The first rule of casting club is this: make sure the actors look at least remotely like the characters.
Frozone: Wait a second, what's this? Is that me?... I'm white! They made me a white guy? Mr. Incredible: You're... You're... Black...ish... Frozone: They made me a white guy! Mr. Incredible: Well... Maybe the print's faded. You're tan. ...-ish?
A Race Lift is what occurs when a character's race or ethnicity is changed in the creation of a derivative work, also known as Racebending, and in the case of minority characters becoming majority, whitewashing. Sometimes this is a method to try and keep things politically correct. People can't argue racism if you have a Token Minority in the cast, but you usually run into problems when you change a character who is originally a proud minority into a member of the majority group.
For the sake of some organization the examples have been divided up according to the nature of the change:
Diversifying a Cast: Changing the ethnicity of minor characters to prevent the entire production from being homogeneous.
Changing the Minority: A character who was a minority being made into a majority.
Changing the Majority: A character who was a majority being made into a minority.
Minority to other Minority: Switching around ethnicity to other minorities.
Uncertain Depictions: The exact race of the individual was in question to begin with, especially in the case of historical figures.
Mixed Race/Miscellaneous: Characters and actors who are ambiguous to begin with and thus are interpreted differently.
While most of Osamu Tezuka's "Star System" rely on Mukokuseki when playing explicitly non-Japanese characters, his recurring schoolboy character Kenichi (or simply Ken) has had two Race Lifts. While usually portrayed as a dark-haired Japanese kid, in a few anime produced by Tezuka's company in the 1980s (most notably the second Astro Boy series), he was redrawn as a brown-haired, blue-eyed white kid. This was somewhat reversed in the Metropolis film, but in the 2003 Astro Boy anime series he has brown skin.
In Riding Bean, Bean Bandit's partner Rally Vincent is blonde and appears white. When she became the main character in Gunsmith Cats, she was dark-skinned with black hair, and her father is East-Asian Indian, making Rally biracial with an English mother.
In a very subtle and tricky one, the Appleseed 3D animation's secondary protagonist, the full-body cyborg Briareos Hecatonchires is shown in the original manga to have been African-American before becoming aCyborg, while in the second Appleseed film he appears to be turned into a generic Japanese-looking bishonen. Even in the manga you can only tell through some certain artwork pieces Shirow did: Briareos doesn't really have much of a face most of the time. In the new anime series, he's black again.
The Ultimate Marvel incarnation of Nick Fury is black. Or rather, deliberately styled after Samuel L. Jackson. This was to lead up to Jackson having a role in the Iron Man movie as the man himself (he allowed the usage, having it written into the deal he would play the part when/if a movie(s) were ever made). Within the series, this has undergone some lampshading with a conversation with Nick being asked who he would like to see in a biopic about himself. The answer? Samuel L. Jackson.
While the Marvel UniverseWasp is white, her Ultimate counterpoint became Asian-American. She even mutters about Lucy Liu being suggested to play her, as they look nothing alike. Later, though, the new artist started drawing her as white in a rather egregious case of artistic license. Alas, it will never be known if she would have stayed white or not, as soon thereafter she was eaten by the Blob.
The Ultimate version of Tony Stark changes his mother Maria into a Hispanic woman, making Antonio Stark half-Hispanic. The Ultimate Iron Man mini-series that came up with the "Antonio Stark" name has effectively been rendered Canon Discontinuity.
Ultimate versions of the Abomination and Crimson Dynamo are Chinese (the originals were both Russians), Hurricane is a North Korean woman (the original was a white male), and Swarm is a woman (the original was male).
The second iteration of The Vision is a black man.
Ox, a minor mook in the mainstream continuity, is a black man in the revamp, and given more of a personality (the other one was known for being a Silent Antagonist). He's even shown to consider reforming at the end of his first arc (but doesn't, in favor of becoming a Goldfish Poop Gang).
The Ultimate version of Ben Reilly is a young, African American lab assistant, rather than a clone of Peter Parker.
The second Scorpion is Maximus Gargan, a Mexican version of Mac Gargan, who was the original Scorpion in the 616 universe. This also makes him an Affirmative Action Legacy of sorts since the first Scorpion in the Ultimate universe was a clone of Peter Parker.
More an Ethnicity Lift, but regular Marvel Universe Kraven is Russian, while his Ultimate counterpart is Australian (and a Steve Irwin Expy).
In 2004 Legion of Super-Heroes reboot, Star Boy was changed from white to black, with this incarnation being used in the short-lived Legion of Super Heroes cartoon. Sadly, black Star Boy also suffered from having every defining characteristic of the character stripped from him (right down to having his girlfriend Dream Girl reassigned to be Brainiac 5's love interest).
Karate Kid (no connection to the movies) has also been Race Lifted back and forth to and from Asian a couple of times.
In the Age of Apocalypse universe, X23 is half-Japanese due to being the daughter of Wolverine and Mariko Yashida, rather than simply a clone of Wolverine like in the main continuity. Accordingly, her civilian name is Kirika rather than Laura.
The Batman foe Killer Croc had his origin told in one of his first appearances, Batman 359, which showed that young "Waylon Jones" was African American before his severe skin condition left him looking like a monster. But since he was a green crocodile man in all his appearances in "the present," some people assumed he was originally white (including at least one colorist doing a flashback). More recent interpretations (including some Alternate Universe stories such as Joker) have undone this unintentional racelift and correctly portrayed Waylon as an African American.
The publisher of Dilbert (not cartoonist Scott Adams) colorizes the Sunday strips and picks the race of minor characters. This results in Unfortunate Implications as when they made a corrupt security officer black (he's white in later reprintings). This happens because there isn't anyone in Dilbert who isn't either corrupt, an idiot or severely flawed in some other way.
In the Multiverse of the DC Universe, there are several worlds where normally-white heroes have their races changed. Earth-D sported an Asian version of The Flash, black versions of Superman and Supergirl, and an Arab Wonder Woman. Earth-23 features a black Superman and Wonder Woman, while another unidentified Earth from Countdown had Korean American reporter Linda Park as her world's Flash. Earth-23 also has Jonathan and Martha Kent portrayed as African-Americans as well.
The hardcover edition of Kingdom Come identifies Angela Margolin (white) as the mother of Irey West, the new Kid Flash and daughter of The Flash. When Irey was made canon in the DCU years later, her mother was changed to Linda Park (Korean American), making her half-Asian.
In the Batman/Doc Savage crossover, this is done to Doc, who is of mixed-race in this continuity. Rather cleverly, this explains his old school nickname of "The Man of Bronze", as his unique skin tone is now a result of his mixed European/Asian ancestry.
The sketchbook at the back of the one-shot suggests that if DC's whole "First Wave" line of Two-Fisted Tales hadn't collapsed, their version of Black Canary would have been non-Caucasian (probably Indian-American, but possibly of Korean or Middle Eastern origin).
When first introduced, the minor X-Men supporting character Cartier St. Croix was a white, but was changed to a black Frenchman in later appearances. This retroactively made his daughter Monet (of X-Factor) half-black as well. Not too much of a stretch since she was already Ambiguously Brown.
Obscure comic book character Marie Thirteen (the wife of Doctor Thirteen) was pretty consistently portrayed as a blonde white woman in most of her appearances. After several decades in limbo, Doctor Thirteen returned to the DCU with a half-Asian daughter named Traci, with references made to Marie having passed away. This would count as something of an offscreen race lift since Marie was retroactively established as having been an Asian woman.
In Superman: Secret Identity, Lois Lane is modernized as the Indian American reporter Lois Chaudhari. She ends up marrying Superman and producing two mixed-race daughters who become their Earth's equivalents of Supergirl.
Punisher Max made Elektra an actual Japanese woman, rather than a white lady who dressed up like a ninja.
More of an 'Ethnicity Lift' but Silver Banshee is now explicitly Irish rather than being from a fictional half-Irish, half-Scottish island (though her accent is still a little... out there.) Oddly her surname was changed to the rather un-Irish 'Smythe'.
Played With: the wizard Shazam has long been described as an ancient Canaanite, but this is the first version where he doesn't look white.
An in-universe example took place in an issue of Catwoman where Harley Quinn tried to pitch a movie based off the exploits of the Gotham City Sirens. For the sake of diversity, one of the studio execs suggested making Harley an Asian American teenager for the film, despite the "real" Harley being a white adult with blond hair and blue eyes.
There were plans to make Stephanie Brown into a black teenager in the Smallville comic book, which the artist felt would better fit the character's working-class background. This plan fell apart, and Stephanie herself would then wind up completely taken out of the book by editorial interference.
Annabel from "KWYNK en zijn zusje Annabel", the byline character and sister of the Dutch digital comic magazine Kwynk's title character, was changed from a fair skinned curly redhead to Afro-Surinamese, Word of God has it that this was to improve the balance, which makes sense in context.
Super-obscure Earth-One Batman supporting character Batman Jones reappeared in Battle for the Cowl as a "renowned Batman and organised crime expert" in a ski-mask and Batman hoodie. The Earth-One version was a blond Caucasian, the New Earth version, even with the ski-mask, is visibly African-American.
In Aeon Natum Engel several characters were lifted into Nazzadi and Xenomixes (Nazzadi/Human Halfbreeds). In various Shows Within a Show previously human characters were lifted to Nazzadi, for example in the thread where the story is posted, The Nerv Bridge Bunnies are watching the Sci-Fi marathon MST3K style, and argue about this trope (Blade Runner with Nazzadi, anyone?).
The Muses are a black Gospel chior in Hercules, in a film where all of the humans are white (of Mediterranean origin) and the gods/spirits tend to be from an Amazing Technicolor Population. Considering, though, that there's only a sea between Egypt and Greece, and there was lots of trade between the two people (they even had gods and myths in common), it's not too far-fetched.
Films — Live-Action
Fantastic Four: The Thing's girlfriend, Alicia Masters, was cast as a black character. This means the same extends to her father, the Puppet Master.
Red, in The Shawshank Redemption, is played by Morgan Freeman; the character is a white man in the novella. In both versions, he tells Andy he got his nickname because he's Irish, but in the movie it's a clever joke. Both start out in 1940s Maine.
Freeman's character in Gone Baby Gone was, in the original novel — you guessed it — Irish.
Morgan Freeman also plays Colonel "Curtis" in the adaptation of Stephen King's Dreamcatcher, taking the place of the extremely Irish Colonel Kurtz from the novel.
Heimdall is played by Black-British actor Idris Elba, despite being based on a white Marvel character.
This is particularly ironic given that Heimdallr is described in the Eddas as being "the whitest of the gods". The word might also be translated as "brightest", however; there is argument about what the line actually means. On the other hand, the original Norse tales were written by white people about gods who looked a lot like them, so looking at original source material isn't going to produce many brown faces.
Some have also criticized casting Japanese actor Tadanobu Asano as Hogun for this reason. Although Hogun is an Asian character in the original Marvel comics, he's more Mongolian than Japanese.
Jasper Sitwell, an Anglo blonde in the comics, is played by a dark Latino actor in the movies.
In Tim Burton's Batman film, Harvey Dent (Two-Face's original identity), who is white in the original comics, is played by Billy Dee Williams. Williams campaigned for the role specifically to be Two-Face in the sequel, but the role eventually went to Tommy Lee Jones, averting the trope.
Wesley Snipes was cast as Sean Connery's kouhai in the movie adaptation of Rising Sun, which led to a disagreement over which the script writers Michael Crichton (whose novel it was based on) and Michael Backes quit the project. This is noticeable because, especially in the 80s, the Japanese characters were not likely to treat a black man the same as they treat the protagonist of the story.
The film version of Sgt. Bilko has a black actor play Cpl Henshaw. (Bilko's other sidekick, Cpl Barbella, gets a Gender Flip).
According to Sylvia Anderson, one piece of Executive Meddling during the early days of the Thunderbirds movie was "Could the main cast be more ethnically diverse?" Since they're all brothers, the answer was "No."
Bolivar Trask is played by an African American actor in X-Men: The Last Stand, while his original comic book incarnation was a white guy. Kid Omega also becomes Asian American, though this is definitely a case of In Name Only since he has almost nothing in common with his comic counterpart.
Kid Omega had much more in common with Quill, and is even referred to as such the director's commentary. This would still make this a race lift, since Quill was white too.
Callisto is also played by a dark-skinned Latina actress.
Agent Zero is a white guy of East German descent in the X-Men comics, but is played by Korean actor Daniel Henney in X-Men Origins: Wolverine.
There were complaints about the 2005 film adaptation of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory not diversifying the Golden Ticket winners, instead opting to go with white characters as in the book. Director Tim Burton explained that since people would have complained if the cast had been diversified (possibly since most of the kids are naughty), they chose to stick with the book's take.
In the third Harry Potter film, a black extra was identified in the credits as having played Lavender Brown. When Lavender appeared again in the sixth movie (with actual lines this time), blonde, White British Jessie Cave was cast in an open audition. While one of the novels released after that film did mention that Lavender had the same skintone as white Ron Weasley, there's no indication that the recast was an attempt to "correct" the original casting or even that the producers noticed the one minor mention of that fact.
The Twilight movies diversified the entire pure-human cast. In the book, all of them are assumed white and the ones Bella interacts with the most are all blond or brunette white people. The movie makes Angela Hispanic, Eric Asian, and Tyler black.
Even more notably, in the movie one of the vampires is black, but in the books it's made perfectly clear that when you become a vampire you become white.
The movie adaptation of Harriet the Spy made Janie black, and also made Rachel Hennessey and a family that plays a minor role Asian (the latter was originally VERY stereotypically Italian).
