Tuesday, October 11, 2016
How the West was whitened
The Western genre is having something of a mini-comeback between Westworld and The Magnificent Seven. (Or, maybe we all just love Yul Brynner?) This year's trips to the Old West look a little different than in the past, specifically the actors. Our collective imagined memory of the Western looks white, middle-aged, and male. But if anything, Denzel Washington showing up in The Magnificent Seven is closer to the reality of the western than film has us believe.
Leah Williams wrote a great piece for The Atlantic about how classic Western films do a disservice to the historical truth of race in the West. The Searchers was inspired by the stories of a black cowboy named Britton Johnson, but the lead role was played by John Wayne, a notorious white supremacist. Casting non-white actors in a Western is often seen as an act of subversion, but if anything, that's closer to reality.
Sadly, that all-white image is so ingrained in pop culture that it won't be erased anytime soon. In another 50 years, maybe Denzel will be the new John Wayne?