The Basement

There’s a Scent of Whitewashing in Casting Johnny Depp in Tim Burton’s Addams Family

After taking heat for his role as Tonto in the Lone Ranger, Johnny Depp is facing another whitewashing controversy if cast as Gomez in the Addams Family.

The Guardian defines whitewashing as casting white actors to play non-white characters, often to shoehorn in a star, sometimes out of racial insensitivity, invariably to the detriment of people (and especially actors) of color. It was at one time a common practice in film and television, especially during Hollywood’s silent and golden ages when America was still largely segregated and movies with non-whites in roles other than stereotypical ones might just be banned in some cities.

People often cite John Wayne in Genghis Khan, Charlton Heston as the Mexican hero of Touch Of Evil, Rudolph Valentino in The Sheik, Laurence Olivier in Othello, and Angelina Jolie as Mariane Pearl, an Afro-Cuban Frenchwoman in director Michael Winterbottom’s A Mighty Heart as examples. Some consider Elizabeth Taylor’s turn at Cleopatra to be an example of whitewashing and the news Gal Gadot may assume the role of the Egyptian queen is also raising eyebrows, though some justify it by saying she’s at least from that part of the world. (note: Cleopatra’s true heritage is a point of contention among many.)

In 2013, Johnny Depp’s turn as Native American Tonto in the box-office bomb The Lone Ranger sparked controversy. He claims to be part Cherokee as do most people from the southern United States these days though he’s never verified it. Now, Mr. Depp may once again be courting controversy by lobbying for the role of Gomez Addams in Tim Burton’s upcoming Addams Family reboot.

According to reputable sources, including the character’s creator Charles Addams, Gomez is of Castilian (Spanish) origin. When asked why he chose the name Gomez for the character when the series was being developed, Addams “thought the character had a bit of Spanish blood in him.” But Addams pondered whether the character should be Italian or Spanish, ultimately choosing the Spanish name Gomez over the Italian name Repelli. Gomez’s heritage and personality were codified by the television series, his Spanish ancestry established in Art and the Addams Family on December 18, 1964.

The casting of John Astin in the 1960s beloved television show was, in itself, whitewashing. But as in some other examples referenced above, this was during a time where it was accepted in Tinseltown. Times have changed, and as Kiko Martinez pointed out earlier this week, Puerto Rican actor Raul Julia finally brought some semblance of what has become accepted canon to the character.

Of course, Depp as Gomez isn’t a done deal. After losing his roles in Pirates of the Caribbean, Fantastic Beasts, and Harry Houdini, the rumor is Netflix has been pushing back on the role going to him because he’s now generally considered toxic in Hollywood despite a fan-made poster making the rounds on the internet. Stay tuned!

About the author

J Davis

J is a former rock star, former DJ, comic book & political historian, and novelist who once read the ingredients on a chewing gum wrapper and unlocked the secrets of the universe.

4 Comments

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  • The name Gomez was chosen by the white actor John Astin in 1964.
    John Astin is white. Charles Addams who created the cartoons was white.

    • You didn’t read the article, apparently.

      The name Gomez was chosen by the white actor John Astin in 1964.

      Covered in the article. Astin was given the choice of a Spanish name or an Italian name after the character’s creator said he [the character] had “Spanish blood.” Astin liked the Spanish one better. Also mentioned in the article, the character’s heritage was codified as Spanish in 1964.

      John Astin is white.

      Which is the point of the article.

      Charles Addams who created the cartoons was white.

      Which is completely irrelevant.

  • We want him on The Addams Family, The Fantastic Beasts, and The Pirates of the Caribbean no matter what the media is trying to portray, he isn’t considered toxic to us at all, he has millions of loyal supporters, he’ll do just fine with or without Hollywood.

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