A race lift is a term you might be familiar with if you lurk on TVtropes.org all the time like I do. If you don’t, I’ll give you a brief description.
Race lifts occur when someone’s race is changed. The word is usually used in reference to the entertainment industry, specifically casting and occasionally book covers. Although it can happen that a minority changes to another minority, or a Caucasian character changes into a minority, the most common form of race lifting is changing a minority character to a Caucasian.
From the book publishing world, let’s look at Justine Larbalestier’s book Liar. The book’s main character is a biracial (half white and half black) girl. The US cover released showed a white girl with long, light colored hair. Understandably, Larbalestier was not pleased. Various people in the publishing industry told her that books with black people on the cover don’t sell. Eventually, after a lot of public outcry, the cover was changed. Here’s a before and after photo from racebending.com.
Now that I brought up racebending, that segues into my next example quite nicely. Perhaps you heard about the film Avatar: The Last Airbender, which was released a few years back. It was a colossal flop for many reasons, not just the casting, but they definitely started out on the wrong foot.
I’ll be honest. I’ve never watched either the film or the cartoon it was based on. However, I had friend who did, and I knew what the characters looked like and that the story was set in a fantasy Asian world.
And then the casting comes out looking like this (also from racebending.com):
What’s interesting is that while the heroes are white, the villains (not just the one shown here, who’s technically more of an anti-hero) are mostly dark skinned. What message does that send out?
The final example I have – though there are millions out there – is The Hunger Games. In the book, Katniss clearly describes herself as olive-skinned with black hair. Maybe she’s simply white with a tan (although she says all the coal miners of the Seam, who don’t get much sun, also have dark skin). However, it’s equally likely that she’s not. The producers called for Caucasian girls only when casting Katniss. The actress chosen is not only white, but very white – not olive skinned at all.
In Hollywood and on library shelves, it’s rare to find leads that aren’t white. In this day and age, that’s ridiculous. Reasoning that whites won’t buy books/watch movies with non-Caucasian leads is insulting. How racist do they think we are? Minorities can be heroes too. And if a writer or animator makes it very clear that their character is a minority, you’d better stick with that. Otherwise, why don’t you just make a completely different movie with a full set of nice, non-controversial white characters?