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Yellowface is a bad look, Hollywood


When someone like Scarlett Johansson is cast as the lead in an adaptation of a Japanese comic franchise, it’s important to understand that the ensuing anger isn’t just about that movie. And it’s not just about Tilda Swinton playing a Tibetan character in Marvel’s Doctor Strange. Or Emma Stone claiming to be part Chinese and Hawaiian in Aloha. “My dad was half-Chinese and half-Hawaiian, and my mother is Swedish.” It’s how all of these casting decisions combined, dating back to the earliest days of Hollywood, have made asians invisible at best, and at worst, the butt of a cruel joke. That’s why fans notice when the characters from the Last Airbender cartoon become much lighter-skinned for the live-action movie. And when John Rico goes from being Filipino in the novel Starship Troopers, to being played by someone named Casper Van Dien. “I want to try it again, but this time we need you to do an accent.” The fact is, things aren’t getting better fast enough for Asians in Hollywood. In 1944, Aline MacMahon was nominated for an Oscar for her yellowface role in Dragon Seed. Later on, Linda Hunt would win an Oscar for playing a Chinese man in The Year of Living Dangerously. “Billy Kwan” That was 1982. Almost 40 years later. Basically everything else in the country had changed except white people being cast as Asians. For a solid two decades, the Chinese detective character Charlie Chan was played by white men in makeup. But that was the 30s and 40s right? Well here’s Jim Sturgess and Hugo Weaving reincarnated as Koreans for parts of Cloud Atlas. “Who are you?” Everyone remembers Mickey Rooney’s infamous 1961 performance in Breakfast at Tiffany’s as just fully unacceptable and racist right? “Miss Golightly.” Well 24 years later, Joel Grey delivered this Korean caricature in Remo Williams. “I think I can do something with him.” And another 2 decades later, here’s Rob Schneider in I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry “Now the rings are a symbol of eternity” Schneider is a quarter Filipino, so….progress? Or how about Peter Sellers’ 1968 role as a clueless Indian man at a dinner party? “You really crushed my old Indian hand.” A full 20 years later, Fisher Stevens was in brownface for Short Circuit 2. “It’s not possible. We are the type of people who…” And another 24 years after that, Ashton Kutcher is doing this in a Popchips commercial. I’m Raj. I’m a Bollywood producer. I’m looking for the most delicious thing on the planet.” Arguably worse than white people playing Asian characters is white people playing real life Asian humans, which is what happened to Cora Lijeck in Argo and to Jeffrey Ma, who appeared in the movie 21 as this character even though in real life he was this guy. “Ben Campbell was the most gifted student at MIT.” It’s not surprising that directors want to hire big names to attract producers and funding But when they want to do stories about Asians and won’t cast Asian actors, they should know the blowback against that has been building for the better part of a century “Sakini by name. Interpreter by profession.” One of the early examples of a white cast playing Asian characters was The Good Earth in 1937, based on the hugely popular novel by Pearl S. Buck. There was an Asian actress who wanted the lead part. Her name was Anna May Wong, and she was basically the only Chinese-American movie star at the time. One of the reasons that MGM reportedly snubbed her was that in the 30s and 40s Hollywood was censored by a moral code, and it prohibited things like nudity and profanity, but also interracial romance. So once they cast a white man to play Wang Lung, they couldn’t cast Wong to play his wife. The role went to a German-born actress named Louise Rainer, and she went on to win an Oscar for it.

100 Comments

  1. Rafisqi Adhaputra Author

    "Someone named Casper Van Dien" ahhh the prejudice! Imagine the outrage if they said something leading to the conclusion like "Someone named Jamal Adebowale" .You get what i mean

    Reply
  2. ifty hargil Author

    You also had Donna Bae, who is Asian, portrait as a white person in cloud atlas…. Have you actually watched that film? It's about interconnectivity throughout time… All the characters were re-envisioned as other characters in different times…. Regardless of race…

    Reply
  3. igor hodochisnkiy Author

    As a millennial i : #1)- Regret posting on a YouTube comment.

    2)- see what this video is trying to say,

    and 3)- I'm not upset about Scarlett Johanson playing an Asian role. This is Hollywood baby, nothing is sacred and nothing is off limits.

    Reply
  4. D M Author

    well, if whites do that to themselves like in every movie about Greece, Germanic/Celtic actors play Greek or Macedonian characters, why wouldn't keep doing the same for others? It is an anglo-centrism that despite braking away from England back in the 177* those people still want to have an anglo-saxon nation.

