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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 3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

  1. Health: Pfizer and Moderna boosters overwhelmingly prevent Omicron hospitalizations, CDC finds — Omicron pushes COVID deaths toward 2,000 per day — The pandemic-proof health care giant.
  2. Vaccines: The case for Operation Warp Speed 2.0 — Starbucks drops worker vaccine or test requirement after SCOTUS ruling — Kids' COVID vaccination rates are particularly low in rural America.
  3. Politics: Biden concedes U.S. should have done more testing — Arizona says it "will not be intimidated" by Biden on anti-mask school policies — Federal judge blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for federal workers.
  4. World: American Airlines flight to London forced to turn around over mask dispute — WHO: COVID health emergency could end this year — Greece imposes vaccine mandate for people 60 and older — Austria approves COVID vaccine mandate for adults.
  5. Variant tracker

Arizona governor sues Biden administration over COVID funds tied to mandates

A teacher prepares a hallway barrier to help students maintain social distancing at John B. Wright Elementary School in Tucson, Arizona, on Aug. 14, 2020. Photo: Cheney Orr/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) filed a lawsuit Friday against the Biden administration for ordering the state to stop allocating federal COVID relief funds to schools that don't comply with public health recommendations such as masking, the Arizona Republic reports.

Why it matters: The Treasury Department said last week that the state would have to pay back the money if Ducey does not redesignate the $173 million programs to ensure they don't "undermine efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19."

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