Ripcord is played by a black actor in G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra. (The original character and action figure is a red-headed white male.) Supposedly the original plan was for him to be Stalker but the name had Unfortunate Implications and it was felt the more comedic turn the character underwent wouldn't be well-received as Lonzo Wilkinson, so they went with a more obscure Joe name.
Likewise, to diversify the origins of the character (to avoid the film becoming some sort of played-depressingly-straight version of Team America: World Police), Heavy Duty became a black British man (rather than a black American man) and Breaker became French Moroccan (rather than a white guy with a southern accent).
In the book High Fidelity, we are led to picture Marie De Salle as white after Dick describes her as "kind of Sheryl Crow-ish crossed with a post-Partridge Family pre-L.A. Law Susan Dey kind of thing." In the movie she was played by Lisa Bonet; Dick now describes her as "kind of Sheryl Crow-ish crossed with a post-Partridge Family pre-L.A. Law Susan Dey kind of thing, but, you know, black."
An in-universe example: In The Specials, the Minute Man action figure is made black, in the interest of taking a "multi-cultural approach".
In the film version of Mystic River, Sean Devine (Kevin Bacon)'s partner is played by Laurence Fishburne. In the novel, he is white and supposedly looks a little like Brian Dennehy. However, after casting Fishburne they did not change the character's name: Whitey Powers. Dennis Lehane, author of the original book, admits that the character's name was an Incredibly Lame Pun in the book, but that it actually became funnier when Fishburne was cast.
In Carrie (2002), the character of Sue Snell, who was white in the book and movie, was played by black South African-Canadian actress Kandyse McClure. This seems to have been more a case of colorblind casting than a deliberate Race Lift; her race is never brought up over the course of the film.
The first Carrie remake wasn't the last time that Kandyse McClure would do a Race Lift on a character from a Stephen King movie remake; in Children of the Corn (2009), she played Vicky, who was originally played by the white Linda Hamilton.
This also resulted in many racist remarks, as much of the film takes place in the Southern states shortly after the American Civil War.
Artemus Gordon:(picking out disguises) How about this? You could come as my manservant. Jim West:(excited stereotype Negro accent) Why, yessuh, Masah Gordon, Why I swears, I'd be delighted, I'll sing, I'll dance for ya sir and I swear, none of the other white folks'll know that (in normal voice) I'd rather shoot myself than play your damn manservant.
Joseph's brothers in the film version of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat include two black brothers. Um...sorry 'bout that, Jacob. The two brothers involved were Judah (son of Leah) and Benjamin (son of Rachel). Both women had also, in this version, produced quite light-skinned and otherwise "white"-looking sons, and the twelve brothers in that cast covered a wide range of apparent ethnicities.
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is an interesting case. Ford Prefect is played by rapper/actor Mos Def (An American playing an extraterrestrial living in England and speaking English to British people who don't have a Babel Fish in their ears). It doesn't really come up in the original radio series, though since Arthur evidently lived in a quite rural part of the UK in the 1970s one can draw certain inferences, but the books describe Ford as white -somewhat unnaturally so even- with wiry ginger hair. The TV series, incidentally, completely ignored this in favour of casting as many of the original voice actors as possible. Of course, Mos Def's portrayal of Ford was pretty much In Name Onlyanyway...
Korath the Pursuer is played by Djimon Hounsou, and is depicted with black skin rather than blue. This is notable since in the comics, Kree are explicitly stated to all have either blue or pink (resembling white humans) complexions.
Blink, a white Bahamanian in the comics, is played by Chinese actress Fan Bingbing in X-Men: Days of Future Past. Not too much of a stretch, since Blink is purple in the comics despite her white ancestry.
The Human Torch will be played by African-American actor Michael B Jordan in the 2015 Fantastic Four reboot. Reg E. Cathey of The Wire and House of Cards fame will play his father, Franklin Storm, who of course is also white in the comics. However, his sister, the Invisible Woman, will be played by Kate Mara, who is white. Their father will also be portrayed by an African-American man.
Japanese actress Tao Okamoto will be playing Mercy Graves, who is traditionally depicted as a white blonde woman.
The Cloud Ten Pictures' 2000-2005 Left Behind films have Clarence Gilyard and Arnold Pinnock playing Bruce Barnes, T.D. Jakes playing Vernon Billings, and Louis Gosset Jr. playing Gerald Fitzhugh. Verna Zee, who is given a Race Lift, also doubles as a Composite Character, with her being a combination of herself and Lucinda Washington, the African-American editor-in-chief of the Global Weekly office in Chicago.
In Gridiron Gang, the real Sean Porter is white (as shown in the credits), but is played by The Rock. Now Dwayne has light enough skin to pull it off, but there is a seen where Sean visits his dying mom, who is much darker.
Pete Ross was changed from white to black. So was poor doomed Dr. Hamilton.
Lana Lang, who is a white redhead in the comics, is portrayed on the show by Kristin Kreuk, who has Dutch, Chinese, and Indonesian heritage.
Roulette is a weird one; in the comics she's a white girl who wants to be a Dragon Lady; in Smallville she's really Asian. It's hard to escape the suspicion that the writers just didn't get the joke...
The Martian Manhunter's "John Jones" identity is made into an African-American. However, the character is actually a green-skinned alien to begin with.
Plastique is a white Canadian in the comic books. In the show she was played by the half-black, half-white Jessica Parker Kennedy.
Neutron, a white Superman villain, was played by an Asian-American actor.
In Arrow, Deathstroke is played by Māori actor Manu Bennett. (This is a legal technicality, as in New Zealand anyone with less than 1/16th Māori ancestry is considered Māori for legal purposes and will identify as such, but he's actually half White Australian on his mothers side and 1/4 Irish from fathers side. He's mostly a white fella.)
Yes you can argue that Bennett is mostly white, but physically, he generally looks Polynesian.
Boomer, who had been played in the original by black actor Herb Jefferson Jr., was changed into Korean-Canadian actress Grace Park (also a Gender Flip). As Boomer is a Manchurian AgentCylon in the new series, this one also counts as a Species Lift.
Commander Adama, originally played by white Canadian Lorne Greene, was recast as half-Hispanic with Edward James Olmos in the role. Or Colonel Tigh, who in the original series was black, played by Irish-Canadian actor Michael Hogan, who is (of course) white— and, like Boomer, Tigh is a Cylon. In the case of Tigh, this might have been to avoid Unfortunate Implications, given that the re-imagined Tigh begins as an alcoholic who isn't very good at his job.
And the BBC adaptation of Little Dorrit features Freema Agyeman as Tattycoram, only described in the book as "a handsome girl with lustrous dark hair and eyes, and very neatly dressed".
The King Arthur BBC series Merlin has cast multiracial actress Angel Coulby as Guinevere (or Gwen as she is initially known). Perhaps to make the casting more plausible, the traditional background of Guinevere (as the daughter of a king) is dropped in favour of making her a commoner and a servant. The character of Sir Elyan, one of the Knights of the Round Table, is made into Guinevere's brother and is portrayed by a black actor - ironically, the character was often known in the legends as "Elyan the White."
There are several Black background characters as well, including various one-off knights and nobles, particularly during feast scenes (non-white characters are NOT all servants.) Also, Gwen was written as a servant before Angel was cast when (presumably) a white actress was expected to take the role. Also also, according to Word of God, Angel Coulby was cast because of Ability over Appearance, not specifically to fulfill some sort of diversity requirement.
Lancelot is also played by Hispanic Santiago Cabrera.
The BBC Robin Hood series has a black Friar Tuck. And he's not the easy-going tubbo associated with the name, either.
Robin Hood has several other black characters in supporting roles over the course of the series. Interestingly, this isn't just a politically correct anachronism. There's archaeological and historical evidence of at least a few Africans living in England as far back as the Roman Empire, and also in the Middle Ages. They would've been rare, and thus perhaps not as easily accepted as they're shown to be in Robin Hood and Merlin, but they were there.
In the books True Blood is based on, the character Tara is described as having olive skin and a pageboy haircut. In the show she's African American. As her exact ethnicity in the books is never spelled out it's not certain if it's this variation of the trope or "Minority into another Minority" below.
In L.J. Smith's The Vampire Diaries books, Bonnie was a petite redhead of Scottish descent. In the CW show she's played by a black actress.
In the show, her character has a corresponding downward bump of personality and involvement, now an airhead there to egg on the romance and give exposition-style psychic predictions as opposed to being practically more of a main character than the love interest, and hugely involved in the plot.
Elena, from the same series, to a lesser degree. The books describe her as your typical blue-eyed blond, but the actress who plays her is a tan, brown-eyed brunette. This may be more of an Adaptation Dye-Job, though.
The English language LazyTown turned the Icelandic Latibær plays' red-headed hellion Halla and pale computer geek Goggi into Asian (and slightly less wild) Trixie and black (and possibly more computer-obsessed) Pixel. The mayor's skin also darkened several shades, but given he's closely related to a character who stayed white, and not very dark (and a puppet, so actor race gives no clues), it's unclear if he too had his race changed, or if he's just meant to be tanned.
In the original play, Goggi was a white baldling wearing green glasses and pyjamas!
And Sportacus was an Elf, so it's a species-lift as well.
In the Gossip Girl novels, Kati and Isabel are both white. The actresses who play them are Chinese and black, respectively.
The unaired pilot for the proposed 2004 Dark Shadows revival had longtime character Dr. Julia Hoffman played by Asian American actress Kelly Hu.
On Game of Thrones, Xaro Xhoan Daxos is played by Nonso Anozie, a Black British actor. In the books, Xaro is a native Qartheen "Milk Man", who are described as being incredibly pale. He described himself as being from the Summer Isles, where the other Black characters in the series are from. He is the first such character seen on the series. Xaro's name even fits the naming conventions of Summer Isles characters. In his first appearance, Xaro seemed more enigmatic than his book counterpart, who was more of a Smug Snake. Other non-white characters can be seen in the background scenes in Qarth, possibly indicating that the city is a more cosmopolitan setting in the series.
The 2012 Sherlock Holmes update Elementary has John Watson both race-lifted and gender-flipped into the Asian American surgeon "Joan Watson", played by Lucy Liu.
The cop in the pilot who corresponded roughly to Inspector Lestrade, Detective Abreu, was Latino. In the second episode, he was replaced by the African-American Detective Bell (named for the real-life surgeon who was the inspiration for Holmes), who swiftly became less Lestrade-like than his predecessor.
The Bible (2013) portrays Samson and his mother as black, unlike most Israelites who look stereotypically middle-eastern (brown hair, olive skin).
The three angels who appear to Abraham are nicely varied: one white, one black, one east Asian.
Xena: Warrior Princess and Hercules: The Legendary Journeys cast black actresses (including Gina Torres) as Cleopatra, presumably on the principle that Egypt is in Africa. However, not only are Egyptians not black, but Cleopatra was the last of the highly inbred Ptolemaic line of rulers, so she was pure Greek.
The ancient Egyptians were indeed black. The Greeks had taken over by Cleopatra's time. Cleopatra lived closer to the moon landing than when the actual pyramids were built.
Polly and Polly: Comin' Home! retell Pollyanna with a with a mostly-African-American cast, and with the location and time period changed from Vermont in the 1900s to segregated Alabama in The Fifties.
Their take on Cinderella stars Brandy as Cinderella. Additionally, Whitney Houston plays the fairy godmother, African-American Natalie Desselle plays stepsister Joy, Paolo Montalban, a Filipino actor, plays Prince Christopher, black actress Whoopi Goldberg plays his mother Queen Constantina, and Canadian Victor Garber plays his father King Maxamillian.
Their version of Annie features Audra McDonald as Miss Grace Farrell, as mentioned above, and also adds girls of other races to the orphanage.
Lois and Clark starred Dean Cain, who is one fourth Japanese. Deborah Joy Le Vine stated Cain's unique look was part of the reason she cast him as Clark/Superman.
In the TV adaptation of Powers, Deena Pilgrim, a white blonde in the comics, will be played by Susan Heyward, who is African-American.
An interesting example in the Paper Mill Playhouse production of Stephen Schwartz's musical Children Of Eden: Adam was white and Eve was black, apparently also allowing them to have children of different skintones. However, this also had possible, unintended Unfortunate Implications (see that trope entry).
The musical version of Jekyll and Hyde almost always casts Utterson as a black man.
Aside from race-specific roles and shows like Aida or Miss Saigon, Broadway's casting is remarkably color-blind. Black/non-white actors have had major roles in nearly every Broadway show around. For example, Chicago (Velma/Billy Flynn), Les Misérables (Javert, Mme Thenardier, Fantine, Cosette, Eponine), Wicked (Fiyiero), Beauty and the Beast (Belle), Miss Saigon (John) and most notably Robert Guillaume (on tour) and Norm Lewis (on Broadway) as the titular The Phantom of the Opera. Even applies when such casting would be implausible—like a black/Asian Eponine playing the daughter of the white Thenardiers in Les Misérables. There have even been some cases where a white actress has played Young Eponine or Young Cosette and a non-white actress has played the older versions of those characters, or vice versa.
Elphaba from "Wicked" can be played by any actress, no matter her race, considering that she has to be painted green anyway. Actually, Glinda is the only character from Wicked explicitly required by the plot to be white. Not that it stopped Japan...◊
Miss Saigon's Ellen (the American wife of Chris) was always played by a white actress, especially a blonde or redhead. However, towards the end of the show's Broadway run, Ellen was cast with an Asian actress, which added a new dimension to the show. Rather than moving on with his life, as Chris insisted that he had, it now seemed very likely that Chris only married Ellen because she reminded him of his lost love Kim.
A 1994 production of Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice by noted director Peter Sellars (not to be confused with the film actor) implied the location to be multi-racial Venice Beach, California. A clip of Shylock's speech is available on YouTube.
Shylock and his compatriots were played by Black actors.
Portia and her retinue were actresses of Asian ancestry.
the titular merchant was Latino.
The only significant characters played by Anglo actors were the clown Gobbo and his son (played by a pre-stardom Philip Seymour Hoffman).
Collins, from RENT, was intended to be a "kind of Tom Waits" character, but the playwright changed his mind once Jesse L.Martin auditioned. Similarly, at least half the cast ended up being played by non-white actors; this has varied from production to production.
In Freehold Engagement Theatre's 2012 production of King Lear, Edgar, the Fool(a puppet held by a white actress), and one of the ensemblists were black, and Edmund and Cordelia were Hispanic. In the 2010 Donmar Warehouse production, the Afro-British actress Pippa Bennett-Warner played Cordelia.
Theatrical adaptations of A Christmas Carol are often multiracial, such as a black actor playing Christmas Present(as in the forementioned film of the Broadway musical) or Fred(god forbid), and an Asian actress playing Belle and/or Fred's wife.
Two of the bosses in Pokémon Battle Revolution were changed from Japanese to black. This was because the Japanese version didn't have different skin tone options for the characters, and they wanted to show them off.
Birdie from Street Fighter Alpha — he originally appeared in the very first Street Fighter game as white, but when his character underwent a complete visual overhaul, he became black. One of his victory quotes is a Lampshade Hanging: "You mean before? I was pale because I was sick!"
In Mortal Kombat, the character of Jade has been portrayed as every race under the sun. In her original MK II & Ultimate MK 3 appearances, she and Jax were the token black characters. On the port for MK II to the Sega Genesis and the Amiga, she became white (this might have something to do with the fact that, skin tone augmentation aside, she was portrayed by the same actress as Mileena and Kitana). However, in Annihilation she was played by the pale, asian Irina Pantaeva (who is ethnically Buryat, i.e. Russian Mongol). Over time, her appearance has shifted to just being Ambiguously Brown.
Bolivar Trask (a white man in the original comics) is depicted as a black man in the X-Men Origins: Wolverine video game.
The game also heavily implies that Nightcrawler's father is the African American character John Wraith. Of course it'd be difficult to tell anyway since Nightcrawler's skin is depicted as blue due to his mutation.
In The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, several main characters have been racelifted. Considering the original took place in 18th century England, and the adaptation in the modern-day United States, this makes sense.
The Bingleys become Asian, likely Chinese, with Charles Bingley becoming Bing Lee. Caroline Bingley is Caroline Lee.
Charlotte and Maria Lucas become Charlotte and Maria Lu, also of Asian descent.
Adele Varens was a French girl in the book, while Adele Rochester has light brown skin, and her father Mr Rochester doesn't. It adds mystery as to who Adele's mother might be and whether Mr Rochester is her biological father.
Grace Poole, a Composite Character of scary and mysterious Grace Poole and kind Mrs. Fairfax, looks as if she was of Asian origin.
Emma Approved, made by the same team behind The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, has several cases of this too:
Emma Woodhouse is played by a half-Japanese and half-German actress.
Izzy Knightley, Emma's married sister, is played by a Hawaiian actress.
Mrs. Bates becomes the African-American Maddy Bates and her niece Jane Fairfax becomes African-American too.
Frank Churchill becomes Asian and Ryan Weston's stepbrother instead of his son to justify their different races.
Super F*ckers: Ultra-Richard goes from white in the original comics to black in the animation. He also went from having nearly no personality in the comics to basically being a vaguely-super powered Chefexpy.
Superman: The Animated Series has Angela Chen, who is essentially an Asian Expy of the comic book character Cat Grant. Her role as the Daily Planet's gossip columnist and rivalry with Lois Lane are all directly lifted from Grant.
Puff was a white blonde in the original Static comics, but was depicted as an African American in Static Shock.
X-Men: Evolution does this more than once, with originally blonde and very white Amanda Sefton becoming possibly Middle Eastern (or a brown-skinned ethnicity, anyway; it isn't apparent from dialogue or appearance, though she doesn't look quite like the series' black characters) for the series. The Lift is extended to her parents, naturally.
Also, Magma goes from white to Brazilian (in the comics, she was disguised as a Brazilian when she was first seen, but proved to be a blonde from a Romanesque society hidden in a remote area of Brazil). Which doesn't really make much sense, since 50% of Brazil's population is white. The southern states have large amounts of blondes.
Amanda Sefton in the comics is a Roma. A pale, blonde Roma. Her mother, Margali, has a more "traditional" Roma appearance. Amanda is adopted in the comics, but there are blond Roma.
Mystique receives a mid-series version of this trope. In the first season, Mystique had light blue skin, white eyes with gray pupils, dark red hair, and violet lips. From the second season onwards, her skin is a dark bluish-green, her eyes are yellow with black pupils, her hair is a lighter shade of reddish-orange, her lips are dark blue, and her facial structure is also different in shape.
Mystique's an interesting case, and doesn't really change in the show. It's worth explaining fully anyway, because many fans and even the comic artists don't catch this: Mystique's day-one outfit, the white dress with the skulls, actually has a bodysuit, or it did in early appearances. This makes her face more green and her arms and legs more blue. Artists since have forgotten it was there, and now make her entire body whichever color they feel she should be - sometimes the color of her face, sometimes the color of the rest of her. By now, any shade of green or blue goes. X-Men: Evolution gave Mystique a fairly faithful representation of her day-one outfit, remembering the bodysuit. Eventually, she changed to her second, black outfit, which lacked the bodysuit, so later seasons have her entire body the color that was once reserved for her face. Before◊. After◊.
Earth's Mightiest Heroes splits the difference, making him a black man with hair more like the original Fury in Season 1. Season 2 made him more Ultimate-like by shaving his head and growing a beard.
Additionally, it has Kang's lover Ravonna changed from a white woman with red hair to an Ambiguously Brown woman with jet black hair. Maria Hill also becomes ambiguously brown.
This lead to a minor controversy when Cobie Smulders was cast as Maria Hill in The Avengers. Some fans who were only familiar with Maria from the cartoon complained about a pale-skinned, blue-eyed actress being cast to portray the character in the film, even though that's how she usually looks in the actual comics.
Corresponding to the above-mentioned Race Lift of his brother Nick Fury, Scorpio is depicted as an African American man in Ultimate Spider-Man.
Rather than being a white guy, the Scorpion is from K'un-L'un, the hidden Tibetan city where Iron Fist received his training.
Arcade also goes from being a white adult to an Asian teenager.
Young Justice does this with Artemis and her mother Paula, both of whom were blue-eyed white women in the original comics. Here, Paula is Vietnamese, while Artemis is biracial. Artemis keeps her blonde hair from the comics, but is given brown eyes, darker skin and Asian facial features to highlight her mixed heritage.
Variant with Aqualad: the original holder of the title from the comics, Garth, is white, but hasn't been Aqualad for a long time anyway. In this continuity they created a new character, Kaldur'ahm, whose father, Black Manta is African-American.
Martian Manhunter might count as well. In the comics his human guise is usually a white man; in the show he adopts the appearance of a black man, though it probably is a Shout-Out to his Smallville appearance.
More likely, Manhunter's being black is because his voice actor, Kevin Michael Richardson, is black and it would simply make sense to make him the same race as his actor. He's a shapeshifter, so why NOT be a black man? Chances are the creators of Young Justice couldn't care one way or another about how he was portrayed on Smallville. In fact, Manhunter has been played by black voice actors several times, such as Justice League the Animated Series and Justice League: Doom where he was played by the same actor, and portraying him as black both diversifies the cast and avoids whitewashing the actor portraying him.
This also leads into an interesting visual pun and bit of foreshadowing with M'Gann. Her guise is as a white teenage girl. Meaning she's white, and a Martian. She really is a White Martian.
Like in the aforementioned Smallville and Young Justice, Justice League: Doom made the Martian Manhunter's "John Jones" identity African-American. Like Nick Fury, this version seems to be catching on to the point that the original comics character is becoming the black sheep. Only time will tell if being a shapeshifter, the Manhunter in the comics will have something happen that requires him to need to change his disguise, and choose one that looks a lot like Phil Morris.
As the name would imply, the Bat Man of Shanghai shorts from DC Nation have Catwoman changed to a Chinese thief operating out of Shanghai in the 1930's. Batman and Bane become Chinese as well, though Bane is Latino in the comics.
The Halloween special Toy Story of Terror changes Combat Carl, briefly seen in the original film as a generic white "Little Green Man"-type soldier, into a black G.I. Joe Expy with a mustache. It's not unheard of for toy lines to Retcon characters into being more diverse, so it comes off as a bit of a Meta joke.
Examples of Non-White to White
Anime and Manga
The two latest Appleseed anime have Briareos as a white man before his conversion into a cyborg (especially obvious in Ex Machina with Tereus, Bri's clone). The manga's supplemental materials showed him as a black man.
Based on his skin tone and facial structure, it's debatable whether movie Briareos was technically "white" before becoming a cyborg, though he certainly wasn't black.
As mentioned in the first block of examples, the new anime series thankfully restored his black heritage.
In Axis Powers Hetalia, Seychelles is Ambiguously Brown in the manga (with Himaruya being unable to decide just how dark or light her skin is), but the anime gives her the same pale pink skin tone as all the European and Asian characters.
Pretty much any character in the manga with darker skin was given white skin in the anime (Cuba being the ONE exception).
The characters' original skin tones are restored in season 5.
In the Black Lagoon manga Revy is clearly Asian. Not only does she have narrow eyes and other typical facial features, her skin also has a tanned yellowish tone. In the anime however, she doesn't differ much from the white cast. Meanwhile other asian characters such as the yakuza or Taiwanese Shenhua, actually look asian.
The Death Note adaptations vary between depicting Rodd Loss as black or white. In the black and white manga pages, his skin is light though his exaggerated facial features are similar to a few other darker-skinned gang members, suggesting that he could possibly be biracial. In the anime, he definitely appears more on the white side.
The DS game goes in the opposite direction and depicts him as an unambiguously dark-skinned black man.
In the 2003 anime version of Fullmetal Alchemist, Rose is given dark skin, whereas in the manga she had light skin (Brotherhood restored lighter complexions to her and the other residents of Liore)
In the 2003 anime, Liore was believed to be a desert town, when it was actually somewhere in the mountains. This can be explained why the residents of Liore aren't supposed to have dark skin.
The Liorians in the 2003 anime are their own ethnic group, just like the Ishvalans; unlike in the manga, they all have dark skin and hair, in contrast to the Anglo-Saxon Amestrians.
The manga has her with no shadowing like the dark skinned characters so it's presumed she is of the lighter complexion, much to the dismay of fans of the first series.
Averted originally in the first English dub for Super Dimension Fortress Macross. In Carl Macek's original treatment (preserved in the first issue of what would become the Robotech comic adaptation), Hikaru Ichijyo was to be renamed "Rick Yamada", acknowedging that the character was of Japanese ancestry (although the "Rick" part implies him being a nisei, sansei or yonsei American). When the second dub came around, for whatever reason, the name was changed to the completely Anglo "Rick Hunter", and the trope came into full effect.
Armored Trooper VOTOMS has Vanilla Vartla, who has a darker complexion in the original anime and OVAs, but became incredibly light-skinned in color artwork for Minoru Nonaka's manga adaptation of the series.
4Kids Entertainment some minor black characters from One Piece into white people, since they were originally drawn in an offensive Sambo caricature style.
In the comic book that inspired the movie Spawn, the titular protagonist, his best friend, his former wife and her daughter, and the assassin who killed him were all black. The studio, afraid of having too many black leads, made the best friend white. The assassin was also changed from a black man to a white woman, but this change seems to have been driven by a falling out between Spawn's creator and the creator of the original assassin, rather than Executive Meddling.
The comic version had a Race Lift as a minor plot element. Spawn could change his appearance into a normal man — a white man with blonde hair and blue eyes. But not into a black man. Since he couldn't be a black man, he voluntarily decided to remain at his default appearance — a decayed corpse.
In fact, the scene was how the revelation was made in the comics. Al and Wanda were only shown originally in Al's dreams, with great care taken to not show any real hints of ethnicity. When Spawn first tries to use his powers to make himself look human, you see the white face, then the next page suddenly has Al saying "What the hell is this? I'm a BLACK man, damnit!" Only afterwards do we actually get to see Wanda and Al's true faces.
Around the time Ultimate X-Men was starting up, Mark Millar introduced the Ultimate version of Kestrel, real name John Wraith, who had ties to the Weapon X project. However, his real name and having a connection to to Weapon X are the only thing he has in common with the classic version, as Millar made Wraith, an African-American mutant with teleporting powers who was a test subject of Weapon X in the classic Marvel universe into a white human who was in charge of the project.
The Daredevil villain Lady Bullseye is depicted as Caucasian in the Marvel Noir universe. She's Japanese in the mainstream universe.
In Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, April O'Neil's race seems to vacillate in early Eastman & Laird issues, even from page to page, but she was pretty definitively non-white and Baxter Stockman was unquestionably African-American. This was ... not retained in most adaptations.
This could be forgiven with April O'Neil (as the above says, her race wasn't consistent, and the 80s cartoon adaptation makes her Irish in appearance, to go with her surname), but Baxter Stockman comes off like Political Correctness Gone Mad. While Stockman is very much a bad guy who was black, Eastman & Laird had him be a thin, evil geek and April's boss in a time when black characters, even positive ones, were typically either athletes or overweight.
April's early physical appearance could best be described as Ambiguously Brown, and not unlike that of Jennifer Beals, in fact (which may have been what the artist was going for). Her '80s Hair doesn't help (she even mentions getting it done at a "New Wave place", and Raphael silently mocks her for it), nor do her unusually thick lips or her sorta-dark-blue eyes. The best guess is probably that she's supposed to be an "ethnic" white woman.
According to The Other Wiki, famous Dick Tracy villain Flattop is often considered to have been a light-skinned black man, making every appearance of him in any given adaptation this.
Well, Flattop's last name is "Jones", which is more disproportionate among African-Americans than European-Americans. And since most "mob" characters (in Dick Tracy and elsewhere) tend to be either Italian or Irish, the name "Jones" would otherwise stand out pretty glaringly. Then we have Flattop's unusually thick lips. So we just might be on to something here....
The Staton/Curtis creative team has been clearly depicting Flattop's widow Stiletta Jones as a black woman. That doesn't necessarily mean he was Af-Am, but it shows an awareness that people have wondered about it.
When the comic book Model By Day, featuring a black protagonist, was made into a television movie, Dutch actress Famke Janssen was cast in the lead.
Happened without adaptation in Judge Dredd: Carlos Ezquerra originally drew Dredd as part-Hispanic, but subsequent artists drew him as a very white man.
Similar to the Spawn example above is a DC Comics character named Mister Bones. While the name is a dead giveaway to anyone familiar with its origin, Bones' soft tissues are invisible, making him look like an ambulatory skeleton. On the rare occasions he wears make-up to "pass", however, people are typically surprised to find out that he's black. One character even taunts him with the notion that Bones forgets this himself, which turns out to be a Berserk Button — Bones remembers, and it logically pisses him off that people treat him differently after they find out that he's not white.
When he was first introduced, Connor Hawke, the second Green Arrow, was initially drawn in a way that highlighted his heritage. Born to a white father and a mixed race (half African American, half Korean) mother, Connor had an Asian-looking face, with dark skin, a broad nose and lips (from his African side) and finally blonde hair and green eyes (from his father's side). Today, very few artists draw him with Asian or African features, and fewer colorists even remember to give him his dark skin. For example, a flashback scene in a recent issue showed a young Connor with his clearly-black mother, and he was drawn with white skin and no noticeable African features.
A probably accidental example happened in a preview for DC Comic'sFlashpoint event, where the biracial Jenni Ognats, aka XS, was drawn as white with blond hair and with an incorrect costume. Someone at DC evidently noticed and this was corrected in the version of the same page that appeared in an online version of USA Today.
In a Belgian comic named Billy the Cat, a black friend of the title character (who couldn't pronounce the letter "r" in the original French) is made into a white boy in the TV series based on the comic. Interesting enough, in the Dutch translation, the black boy had no trouble at all, pronouncing the "r", making that a partial race lift.
Marie Laveau, a light skinned black woman, has been portrayed as white in many Marvel comics. Other times they make her a little too dark but at least that could be excused as her (possibly)darker daughter, who took up her name and position.
An issue of The Flash featured a film about the hero being produced. The Flash's Asian American girlfriend Linda Park was reimagined as the blonde "Linda Parker", a change which understandably enraged the real Linda.
The comic book adaptation of Patricia Briggs' Moon Called depicts the half-Native American, brown-skinned, black-haired Mercy Thompson as a lily-white redhead. To make it even more bizarre, the comic features Charles (who has the exact same ancestry and coloration) who is drawn with black hair and brown skin.
The New 52 is mentioned above, but it features this version; Teen Titans supporting characters Thunder and Lightning, originally Vietnamese-American (born and raised in Vietnam to a Vietnamese mother and an American father), are now Russian-born (and therefore identifiably European). Incidentally, Lightning is now female.
In The Crab with the Golden Claws, one of the henchmen who were beating up Captain Haddock in the storeroom was originally black, but the English edition made him white. Bizarrely, Captain Haddock still says, "Arrest that negro!"
Mici Shabandar, one of the heroes in the somewhat obscure Star Wars story World of Fire, which only exists in black and white. It was originally serialized in Marvel's UK Star Wars magazine, and when Mici made a cover she was depicted with dark skin. A couple of years later, World of Fire was finally published in America, but the entirely new cover art gave Mici light skin.
Rose Wilson of Teen Titans and the '90s Deathstroke series was introduced as the illegitimate daughter of Slade Wilson and a Cambodian woman named Lillian Worth. While most artists didn't really reflect Rose's Cambodian heritage as much, she was still meant to be mixed-race, albeit with pure white hair and blue (or green) eyes. In the Crisis On Two Earths animated film, Rose became a red-haired Caucasian girl (although she was basically an In Name Only incarnation) who had Adeline Kane as her mother. In post-Flashpoint comics continuity, Rose is now also entirely Caucasian with Adeline Kane as her mother, although as said before, since Rose's ethnicity was barely drawn consistently, there is little visual difference and she retains her white hair.
Heinlein is extremely prone to this trope when he does get adapted, as he rarely includes much physical description of characters (barring busty redheaded women, who occupy his work much like they occupied his love life).
Steven Spielberg's Animated Adaptation, Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas, turns one of the most recognized characters of Arabian folklore, whose Ray Harryhausen-directed adventures were one of the few positive portrayals of Islamic culture ever to have an impact on pop culture, and makes him a Greek sailor interacting with characters from Greek mythology.
The book Bringing Down the House is about how the mostly Asian-American MIT Blackjack Team counted cards to rack in big cash at casinos. Its film adaptation 21 couldn't have minority leads, so producers made four of the team members white and cast only two Asians in the least important team roles, which was heavily criticized for racism. The real MIT blackjack team actually brought in a white girl as an attempt to make the team more "diverse".
Brit Johnson, a famous black scout in the old west was in many Westerns in the 40s and 50s... played exclusively by white men. Many of "hanging judge" Parker's "catchers" were black (often with some Cherokee blood too), including the most famous. One movie version gave him a black bailiff, that was as close as Hollywood got.
The long-stalled film adaptation of Neon Genesis Evangelion would reportedly have the mostly-Japanese cast of the original series changed to white people. For instance, official concept art had Asuka Soryu and Misato Katsuragi changed to "Kate Rose" and "Susan Whitnall" respectively.
In A Mighty Heart, Angelina Jolie plays the role of real-life Afro-Chinese-Cuban/Dutch-Jew reporter Mariane Pearl. The casting was criticized in some circles, though the character's race wasn't changed for the film and Jolie's skin tone actually does resemble the real person.
The Dragonball Evolution movie got a lot of flak by casting white Justin Chatwin as Goku, with fans claiming that Goku is supposed to be Asian. Most defenders noted that race in Dragonball is more along the lines of human/demon/alien (and Goku is an alien). Bulma is played by the white Emmy Rossum, and James Marsters' Piccolo is under so much makeup it doesn't really matter. Besides that, all of supporting characters (Master Roshi, Chi Chi, Yamcha, Mai, Grandpa Gohan) are played by Asian actors.
13, the English-language remake of French thriller 13 Tzameti changes the location from France to England and changes the main character from an ethnic minority for his homeland (Georgian) to a standard Englishman. This is a rare case of a Caucasian character (from the Caucasus) being changed to a Caucasian (white) character.
When the movie Pay It Forward was adapted from the book of the same name, the hideously scarred black teacher Reuben St. Clair becomes hideously scarred white teacher Eugene Simonet (played by Kevin Spacey). They couldn't get Denzel Washington for the part, so they had to change the character.
The Western Ulzana's Raid originally intended a Native American scout, Ke-Ni-Tay, to be the main character, albeit played by a "blacked-up" Jorge Luke. In a case of Executive Meddling, a white scout played by Burt Lanchaster became the lead and Ke-Ni-Tay was grudgingly reduced to a support character.
In Arthur C. Clarke's novel 2010, the scientist responsible for the HAL 9000, Dr. Sivasubramanian Chandrasegarampillai — or Dr. Chandra — is from India. In the film version, he's Bob Balaban. But still named Dr. Chandra.
All of Disney's Witch Mountain movies demonstrate a rather subtle form of this trope. In the original novel Escape to Witch Mountain by Alexander Key, Tony and Tia are described as appearing Latin or Mediterranean, with olive skin, dark eyes and dark hair. However, in all of the films Disney has made using this property, the aliens (children and adults alike) have been turned into blonde, blue-eyed Aryan stereotypes.
Averted with Harold And Kumar Go To White Castle. Director Danny Leiner was well aware of Hollywood's tendency to shy away from Asian leads and originally feared that "Harold and Kumar" would turn into "Joe and Dave Go To McDonald's".
While the American version of The Grudge is still set in Tokyo, it changes most of the main characters into white people.
This creates an interesting connotation for the film as, aside from two characters, every single VICTIM is also white, leading to the darkly humorous interpretation that the titular Grudge is against Americans.
The live-action King of Fighters movie isn't very good for a whole host of reasons, but one of the most jarring issues is that Kyo Kusanagi - the most popular character in the series in Japan - is played by a guy who is as white as the driven snow. His father - explicitly his biological father - is played by a Japanese guy. It's made even worse by the fact that all the flashbacks have the character being played by a young Asian boy. A half-hearted attempt is made to explain this with Iori insulting Kyo as a "half-breed", which The Spoony Experiment mocked with "yeah, half white and the other half white!".
The live-action Tekken film had Brazilian Christie played by white Kelly Overton. When she was cast, cue dozens of internet arguments claiming that Christie was really black, Hispanic or even Asian ethnicity. In what may count as an inversion, the Irish Anna Williams was played by a Spanish actress but Anna's background is never stated.
The film Extraordinary Measures stars Harrison Ford as Dr. Robert Stonehill, who cured Pompe disease. The scientist who actually cured the disease was Dr. Yuan-Tsong Chen. The real Dr. Chen did not wish to be fictionalized, but that still doesn't explain why they needed to change the character's race.
Ben Affleck played real-life mixed-race CIA agent Tony Mendez in Argo, his film about the Iranian hostage crisis. A picture of the real Tony Mendez meeting Pres. Carter appears in the credits.
In Mortal Kombat, Rayden is curiously white for an Asian deity. Likewise, Kano went from half-Japanese to Australian background. Trevor Goddard's performance eventually caused Midway to Retcon him into being Australian.
The film adaptation of Dead or Alive had the Japanese Kasumi and Ayane played by the half-Japanese Devon Aoki and the white Natassia Malthe respectively. Strangely, this applied only to them: Ryu Hayabusa and Hayate were played by the half-Japanese half-Chinese Kane Kosugi and the Taiwanese Collin Chou.
Malthe is in fact half-Malaysian. It's just very hard to tell, especially with her very European-sounding name.
Hachi: A Dog's Story is an American remake of Hachikō Monogatari, in turn based on the story of the real Akita dog named Hachiko. The movie is moved from 1920's Japan to 2000's America—with the Japanese dog being left in an American train station as a puppy—and the role of Hidesaburō Ueno, the dog's original owner played by Richard Gere, who is given the new name of Parker Wilson. In fact the only things Japanese at all in the movie are Hachikō, whose name was shorted to "Hachi", and one of Parker's co-workers, Ken. They do however, in a closing title, mention all the true—and Japanese—details of the story.
In the film adaption of Spawn in 1997, the man Al Simmons' (Spawn) wife remarried was changed from a black man to a white man. Apparently it was felt that there were far too many African Americans in the original comic, and on screen it would turn the film into a "black movie".
In Rising Sun, Wesley Snipes's character is white in the books. The murderer is changed from Japanese to white.
In The Dark Knight Rises, Big Bad Bane, half-British and half-Hispanicnote British father and Santa Priscan mother, born and raised in a high-security prison in Santa Prisca, a Spanish-colonized Caribbean island. The trait is important to the character but not established in his first appearance. in the comics, is played by Brit Tom Hardy. Hardy's features and accent are ambiguous and distorted, so his race could go any which way. Except as it turns out, he's from a Chinese\Arabic prison instead of a South American one, and the protector from fellow villain and example of this trope Talia Al Ghul/Miranda Tate. Her father, Ra's al Ghul, who in the comics is Chinese and/or Arabic, is played by Irish actor Liam Neeson and Talia is played by Marion Cotillard, who is French.
Bane was also played by white wrestler Robert Swenson in Batman & Robin, but as a stereotypical Dumb Muscle character. The less said about it, the better.
In the process of adapting 30 Days of Night, not only were the paunchy, late-thirties, happily married main couple made buff, mid-twenties, and sexily divorced; the Native American Eben Olemaun became the white Eben Oleson.
In this short film, a real-life Asian murderer is turned into a white guy. His victims remain Asian.
2008's The Incredible Hulk, sort of. In the film, white actor Martin Starr plays "computer nerd." In the novelization, his character is named Amadeus Cho.
John Wayne as Genghis Khan. Yes, John Wayne as Genghis Khan. It's tempting to say The Conqueror is cinematic cancer, but considering they shot it on an old nuclear test site and half the cast and crew, including Wayne, got cancer, it'd be in incredibly poor taste....
Marvel later released the short film All Hail The King, which confirmed that neither Slattery nor Killian were the actual Mandarin, and that the real Mandarin is out there somewhere as the leader of the Ten Rings. So presumably, the MCU Mandarin could still be Chinese.
In The Host Melanie Stryder is described as having tanned skin and is part Latina on her mother's side; in the Movie she is played by Irish actress Saoirse Ronan.
In the live action film adaptation of Fist of the North Star, Kenshiro and possibly Shin as well since that is also an Asian name despite the fact that in the anime he was depicted as a blond bishonen type. Malcolm McDowell being cast as wise old martial arts master Ryuken was very odd indeed.
This was one of the more derided aspects of the movie adaptation of Jack Kerouac's The Subterraneans. Since the novel was a roman a clef about Kerouac's relationship with the African-American Alene Lee, changing her character to a French girl played by Leslie Caron took away most of the point.
The Hunger Games provides an example that may be borderline, but has certainly sparked a lot of anger. Katniss's colour in the books is ambiguous; she's described as dark-haired and olive-skinned, which many interpret as making her a person of colour, but her mother and sister and blonde, so that sounds more like she is a dark complected White person. What's fairly inarguable is that race and racial appearance is a big part of Katniss's story, and one that a lot of POC fans found gratifying. The books also make repeated mentions of the people around Katniss' home being "of the Seem", which implies middle eastern heritage. The whitewashing comes in when the film was cast: it was not just that they cast the very white Jennifer Lawrence, it was the the casting call specified that only white actresses need apply.
In an example of fantastic race-lift, Drizzt Do'Urden in R.A. Salvatore's Dark Elf novels is a drow elf, which as the term "dark elf" would imply, has dark gray or black skin. However, for the longest time his "official" depiction in the cover art showed him to be as pale-skinned as any surface elf. This has been fixed in later covers.
Executives wanted to cast white leads for a film adaptation of Anansi Boys, completely ignoring the fact that the Anansi myths originated in Africa. Fortunately, Neil Gaiman shot them down.
"We regret that our original creative direction for Liar — which was intended to symbolically reflect the narrator's complex psychological makeup — has been interpreted by some as a calculated decision to mask the character's ethnicity."
The fact that the girl on the final cover looks biracial isn't a bad thing, as the character she represents is biracial.
On the first paperback edition of Octavia Butler's Dawn: the cover is a detailed and accurate depiction of a scene from the book, with a character who's described as platinum blonde drawn that way... but the African-American protagonist, whose race is important to the story, is drawn very, very white.
The protagonist of Jay Lake's Green is supposed to be South Asian; not so on the cover.◊
In the Artemis Fowl books, Holly Short and Elves in general are described as brown-skinned and, except for the pointy ears, able to pass as short humans, but the graphic novels give her skin as fair as Artemis's, and some of the other elves seem to be pale green. (Sprites and Goblins have green skin, but not Elves — see above about passing as short humans.) She's also fallen victim to Covers Always Lie Race Lift in the newest American cover designs and in every translation that didn't use relettered versions of the classic English Language covers (on which characters, if shown at all, were silhouettes).
The cover of Harpy Thyme by Piers Anthony shows a sweet, beautiful winged girl who is obviously supposed to be the protagonist, Gloha Goblin-Harpy. The girl on the cover has a peaches-and-cream complexion and blond hair. Gloha is dark-skinned with blue-black hair. Since the details of her appearance aren't described until a fair way through the book, readers who took the cover at face value may find themselves flipping to the cover, reading the description again, and thinking "Wait, who the hell is this chick on the cover?"
The cover of Zombie Lover is just as bad, with Breanna of the Black Wave (whose blackness is referred to repeatedly throughout the book) appearing as extremely fair-skinned. At least they got her black hair right.
In The Count of Monte Cristo, while in prison, Dantes famously meets Faria, an Italian priest who is the Trope Codifier for The Old Convict. Faria was a real person, but was actually Goan Indian (and culturally Portuguese). The major commonality between the real guy and the fictional character is that both were well-read priests and both were imprisoned in the Chateau d'If, but other than that, the fictional Faria is quite different than the real one.
Despite the casting of Ralph Fiennes and Laurence Olivier (and others) in various film adaptations of Wuthering Heights, Heathcliff is of uncertain racial origins. His race is never specified (he is only described as being "as dark as if 'it' came from the devil" and as a "gipsy brat"). Some critics have speculated that he might be part Black or part Asiatic Indian (Making him the only non-white character in a film these days would have Unfortunate Implications, since Heathcliff is kind of the Big Bad of the story. But it's still in the book.)
The 2011 film adaptation did, in fact, cast a black actor in the role of Heathcliff.
In another instance of a fanastic race lift: the demons from Mercedes Lackey's Obsidian Trilogy are described as having red skin. The cover for the second book, To Light A Candle, which features one of the demons on the cover, shows her with mostly white skin that darkens to red between her elbow and hand and has some red around her face and neck.
Yelena from the Poison/Magic/Fire Study books is explicitly described as having light brown skin and black hair, becuase this is exceptional in northern Ixia, whereas when she goes south to Sitia there are many people with the same and darker skin tones. However, on every cover of the book, Yelena is portrayed as a pale-skinned , usually with light brown hair. On occasion, her skin might shown as a light tanned colour.
The novelization of The Incredible Hulk identified the young computer geek Banner bribes with a pizza as Amadeus Cho. Unfortunately, Cho is Korean American in the comics, while the computer geek in the film is extremely white.
The Black hero of David Gerrold's Dingilliad trilogy is depicted on all three covers as a blond whi. This also happened with the principal guest character in at least one edition of Gerrold's Star Trek novel The Galactic Whirlpool.
Maurissa Meyer has said that the title character of Cinder was modeled after Japanese actress Mew Azama, and that she would like her to be played by Shay Mitchell (who is of Filipino descent) in a hypothetical film adaptation. Despite this, the TV ad for the book depicts Cinder as a WASPy white girl with light hair and eyes.
Jules Verne originally intended to reveal Captain Nemo to be a displaced Polish nobleman with a grudge against Russia, but the fact that this would hurt his Russian book sales persuaded him to change him to a displaced Indian prince with a grudge against the British in "The Mysterious Island".
The movies just make him white. The 1972 French TV series (also released as a movie in 1973) "The Mysterious Island" starring Omar Sharif and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (the original comic, and the film version thereof) are among the few adaptations that kept the Indian prince thing.
There is the anime Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water, where Nemo has a dark skin tone, though here he is actually Atlantean rather than Indian, with both alien (the royal family — Nemo and his kids) and earthling (Electra and the rest of the crew of the Nautilus, as well as Gorgon and his followers) Atlanteans having skin tone dark enough to pass as Indian or even African (his daughter Nadia originally thought that she was actually from Africa before she discovered her true origins).
The whole point of Nemo's portrayal in the original 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is that nearly everything about him — accent, appearance, etc. — is highly ambiguous. The Reveal that he's supposed to be Indian only occurs in The Mysterious Island, a somewhat less well-received sequel. Verne clearly wrote the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea with the Polish origin in mind and there are actually several moments that make the Hindu origin seem out-of-place (would a Hindu really cry out to "Almighty God" in English in his moment of deepest anguish?) though these can be explained as Nemo being fanatically devoted to concealing his true identity and origin at all times.
Battlestar Galactica: Colonel Tigh was an African-American in the original series; in the reboot, they made him caucasian.
Bonanza and Gunsmoke showed the American West as peopled mainly by whites, with a few stereotypical American Indians, Chinese, and Mexicans as local color. (In reality, Anglo whites made up a small minority of the residents of both territories at the times the shows were set.) Neither show depicted the massive migration of freedmen to the West that happened during the time these shows were set; in the first six years of its run, Bonanza never showed a black character despite Virginia City being a popular destination for freedmen. Pernell Roberts left the show in part because he disapproved of the whitewashing.
A Bonanza episode featured William Marshall as Thomas Bowers (an actual historical figure). It dealt with racial exclusion, the Fugitive Slave Act, and featured black Virginia City residents. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0529554/
There are several documentaries whitewashing non-white conquerors, the worst easily being one about Attila the Hun... with an all-Scottish cast.
The opposite happens to Hannibal, who seems to be in the middle of a competition to make him as dark and West-African looking as possible in television despite being part of a Mid-eastern ethnic group established in Tunis. His blonde wife Himilce will simply be ignored.
In the television miniseries adaptation of Samurai Girl, several roles which were Asian in the books were played by white actors.
At least the main characters were still Asian.
The television miniseries Earthsea, very loosely based on Ursula K. Le Guin's novels A Wizard of Earthsea and Tombs of Atuan, whitewashes the entire cast (they're all brown or black) except for Ogion, who is brown in the novel and Danny Glover in the miniseries, and Arha/Tenar, who is white-skinned in the novel and played by the multiracial Kristin Kreuk in the miniseries.
The American adaptation of Red Dwarf intended to change both Lister's and the Cat's race from black to white, among other things. However, the adaptation never got past a pilot.
Not entirely accurate. While Lister's actor was a white guy who was also good looking and well poised (thus eliminating the show's entire premise that the last human alive was a complete bum), the Cat was played by a black man. A second pilot did indeed recast the Cat as a white woman but at this point they were desperately throwing out ideas to keep the show from sinking. It didn't work.
In the episode "Mountain of Youth" of MacGyver, which takes place in an ostensibly Asian country, most, if not all, of the Asians are played by white folks.
The TV movie about Marco Polo had the Mongol ruler Kublai Khan being played by Brian Dennehy.
One Life To Live's Blair Daimler was originally played by an Asian actress, and her heritage was incorporated into the show—when a character was traveling to Japan, she offered to go with him because her Japanese language skills would be useful. Blair fled town in early 1993... and returned at the end of the year being played by a blond-haired, blue-eyed actress with a Southern accent. Needless to say, no mention of her previous ethnicity was ever mentioned, except for a hilarious incident where the blond Blair flashed back to the ASIAN Blair exchanging vows with Asa; when it cut back to the blond Blair, she looked very confused and whipped out a pocket mirror to double-check what she looked like.
In The Vampire Diaries books, the two male vampire characters are Italian, and in flashbacks described specifically as having 'dark good looks'. The actors both whiter than white in the new show.
The 1997 made-for-TV movie Bad To The Bone was all about a promiscuous teenage girl and her weak-willed younger brother who hatched a plot to murder the girl's boyfriend so that they could take over his fancy nightclub - after having previously bumped off their mother so they wouldn't have to wait too long for an inheritance. The movie was based on a real-life incident, and the sister, brother, and mother were all Korean-Americans. The people casting the film awarded these roles to three white actors (including Buffy the Vampire Slayer actress Kristy Swanson as the bad girl and Party of Five star Jeremy London as her brother) and gave their characters a very Anglo-Saxon name - which is very strange in context, because one (albeit minor) reason the girl wanted her mother dead is because the mother disapproved of mixed ethnic marriages and would not allow her to choose a non-Korean type (let alone a non-Asian, which made the mother all the more furious upon learning that her prospective son-in-law was of Irish descent) as her love interest (and in the movie, the boyfriend is played by Baywatch star David Chokachi - who, despite the Japanese-sounding last name, is Polish-American, so the racial angle was sidestepped there, too). The change was probably made in order to avoid damaging the reputation of the Korean-American community, which is after all a minority. Frankly, though, you'll be ashamed to be in the samespeciesas these two murderous brats.
In World War II, half-Chinese half-Anglo-Australian Billy Sing was Australia's deadliest sniper with 201 confirmed kills which estimates often place much higher, and was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal. The Legend of Billy Sing miniseries had director Geoff Davis cast his son (who is of course white), Josh Davis, in the role. He also cast fair-haired white guy Tony Bonner as the father, who was a ethnic-Chinese fellow from China in Real Life.
The 90's live-action Generation X TV movie had Jubilee played by a white actress, even though she's Chinese-American in the comic books.
It is no secret that the character of Rodney [McKay] was not originally intended to become a regular cast member on Stargate Atlantis. Instead, they planned to create a new black scientist character. However, someone decided that the [McKay] character was interesting enough to add to the show, with some slight modifications to his extremely abrasive personality. Unlike most examples, this is not a result of trying to whiten a cast, as the show started with 1/2 of Sheppard's team played by mixed race actors who looked black. The character of Ronan starting in Season 2 appears to maintain the team's diversity as he is Ambiguously Brown, though Jason Momoa is Caucasian and Hawaiian.
Paul Mooney joked about this in a segment on Chappelle's Show, citing the high number of Hollywood movies that either had whitewashed protagonists or white savior protagonists, in particular bringing up The Mexican starring Brad Pitt, and The Last Samurai starring Tom Cruise. He jokingly claimed that the way this trend was going, Hollywood was likely to produce his movie The Last Nigga On Earth...and cast Tom Hanks as the title character.
In the past, white American musicians have covered songs in genres popularized by African-Americans, often enjoying much more success than the original performers. "Blue-Eyed Soul" is a term specifically devoted to white performers singing soul music, whether or not they're covering black musicians.
Dominic La Rocca, the first Jazz musician to get his songs recorded, insisted his whole life that whites had invented Jazz and that blacks were only imitating them.
Elvis Presley gained perhaps the most fame for singing African-American music. While some people claim he "stole" all his music, Presley actually had a great respect for the original artists and their musical traditions.
Harry Belafonte was deliberately airbrushed to look whiter in photos so that he would be popular in the US. Also, his versions of calypso songs were produced in an easy listening manner as was popular with white listeners at the time. Belafonte chose to take these compromises because he wanted to raise awareness of Caribbean music in a culture that was often hostile towards it.
"Blue-eyed soul" came into prominence in the early 1970s, starting with the band Rare Earth, a predominantly white band signed to Motown Records who performed very Motown-esque songs. It's had varying degrees of success ever since, ranging from Dan Hartman (whom most people were surprised to find out was actually white) to Hall & Oates (who are really well respected in the black community) to Simply Red's Mick Hucknall (the less said the better).