    Reply
  5. Madeline Shepard Author

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't ghost in the shell not whitewashed? I thought that the point was that the "shell" was mass produced. And the race and identity change really gave major a disconnect. (I'm not very familiar with the anime, this is just a question)

    Reply
  6. Roy Miniel Author

    Digital blackface digital Wightface digital yellowface the next time i see a baby dressed up for Halloween as the cookie monster i am going to yell out blueface because if the kids not blue he can't dress up as a Cookie Monster cuz he's blue

    Reply
  7. Sora Kanzoku Author

    are you also mad about a black person playing a white character then? so you dont like ariel being black? the left is so confusing.

    Reply
  8. TheAznChild911 Author

    1:26 YALL ARE TRIPPING HERE! I’m all about better Asian representation, but I’ve watched Cloud Atlas and they are playing Asian characters because one of the cool parts of the movie was the fact that the main cast of actors played multiple different characters in multiple different story arcs. One of the story arcs takes place in a dystopian Korea. It’s a forgivable offense that should not count lol

    Reply
  9. J Author

    I'm half-Korean and I find this concept ridiculous. Sure, it'd be great if Hollywood would cast more Asians. But it's first and foremost a business. They make movies to make money. And they cast famous actors because they are recognizable faces and will get people to go see the movie. It just so happens to be that most American actors are white. I don't know the percentages but I'm pretty sure the majority of Americans are white.
    But on an artistic level, I don't care what ethnicity the character is. So long as it makes sense in context of the movie.

    Reply
  10. Jules Sylvester Author

    Blackface was distasteful, but Yellowface is frightening. Like, I'm actually scared. There's something VERY uncanny and unsettling about seeing a Caucasian actor or actress trying to appear East Asian. It makes my skin crawl. Less creepy to just cast an actual Asian person.

    Reply
  11. oh canada Author

    asian person goes home, says 'itadakimasu' before eating, talks to their parents in Japanese, goes up to study for hours reads a comic written in mandarin, drinks boba and answers a phone call in korean, then proceeds to go work at a Taiwanese resteraunt. with Taiwanese people. and speak Taiwanese. and then moves to hong Kong and eat some dumplings and miso soup even tho that isn't taiwanese. and then moves to an amazing school in France. eats mochi and sushi everyday but apparently is a young person from Beijing who is full Chinese yet is a million other Asian races at once. but for some reason all the other Asian races are left out i.e burma, laos, india, nepal, cambodia, malaysia, indonesia, mongolia, etc..AND ofc the countries in the middle East that are a part of Asia

    Reply
  12. miranda rivera Author

    Is it weird that the creator of the anime said that his own main character was never Japanese and that she was supposed to be American……

    Reply
  13. snow hole Author

    THANK YOU. It’s frankly sickening. If they don’t have to use an Asian character, they won’t. Even when it’s central to the plot they won’t. We’re either derided or just ignored completely.

    Reply
  14. Emily S Author

    Am I the only one who doesn't see anything wrong with this. I mean acting is acting. If you cast someone to play the role of a mother or grandmother and they have no children or grandchildren in real life. Isn't it the same thing to cast someone of a different race to play another race? I don't see the problem. Acting is just playing pretend, so why can't you pretend to play an Asian character or Indian? It isn't racist. They aren't degrading them or saying that they hate them.

    Reply
  15. BTSUBLIMINALS Author

    you want an asian character? cast an asian actor. a character is meant to be white? cast a white actor. you want a group of black people in your movie? cast a group of black actors. it's not that hard. period.

    Reply
  16. anger & rage Author

    I agree about the yellow face although I have to say, there is an excuse for Cloud Atlas and the Ancient One, , the Ancient One in dr. Strange, the filmmakers did not want to offend the Chinese by making a Tibetan character so they made it a white woman of Celtic heritage, Cloud Atlas the storyline basically is about some type of reincarnation where the actors live different lives throughout time in history.

    Reply
  17. Alexa Linares Negron Author

    Anyone cast for a role is casted because they’re good actors and it’s good for show business. If you want representation, you won’t find it in Hollywood. There are bigger issues, I wish people would stop complaining about this.

    Reply
  18. Genepool Author

    Remember that's it's only bad and racist when you use a white actor on a non-white character; if you do the opposite it is very empowering and progressive and also the story is fictional so why bother with specific ethnicity and color.

    Reply
  19. