, the Chinese promotional poster for "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" minimized a main character, played by a black actor, leading to accusations of racism.
Image credit: Twitter account of Ray Kwong.

While it's tempting to place the light-skin shift within the context of racism in Hollywood, Hermosilla warned against that.

  • "Colorism does not equate to racism," he and his co-authors wrote. "There may be significant variation in skin tones within races, and colorism may manifest within individuals of the same race."

The bottom line: Cultural influence doesn't just flow in one direction.

Go deeper

Oct 20, 2020 - World

Right-wing media falsely ties Black Lives Matter movement to Beijing

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Right-wing outlets and commentators have recently spread a false claim linking the Chinese Communist Party to the Black Lives Matter movement.

Why it matters: Such claims raise concerns that a real issue — that of Chinese government interference in U.S. politics — could be wrongly invoked along partisan lines to attack Americans engaging in legitimate activities.

Updated 54 mins ago - Sports

Swimmer Chase Kalisz first American to win Olympics gold medal

Chase Kalisz of Team United States celebrates after winning the Men's 400m Individual Medley Final on day two of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre in Tokyo, Japan. Photo: Al Bello/Getty Images

Swimmer Chase Kalisz has become the first Team United States Olympian to win gold at the Tokyo Games.

The big picture: The Rio 2016 silver medalist's winning time in the men's 400 meters Individual Medley Final was 4 minutes 9.42 seconds. His teammate Jay Litherland took silver, .86 seconds behind him.

California's largest wildfire razes homes as 88 huge blazes burn in U.S.

Firefighters on the scene as dozens of homes burn during the Dixie Fire in the Indian Falls neighborhood of unincorporated Plumas County, California, on July 24. Photo: Josh Edelson/AFP via Getty Images

Flames from California's biggest wildfire were engulfing homes in the state's north overnight — one of 88 large blazes raging in the U.S.

Driving the news: The Dixie Fire, which erupted July 14 near the origin of the deadly 2018 Camp Fire in Butte County, was tearing through the community of Indian Falls, per AP.

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