This whole phenomenon was discussed in Hairspray, when Velma angrily confronts Maybelle for having her girls sing the same song on the show as her white cast.
Maybelle: But they wrote it.
In Data East's Star Trek pinball, Lt. Uhura is noticeably lightened to the point where she looks like someone with a mild tan.
Andromeda from Classical Mythology, Perseus's girlfriend, was princess of Ethiopia. Ovid, in Ars Amatoria, talks about her dark skin. But about any adaptation, from Renaissance paintings to modern movies, makes her white. A most amusing (or jarring) example is Aethiopica, a romance novel about Ethiopia, which seemed to forget Andromeda was Ethiopian herself.
The Soviet Cartoon is a notable exception, perhaps even a bit overdone.
This Race Lift extended to other members of the Holy Family and to some degree became Word of Dante; there was an account of a Marian apparition — possibly that of the Virgin of Guadalupe — in which the witness of the vision was rebuked by a priest at least in part because he described her as having dark skin.
Most of the older Christian denominations tends to depict the Holy Family as whatever race lives in the neighborhood: Ethiopian Christians tend to depict the entire Biblical cast as black, and Nestorian churches in China and Central Asia show them as Asian.
Which got lampshaded in the song "Everyone's A Little Bit Racist" in Avenue Q. (Though Princeton used the argument "Jesus was Jewish.")
Also lampshaded in the movie Saved! when the students create an enormous wooden image of Jesus and wheelchair-bound Roland protests "I still don't think he's supposed to be white", to which his Holier Than Thou sister replies "Of COURSE Jesus was white! God, sometimes I think my brother's retarded, too."
Written descriptions of dwarves in Dungeons & Dragons usually say they're ruddy to deeply-tanned in complexion (How a race that mostly lives underground is "tanned" is anyone's guess), yet the artwork almost always ignores this and makes them look Northern European.
The dwarves were forged from the stone and earth by Moradin the Soul Forger, the ruddy hue is a left over trait from that process, though some varieties have lost their original complexion over time by separating themselves from the deep earth. It's most visible amongst the Gold dwarves who rarely leave the underground compared to the more common dwarves who come and go and interact more often with surfacers. Though as with any magical race, trying to bring science into it generally won't work.
In order to fulfill a lifelong dream of his, Patrick Stewart once financed a production of Shakespeare's Othello in which he played the (traditionally dark-skinned) title character. To maintain the spirit of the original, every other role in the show was played by a black actor. This production is commonly called the "Photonegative Othello", and it was staged at the Shakespeare Theatre in Washington D.C. in 1997.
Somewhat similar: any production of West Side Story tends to be flexible with the ethnicity of performers portraying the explicitly Latino Sharks and their girlfriends, often due to actor availability. This can get very confusing in the opening scenes if the respective street gangs aren't given a clear costumed identity.
George and Ira Gershwin's estate insists all productions of Porgy & Bess must have an all-black cast, as stipulated in their wills, undoubtedly because of this trope. This has made casting productions in some parts of the world difficult or impossible. In addition, many African-American scholars and actors are critical of the opera's portrayal of black Americans.
Fiyero, a dark skinned and tattooed prince from the Wicked book series, is often depicted as tattoo-less and white in the plays. (Although the lack of tattoos are mostly due to it being very difficult to do well as stage make-up).
Pacific Overtures is traditionally performed with an all-asian cast. When the English National Opera did it, however, they ignored this.
When the La Jolla Playhouse produced a musical version of Hans Christian Andersen's The Nightingale in 2012, they cast nearly all parts with non-Asians even though the original story took place in China. It caused a bit of a controversy.
In RENT, Angel is traditionally a Latino, and Collins an Afro-American, but the 5th Avenue Theater's production made both characters white. Mimi, a Latina, is often played by a non-Latina black or white actress.
Guild Wars: There are a surprising amount of light skinned player characters from the Nightfall campaign, despite the fact that most NPC's in the campaign are dark skinned. (Not a perfect example, but seems to sort of fit.)
In the original game, Kryta was a "foreign" country filled with dark-skinned people, while Ascalon was the "home" country filled with very European-looking white people. Fast forward to Guild Wars 2, set 250 years later: Ascalon has long since been destroyed, and Kryta is the new "home" country. Guess which skin colour is suddenly the most common in Kryta?
The North American version of Shutokou Battle 0, Tokyo Xtreme Racer Zero, renames many opponents from Japanese names to Western names. The result? Hundreds of apparently-Western street racersin Tokyo's street racing scene. The sequel, Shutokou Battle 01 / Tokyo Xtreme Racer 3, on the other hand, averts this and goes back to Japanese names (with the exception of a team formed out of U.S. Navy troops based in Yokohama).
For the North American release of Disaster Report, an earthquake-survival game, the main cast are all given blonde hair and American names. Their in-game models were not changed at all, however, so you're playing a game full of Japanese people with American names and accents struggling to escape a Japanese city — complete with at least one visible Japanese-style restroom.
Quartet was a Sega arcade game released in 1986 notable for being one of the earliest four-player party games. One of the main characters, Mary, a distinctively Asian female with straight black hair and anime-esque eyes. While Mary retained her Asian features in the Japanese Master System port (titled Double Target), in the American and European ones she was redesigned to look more Caucasian (i.e. wavy brown hair, full lips and smaller blue eyes). Meanwhile, player 2 character Edgar's skin tone was considerably lightened and his African features were removed in the Master System version, turning him from black to Ambiguously Brown.
Unfortunately, the most popular mod for Dragon Age II seems to be one that turns dark-skinned, dark-haired Isabela into a white-skinned, blonde, and blue-eyed woman. Aside from the fact that Isabela is a sailor/pirate so her skin should at least be tanned if she were white, she comes from the country of Rivain, whose population are of the dark-skinned/dark-haired variety. This mod may have gained popularity through the incorrect belief that Isabela was white in the first game; the truth is, she wasn't white, just a casualty of bad lighting.
To clarify, Isabela looks like this◊ in the first game. Even if she was somehow mistaken for white, there is no way anybody could mistake her for blonde.
The original Persona localization did this to a cast of Japanese teenagers. The characters were given American names and some of the tanner students had whiter skin and several had hair color changes. The main character has a completely different face, hairdo, and hair style. The PSP port and localization has been a more faithful adaptation, leaving these out.
M. Bison/General Vega made his first appearance in Street Fighter II as a dictator from Thailand who looked very appropriately Asian in his character portrait. In every subsequent appearance, including the game's numerous prequels, he instead looks Caucasoid. Given his in-story desire to transfer his conciousness into different bodies, this at least has a built-in Hand Wave.
Master Miller, FOX HOUND's drill instructor in the Metal Gear series, had a distinctively Asian appearance in his debut in the MSX2 version of Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake. When he "returned" in Metal Gear Solid, he was turned into a blond haired Caucasoid with a Japanese heritage making it easier for Liquid Snake to impersonate Miller by simply giving himself a ponytail and sunglasses.
In the PC version of the first Far Cry game, your Mission Control is a black scientist named Doyle. In the console version of the game, Far Cry Instincts, Doyle is a white CIA agent. Granted, other than sharing the same name, the two are completely different characters.
Toon Makers Sailor Moon's pitchreel for their version of Sailor Moon would've had the show set in America, with Sailor Moon and Sailor Mercury depicted as white. Sailor Jupiter and Sailor Venus would've also have had their races changed; see below.
It's not certain what race April O'Neil is in the original comic series, but it's definitely not white. (The character portrait drawn by the original creators for the roleplaying game is clearly black.)
Smithers was black when he first appeared in The Simpsons, but had changed to white (well, yellow) by the next week. The creators say his colour in the first episode was just a mistake.
The Bowdlerized versions of the cartoon that are often aired today also make Mammy white, and recast her voice. This likely happened before the movie.
A vocal example can be found in The Amazing Chan and the Chan Clan; while it was notable for being the first to have an actor of Asian descent portray Charlie Chan, all of the children except Henry (Robert Ito) and Alan (Brian Tochi) had their voices redubbed with American actors, as the producers thought the original actors' Chinese dialects were too thick for American audiences to understand.
A somewhat minor example can be found in Batman: The Brave and the Bold. In the comics, Bruce Wayne has a child, Damian, with Talia al-Ghul, who had an Asian mother and a racially ambiguous father. In the cartoon, Damian's mother was changed to Selina Kyle, and Damian looks white. (Talia, notably, is only a teenager in this continuity, but to the show's credit they are the first adaptation to give her quasi Asian facial features.) Damian's race in this show is arguably a moot point anyway, since he only exists in Alfred's book.
Expanding upon this, despite having an Asian mother and usually being drawn to look "exotic" in the comics, Talia has always been voiced by white actresses, and looked very white in her appearances in the 90's Batman show. The Brave and the Bold seems to have an odd compromise: She has Asian facial features and dark hair and eyes, but has pale, almost grayish skin, and is voiced by a white actress using a British accent.
This extends to her father, Ra's Al-Ghul, as well. Despite being described in the comics as hailing from some unidentified country in Asia, he has always been depicted with either green or blue eyes and in the '90s animated series was voiced by British actor David Warner. Furthering the confusion, Ra's is also hinted to be at least culturally Muslim (he does not drink alcohol, just like Bruce Wayne, which may be one reason for Ra's's constant admiration of Batman) and Talia (at least in her earliest appearances in each medium) is given character traits that are quite Old World and exotic, often meek and submissive to her father (though she can be an Action Girl when she has to be) and speaking in stilted (though otherwise impeccable) English; in addition, she also has earmarks of The Chief's Daughter.
An interesting and entirely unintentional example of this exists in the 90's Superman show. The show did an episode about Kyle Rayner, the then-lead character in the Green Lantern series in the 90's, but for pacing reasons, gave him the origin of the 50's Green Lantern, Hal Jordan. To further the homage, the creators gave him Hal's costume and physical appearance, even making Kyle's trademark black hair brownish-blonde. Years later in the comics, it was established that Kyle's biological father was a Mexican American CIA agent, thus making Kyle half Mexican by extension. While the cartoon was obviously done years before this retcon, it's still somewhat funny, as it is hard to look at the Kyle shown in the cartoon and think anything other than "white guy".
The Dragon Lady Jezebel Jade became a red-haired Caucasian woman in the first Jonny Quest telefilm, "Jonny's Golden Quest". Subsequent writers of the franchise proceeded to ignore this, however, since this Jade had married Race and they couldn't buy that she'd settle down that easily.
Real-life examples of this being attempted include Alexandre Dumas Sr. and Aleksandr Pushkin. Dumas once replied to a man who insulted him about his mixed-race: "My father was a mulatto, my grandfather was a Negro, and my great grandfather a monkey. You see, Sir, my family starts where yours ends."
Siddhārtha Gautama also seems to get similar treatment. His features more often than not distinctly Chinese or Indian depending on who are the Buddhist practitioners, but the iconic image of the Buddha seated in his meditative pose seems to be present the world over. Nobody knows what the Buddha looked like, since early Buddhist art forbade iconographic depictions of the Buddha. The Greco-Indian Gandhara school of art began to model the Buddha's image in part on images of Apollo seen in Greek temples, with the very peculiar result that an Indian prince landed up being modeled after a Greek God. Exactly what the Buddha looked like is anyone's guess.
There's still ongoing debate as to whether or not the ancient Egyptians (most especially their royalty) were closer to Africans or Europeans in heritage. This sometimes results in Egyptians often being depicted as strictly European, or strictly African. Accurately speaking, they were very close to today's Arabs in terms of spoken language, if not necessarily physical appearance.
The shoujomangaBronze Angel, which is based loosely on Pushkin's life. There the famous poet, who was at most a little more tan than other Russians, is depicted as deeply brown-skinned. Could be some kind of Japanese color symbolism, though.
Crazy Horse fits this trope. Some believe he was full-blooded, while others believe he was half white.
When the Transcontinental Railroad was finished, the final photo of the celebration showed only white people even though the railroad was built by a heavily Chinese workforce.
Examples of White to Non-White
Anime and Manga
Marvel Anime: X-Men reimagines Dr. Moira Mactaggert as Dr. Yui Sasaki, with her country of origin changed from Scotland to Japan. Her physical appearance, backstory, characterization and relationship with Professor Xavier all remain intact however. Her formerly-white son Kevin is also changed to a Japanese boy named Takeo. Part of it is that fans would not want Moira to turn out to have done what we find out Sasaki did.
Ganota no Onna is a bizarre comedy that takes the cast of Mobile Suit Gundam and reimagines them as part of a Japanese corporate struggle in the present day. The heroine, Utsuki Ganota, is a race-swapped and Gender Flipped version of Char Aznable, the White antagonist of the original series. Other characters who are both race-swapped and gender-flipped are Sayla Mass ("Seiya Ganota") and Bright Noa ("Noa Furuido").
Bubblegum Crisis: Hard Metal Guardians, the 2012 High School AULight Novel adaptation of the anime originally released in 1987, gives all of the main characters Japanese surnames and black hair: Sylia Stingray becomes Sylia Sakakibara (probably a Shout-Out to her original voice actress), Nene Romanova becomes Nene Rokuhara, and Leon McNichol is now Nene's big brother Leon Rokuhara.
DC Comics has a history hitting lower-tier superheroes with a weird combination of this and Legacy Character. Examples include Azrael (killed, replaced by a black man); The Question (died of cancer, replaced by Hispanic lesbian); Doctor Fate (ascended to another plane of existence, replaced by a Jew); Batgirl (crippled, replaced by an Asian girl), Mr Terrific (killed, replaced by a black man); The Atom (transferred to alternate universe, replaced by Asian man), Doctor Mid-Nite (died, replaced by black woman); Batwoman (retconned away, revived as lesbian Jew); etc, etc. See Affirmative Action Legacy.
There is a trio of obscure female Batman villains from back in the 1960's named Tiger Moth, Silken Spider, and Dragon Fly. In their first (and for several decades, ONLY) appearance, all three women were white. When they finally reappeared 40 years later during the 2008 Resurrection of Ra's Al Ghul storyline, Silken Spider was now shown to be black, while Dragon Fly was Asian American.
The all-ages Thor: The Mighty Avenger series portrayed the Norse God Heimdall as a black man in order to correspond with the popular live-action film Thor film, which had Afro-British actor Idris Elba cast as the character in question.
A Retcon change more than anything, but Lian Harper originally had curly, red hair and looked more like her dad. She was later changed to having straight black hair and looking more Asian, which seems more accurate considering her mom is the half-Asian villainess Cheshire.
The Doctor Who Magazine comic strips featuring the Eighth Doctor included a black incarnation of the TV show's most famous recurring villain, the Master, who has been white in all his TV incarnations before and since.
Green Lantern Kyle Rayner was established for a long time in his origin as being the son of a single mother and of Irish descent. Eventually, one story had him finally track down his dad and discover he was half-Hispanic. The retcon was never referenced all that much by later writers and the way of drawing Kyle was never changed too much. It was eventually forgotten about in the New 52 continuity, and Kyle's dad was made into a white guy.
Guess Who ('s Coming to Dinner) and The Honeymooners are both race-switching remakes.
Ford Prefect in the The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy movie was played by Mos Def. Most of the other major characters were played by Americans, which was rather jarring to many who'd expected British actors as in the radio and TV versions, but most of the other characters were aliens anyway, and Word of God stated that Arthur Dent is the only necessarily British character in the story. (Also, Trillian - the only other major Earth character - was played by a British actress on radio but by an American in the TV version.)
Though it is quite the Reverse Funny Aneurysm hearing Mos Def say the line "What if I told you I wasn't from Guildford?"
The novel The Pelican Brief had the character of Gray Grantham as (a) white, and (b) eventually getting involved with Darby Shaw. In the movie, Gray was played by Denzel Washington, and he doesn't get involved with Julia Roberts. Julia Roberts, in an interview, said she was on board with making out with Denzel at any time, and it was a case of Executive Meddling.
The long rumored, much troubledDallas movie reboot was going to see Jennifer Lopez play Sue Ellen Ewing, but she ended up quitting the production (currently Julie Benz is the leading candidate for the part).
Another in-film example: in Tropic Thunder, the white character actor dons blackface and stereotypical mannerisms to become a black sergeant.
He also uses his method acting to portray an East Asian of indeterminate ethnicity briefly (using a hat and robes to cover hide his skin color. Well, his skin color at the time).
In fact, the inability of Kirk Lazarus (the white Australian actor who plays both roles mentioned above) to get a firm sense of who he really is becomes a Running Gag throughout the film. He seems to realize that he's not black, making casual references to his status as an actor and his past roles, but does so in a stereotypical "ghetto" accent, as he refuses to break character at any time during production. In addition, and while speaking in that same accent, Lazarus steadfastly refuses to exercise N-Word Privileges and won't let anyone else do so, either - even if they really are black. ("For 400 years, that word has kept us [emphasis added] down.") He eventually cannot keep up the charade any longer, and in a climactic scene strips off his curly black wig and starts to rub off some of his brown makeup, vocally imitating various past movie characters before finally returning to his everyday Australian accent.
The part of Lincoln Rhyme was played by Denzel Washington in the film version of The Bone Collector, despite the fact that in the books Rhyme being white is mentioned several times.
Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging, the film adaptation of the Confessions of Georgia Nicolson series, cast an Indian girl as Ellen (described as blonde in the books). This is probably because the character was originally a Composite Character that did not appear in the books, but re-dubbed as Ellen after protests from fans.
In the comic book movie version of Daredevil, the normally white mobster, Kingpin/Wilson Fisk is played by African-American actor Michael Clarke Duncan, since the studio couldn't find anyone who was white, of sufficient size, and could actually act. This change was generally well received. He was still big, scary and intimidating like in the comics, and Duncan even gained weight in order to better look the part.
Idris Elba plays the Asgardian Heimdall, who is white in the comics. Because the Asgardians are based on the real life Norse gods, who obviously all look like Norse people, this casting caused a bit of a kerfuffle. This is especially jarring since the mythology explicitly refers to Heimdall as "the whitest of the gods". Ultimately, the books are based on the comics, which started as an In Name Only interpretation of myth, so racial casting is just the tip of the iceberg.
SHIELD agent Jasper Sitwell was played by a Mexican-American actor.
The Muppets' version of The Wizard of Oz not only changed Dorothy from being an 11-year old white girl to a young black woman, they also made her dream of becoming a singer. This is, ironically, one of the most faithful adaptations of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz to date.
In the movie adaptation of Matilda, Lavender is black; in the book she is white.
In William Shakespeares Romeoand Juliet, Mercutio and the Prince, who are relatives, are both played by black actors. Since the setting is moved from the Italian city of Verona to "Verona Beach," California, this doesn't cause any strangeness.
The British film Death at a Funeral was remade as an American movie with mostly black actors.
In the original episodes of Police Squad! Nordberg was played by Peter Lupus, while in the The Naked Gun films he was played by O.J. Simpson.
An in-universe example in R.I.P.D.. To everyone except other R.I.P.D. officers, Nick appears to be an elderly Chinese man.
The character of Conn MacCleary in the The Destroyer novels by Sapir and Murphy is a red haired Irishman, but in the movie Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins, he is played by J.A. Preston, a black man.
In the Adam West Batman series, not only did Catwoman get Other Darrined, she received a Race Lift in the process. No one (except the audience) seemed to notice that Catwoman suddenly changed from being the very white Julie Newmar to the not-so white Eartha Kitt, and got about a foot shorter in the process.
Salli Richardson-Whitfield has stated in interviews that the original script for Eureka called for her character, Alison Blake, to be a blonde, blue-eyed white woman.
The twins in the T* witches books are white, but the Disney Channel Original Movie cast the biracial twins Tia and Tamera Mowry of Sister Sister fame. This may be mere pragmatic casting: If you need identical twins, there's only a few with proven acting experience, moreso if you need a certain age (or at least look like it, and the Mowrys were already friendly with Disney.
Happens to two characters in Legend of the Seeker. In the book series it's based on, Chase is white, while he's a Maori in the show. And General Trimack, a full-blooded D'Harannote Full blooded D'harans typically being white with blond hair and blue eyes who is noted in every appearance for his fiery red hair, is made black.
The fans of the book care more about such things as Kahlan's eyes being blue instead of green (the show just has to rub it in, though, with every Confession shot focusing on her eyes) and Darken Rahl not having white hair (they did give his father Panis Rahl white hair in the flashbacks, though), even though Craig Parker previously played the blond Haldir in Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.
In the television series based on the Pretty Little Liars books, white Emily is changed to an Ambiguously Brown character(played by Shay Mitchell, who is white/Filipino). This is especially obvious because Emily's parents in the books were racists.
The television adaptation of The Middleman starred Cuban Natalie Morales playing Wendy Watson who had originally been a fair-skinned redhead.
"The Blind Banker", the second episode of BBC's Sherlock, used Chinese Yellow Peril gangsters as the villains. In the original story the episode was based on, the villains were American gangsters from Chicago.
In Game of Thrones, pirate Salladhor Saan and merchant prince Xaro Xhoan Daxos are changed into emigrants from the Summer Isles and cast with actors of African descent. This was probably done to make them more visibly foreign and to diversify the cast. In the books, both characters come from cultures with light skin.
The infamous live-action Toei Spider-Man TV series was set in Japan and had Peter Parker changed to "Takuya Yamashiro".
In the film and series La Femme Nikita, the title character is white. In the 2010 series Nikita she is played by Maggie Q, who is part Vietnamese.
Spartacus: Blood and Sand cast Peter Mensah, originally from Ghana, as the Gaulish gladiator Oenomaus. They also cast Manu Bennett, a half-Maori New Zealander, as Crixus, also a Gaul; this was a little less egregious, though.
In The BBC's The Musketeers, Porthos is played by mixed-race actor Howard Charles. Word of God is that this is a nod to Dumas himself, whose grandmother was of African origin.
Obviously, this is already more common in theatre than it is elsewhere due to its universality - in most theater companies, unless a part is specifically needed to be played by an actor of a particular race, it's usually fair game for anyone who qualifies for it in terms of acting or vocal skill. However, sometimes it takes a more traditional form, when the work in question is an adaptation of something that starred white characters or is a new staging of an older work. Then, often, the Original Cast Precedent settles in. Notable examples include:
Les Misérables is cast completely color-blind, so this is a frequent occurrence, and the opening Eponines in both the 25th Anniversary Broadway and UK Tour casts were black, suggesting a particular inclination toward black Eponines in the new version.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (the 2013 musical) changes Violet Beauregarde, who is specifically described as a redhead in the novel, and her parents from Caucasian to black. Another adaptation of the novel, the opera The Golden Ticket, went with Ability over Appearance in its Atlanta Opera staging in 2012 when doublecasting the lead role of Charlie Bucket — one of the two child actors alternating in the role, Reuben Roy, was black even though all four actors playing his grandparents were white! (Charlie's parents are Adapted Out in that version.)
Mabinogi had two NPC characters, Bebhinn and Manus, changed from Caucasian to Black for Western localization. Manus' description wasn't altered, however, and mentions his Korean portrait's hairstyle.
All citizens of Tropico speak fluent Spanish and have skin colours indicative of Latin American heritage. Fair enough, since the setting is a Banana Republic somewhere in the Caribbean. However, this applies to all citizens, even recent immigrants who just got off the boat from London or Moscow.
The PBS Kids series The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That! is based on a series of books known as The Cat in the Hat's Learning Library. In the books, the male child character was white, but he has been changed to black for the TV series. Additionally, the new books being released under the banner of The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That depict him as black.
On Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated, Luna of the Hex Girls is now African-American (or, at the least, Ambiguously Brown). It should probably be noted that her voice actress is also African American, although whether the change was due to that is uncertain.
In fact, in the character's original appearance in Scooby-Doo and the Witch's Ghost, she was Ambiguously Brown, but had lighter skin in her subsequent appearances. The Mystery Incorporated version is thus undoing the previous Race Lift.
Meta-example: when Total Drama switched to a new cast they released early character designs on their blog. Cameron and Mike were initially both white, but when designs were finalized became black and Ambiguously Brown, respectively.
The latest edition of the Parker Brothers Clue board-game depicts Mr Green as a suave looking black guy, rather than the white and dumpy Reverend Green of yester-year.
The 5th Avenue Theatre's 2012 production of Oklahoma! made Jud Fry an African-American, sparking a fair amount of negative criticism for "racial stereotyping".
In Dragon Ball: The Path to Power, some of the characters have went through race lift. Major Metallitron is now black and Staff Officer Black who was black now appears to be Native American.
In Aladdin, the title character is vaguely middle eastern like all the other characters. In the original story, Aladdin is Chinese and the story is apparently set in China, though most of the other characters are Muslim.
The French film The Crimson Rivers (Les rivières pourpres) changed the Moroccan-French detective from the novel to an Armenian-French detective played by white actor Vincent Cassell. Cassell claims this was because he was talking with the director which Arab- or black French actor could best portray the role, and upon hearing the description of the character, insisted that he had to play it. The character was made Armenian to maintain the backstory of a marginalized minority "from the streets".
Having a white actor play a half-Armenian character is scarcely a race lift because Armenians are, you know, white. Some Moroccans can be quite Caucasian too.
In the comics, Thor supporting character the Hogun the Grim is generally drawn as decidedly non-Nordic, and the only thing revealed about his origin is that he's not an Aesir like his fellow Asgardian warriors. Therefore, why not cast an Asian actor to portray him in the movie?
For the past years, the comic Hogun has been drawn as kinda Mongolian.
This has become something of a trend for the Iron Man movie adaptations:
In the comics, Iron Man's origin comes from being captured during the The Vietnam War. The film, however, updates the war being fought to the conflict in Afghanistan. So villainous Viet Cong soldiers became multiethnic terrorists. Notably, Tony Stark's doomed helper Yinsen keeps his name despite his origin being Afghan.
Ben Kingsley portarys the Mandarin in Iron Man 3. The Mandarin, as his name implies, is a half-white, half-Chinese Yellow Peril villain, while Kingsley is half-white and half-Indian. Rumor has it the character's race was changed to make him less offensive to Asian audiences, especially in light of the Chinese government contributing a sizable amount to the costs of producing the film.
Ender’s Game has half-Indian Ben Kingsley as half-Maori Mazer Rackham.
In the Green Lantern film, Hal's sidkick Tom Kalmaku, who is Inuit in the comic, is played by a Maori actor.
In the Japanese version of Wreck-It Ralph, the Ambiguously Brown Minty Zaki was changed to a Japanese racer, Minty Sakura. Certain scenes in the film were reanimated to showcase the new Minty design, such as the start of the Random Roster Race, but other scenes left the original Minty Zaki model intact, creating confusion. Nevertheless, Minty Sakura is featured prominently in the Japanese film poster and even has a small bio on the site, referring to her as "the Japanese girl racer".
In-universe example: In Sewer, Gas & Electric, set Twenty Minutes into the Future after a racist-engineered plague wiped out nearly everyone of black African descent, Australian aborigines find plenty of work in Hollywood filling black roles in period pieces. One elderly aboriginal woman makes a career of playing Rosa Parks in commemorative ceremonies.
Practically every recent adaptation of the story of Aladdin depicts him as Middle Eastern, even though he's Chinese in the Thousand and One Nights version, because the original author and his contemporaries had no real idea what Chinese people looked or acted like besides vague accounts.
The character Friday in Robinson Crusoe is identified as a Carib Indian (the tribe the Caribbean was named after) in the original text, but various illustrators and film adaptations over the centuries have portrayed him just about anything but Native (South) American. The most common one is black African, but he's also been New Guinean (the 1997 Film of the Book with Pierce Brosnan).
The proposed American remake of Sailor Moon would've had the Japanese cast reimagined in America, with Sailor Jupiter becoming African American and Sailor Venus becoming Latina. Sailor Mars is the only one who would've actually remained Asian.
"Who do they want before they want an Asian? A Persian, or a Cajun, or an Indian, or an American-Indian, played by a Mexican..."
The Western port of Persona made most of the characters Caucasian, but had Masao changed into a black teenager named Mark.
As cited above, Bane is Chinese rather than Latino in the Bat Man of Shanghai shorts from the DC Nation block.
1940s superhero Black Marvel was Native American in his original comic, but became African-American when he appeared in Spider-Man the Animated Series. As he put it,
Why do you think I called myself Black Marvel?
Examples of Race unknown
Carlos Ezquerra originally designed Judge Dredd to be hispanic; other artists drew him as either white or black in early issues. Since these issues were black and white, nobody noticed. After the series began appearing in color, Dredd was consistently drawn as a white man.
There's some controversy in the Glee fandom regarding how to portray Blaine in fanfiction since his race has never been mentioned in canon. Some fans think that since Darren Criss, who plays Blaine, is half-Filipino and nothing has been said to the contrary, one should assume that Blaine is too and write him accordingly to avoid Unfortunate Implications. Others think that since Blaine hasn't been expressively stated to be biracial, Artistic License dictates it's fine to portray him however you want, whether that be biracial, Filipino, or Caucasian.
Similarly, this tends to crop up in the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic fandom whenever fan artists draw humanized versions of the cast. Controversy rages over whether their skin color/ethnicity should be derived from their visual designs, their personalities, or whether the artist can draw them however they want. The only thing even remotely approaching canon on the matter is that My Little Pony Equestria Girls went with Amazing Technicolor Population for their human versions.
Oliver Stone's World Trade Center includes, among other real life people, a minor character based mostly off a real man who happened to be black. Unfortunately, when they were doing research, no one in the production thought to check this man's race, and they cast a white actor. After the movie came out they were informed about it, and Stone apologized.
Religion and Mythology
Jesus Christ is mostly portrayed as a white European though many believe he would be darker-skinned as he was from the Middle East. Jesus has been given different races depending on the congregation, including African and Asian.
Miscellaneous or Mixed Race Examples
Final Crisis managed to do this twice to two different characters completely by accident. In the original comic run, Mister Miracle (the second one, a black man) was accidentally colored as white in one issue. DC acknowledged the error and corrected it in the trade paperback - resulting in Sonny Sumo (an Asian sumo wrestler whose skin tone happened to be the same as the botched color scheme for Miracle) appearing as black in those same panels. None of this had anything to do with the story.
While we're on the subject, the lead-in series Mister Miracle performed a major Race Lift on the New Gods by forcing them into human bodies. Most of the evil gods ended up black, which has Unfortunate Implications until you consider that Shilo Norman is himself black, and having a large white man named Boss Dark Side putting him through nine layers of Hell would have been unfortunate in a completely different way. (The Black Racer, incidentally, became white, and a lot closer to evil than Kirby's "death as inevitability" version.)
And then in Final Crisis Glorious Godfrey, originally a red head, became G. Gordon Godfrey, a combination of Al Sharpton and Don King. And he was much more fun to read this way.
Final Crisis used a lot of body surfing that ended up subverting this. Darkseid went from a large black man to the white Dan Turpin, who he ended up remaking into his old gray-skinned self. Then Desaad swapped out for a pink-haired Mary Marvel and Granny Goodness traded up for a blue-skinned alien cyborg. None of this is the weirdest thing that happened in that series.
Spike Lee tried to call Clint Eastwood out on this, accusing him of not casting any black Marines in Flags of Our Fathers. Irritated, Eastwood responded that his film was about the Marines who raised the flag on Iwo Jima in World War II, and he cast them with the races they actually were. The only black US soldiers on Iwo Jima were in support units (which the film shows briefly). Eastwood also replied that for the film Bird (his 1988 film on jazz legend Charlie Parker) where 90% of the characters are black, he cast 90% black actors.
Actor Vin Diesel had difficulty getting roles at the beginning of his career due to his very mixed ethnic background. His semi-autobiographical short film Multi-Facial is about this problem. He doesn't seem to have a problem getting cast anymore.
The Scooby-Doo made-for-tv movie Scooby-Doo: The Mystery Begins has an actress named Hayley Kiyoko, who is obviously Japanese, playing Velma Dinkley. Ironically, she does look the part with the glasses and hair.
In the original series, Katara◊ and Sokka◊ are from a culture resembling Inuits, but have tan skin, vaguely Eurasian features, brown hair and blue eyes. In the film, Katara◊ and Sokka◊ are played by white actors with brown hair. Some fans accused the adaptation of Race Lift, preferring Asian or Inuit actors to fit the cultural inspiration. Most of the background extras appear Inuit, with Asian-looking features, black hair and brown eyes.
Aang◊ comes from a culture based on Tibet. He has light skin and grey (but occasionally brown in some shots) eyes. He's played in the film by a light-skinned American Indian with brown eyes.
The villainous Fire Nation is based on East Asian cultures in the series, with members sporting light skin and black hair. The film cast dark-complexioned actors, including Indians, a Maori, and various brunettes in the background. Many fans considered it Unfortunate Implications to cast dark-skinned actors instead of East Asian actors as villains. Notably, the director M. Night Shyamalan is of Indian descent and has a cameo as a Fire Nation guard.
The Monk Gyatso, a fantasy Expy of the Tibetan Dalai Lama, is black in the film.
Grey's Anatomy: Creator Shonda Rhimes deliberately did not assign races to any of her characters, allowing for "color-blind casting" in which the best actors to get the roles no matter what their ethnicity.
A rare doubleRace Lift (crossed with Suddenly Ethnicity) is executed in Saved by the Bell and its spinoff, Saved by the Bell: The College Years. Originally, the character of Slater was intended to be Anglo, but then Latino actor Mario Lopez was cast in the role. His ethnicity was never referred to in the first series, but in The College Years Slater's father appeared and confessed that he changed his name (from Sanchez) to pass as Anglo and get into West Point.
Also, the character of Lisa Turtle (played by African American actress Lark Voorhies) was originally written as a white Jewish girl.
An interesting example from Star Trek: The Next Generation, where an episode with racist undertones would have benefited from a face-lift: In "Code of Honor", the aliens of the week are a group of black people — no elaborate makeup. Now, there's anything wrong with an alien race of black people; what's alarmingly racist is that in the episode's depiction of them, they "are also descended directly from a 1940s pulp novel set in deepest, darkest Africa", as Wil Wheaton describes in a review of the episode. Wheaton goes onto describe how it was the episode's director who had the bright idea of casting and portraying the aliens in this manner (the script over suggesting a Scary Black Man or two as guards, but nothing about the accents). The director was eventually fired for his poor choices and for being a major Jerkass to the cast during shooting.
Dialogue in the episode compares the planet's culture and customs to Ming China and Native Americans, and most of the costumes are like metallic versions of something you'd see in The King and I or a Sinbad movie. The scriptwriters are on record as intending to base them on Japanese culture. As written, it's a melange of all sorts of Orientalist and ethnic stereotypes. But the casting and the "African" accents the characters use tend to overshadow the rest in the audience's eyes.
Star Trek: The Original Series in the early stages were planning on having Spock have the ears and red skin, to further his alien presence. But this was a time when most households did not have color television sets, so his red skin would instead appear to be black. With all the other issues surrounding the show and Executive Meddling, they decided it would avoid a lot of headaches and especially avoid problems with the show airing in the South.
Given that the name "Khan Noonien Singh" is itself an ethnic muddle (Khan is generally a Muslim surname with Turkic-Mongolian roots, and "Noonien" was a nod to an old Chinese/Indian friend of Roddenberry's), it's conceivable that Khan might have some mixed ancestry (since he's genetically altered/engineered).
The Star Trek: Khan comic reveals, however, that Khan is indeed of fully Indian heritage, originally an impoverished orphan from a slum in New Delhi, India, before he became a test subject for genetic engineering research. It reveals he only became white later on in his life due to literal white-washing.
Inspector William Henderson was white when he first appeared in The Adventures of Superman, and when he was later introduced into the comics, but was black in his early appearances in Lois and Clark (first played by Mel Winkler, then by Brett Jennings). Then he was white in later episodes, played by Richard Belzer. He was also black in Superman: The Animated Series. Eventually, the comicbook Bill Henderson having been promoted to Comissioner, the comics introduced a new Inspector Mike Henderson, who was African-American.
In Doctor Who, Melody Pond aka River Song regenerates from a little white girl (Sydney Wade) to a little black girl who grows up into a woman (Maya Glace-Green, Nina Toussaint-White) to a white woman (Alex Kingston). This was complicated by the fact that the final Alex Kingston form was actually the first to appear in the show, due to time-travel.
An unusual example is the Broadway musical The Wiz, an adaptation of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. It was originally written for and performed by an all-black cast, and this holds for the film adaptation and many subsequent stagings. However, probably because race isn't an issue in the story itself, it's not uncommon to see it mounted with color blind casting, particularly in school productions.
The play Golden Boy (in which the protagonist was an Italian-American) was musicalized as a star vehicle for Sammy Davis, Jr.
When Pearl Bailey assumed the role of Dolly in Hello, Dolly!, black actors and actresses filled the supporting cast.
There's a lot of debate over what the title character in Othello is supposed to look like. Does he look like a light-skinned North African, as the Moors historically appeared, or is he supposed to look like the more dark-skinned Africans that were brought to Europe as slaves? The characters frequently call him "black", but "black" to a Englishman of Shakespeare's time was a much more inclusive term. Ultimately the part is usually played by dark-skinned actors of African descent, or white actors in blackface attempting to appear as such. In one instance, Patrick Stewart financed and starred in a production of the play where he played Othello, and all the other roles were filled by black actors.
Earl from Beavis And Butthead had this within the course of a single series. He was quite inconsistently colored in early episodes, switching between white and black skintones, sometimes within a single episode, before they finally settled on a pale white-looking coloration, probably for fears of being seen as a racist caricature (this is the guy who infamously got into a shootout during class, then had the gun calmly confiscated by Mr. Van Dreissen). However, he does still have some slightly African-looking features, particularly the shape of his nose, and a very deep, black-ish sounding voice. It's possible he's mixed, which would be consistent with his earlier coloring weirdness as the skin color of biracial people in Real Life can vary wildly depending on sun exposure and other factors.
Many viewers of the DCAU probably thought this happened to Lex Luthor of Superman: The Animated Series. That he was voiced by Clancy Brown (who is white, but his voice gives a Scary Black Man vibe) probably aided in this perception. His skin tone is identical to Superman (although not always consistent), but he was often framed in shadow (giving a darker appearance) and had fuller lips because he's meant to look like Telly Savalas, who's Greek.
The reason he's so dark is that the show had two basic skin palettes for white characters; one for females, which defaulted as light pink, and one for males, which was supposed to be only a shade or two away from the female mix, but ended up with a lot more red than planned, making most of the show's male characters look deeply tanned. By the time the producers became aware of it, it was too late to do anything about it and they just said "screw it" and stuck with that coloring.
This becomes absurdly noted, of all places, in Histeria!: In the "Lewis and Clark" sketch, William Clark is deliberately drawn to look like Superman, and looks even redder than Sacajawea.
By Justice League, the same incarnation of Luthor was drawn noticeably whiter.
Teen Titans' Jinx: she's Indian (i.e., from India) in the comics, while on the show she was considerably whiter (and we mean white) than her comic counterpart.
In the cartoon she has a head full of bright pink hair — in the comics, she's bald from leukemia.
Actually, in a really strange way (and Depending on the Artist for both the comic and cartoon it seems), Jinx can be darker than her comic counter-part since her skin isn't so much white as it a slate gray.
John Howard Griffin took pills to make himself look black for a few months, during which time he got kicked around in the Deep South. And then he wrote Black Like Me (Trope Namer for Black Like Me) about it. James Whitmore played Griffin in a film adaptation.
Many medieval illustrators depicted famous historical figures as white instead of "less popular" ethnicities such as African and Arab. In The Renaissance, fashions changed and painters were more eager to depict "exotic" people realistically. Compare this 1493 picture of◊ Aesop (who was said to be of African origin in late Antiquity) to this one◊ from 17th century painter Velázquez.
The New York Fire Dept. caught flack for trying to Race Lifta statue of three firefighters raising a flag among the wreckage of the World Trade Center after 9/11. The real guys were white, the statue depicted a white guy, a black guy, and a Latino.
Michael Jackson was often accused of having used numerous plastic surgery operations to try and make himself look more white. He claimed that he'd only had two operations, affecting his nose and chin (the latter had a cleft added), and that he bleached his skin to even out blotches caused by vitiligo. There's plenty of proof online that he had vitiligo.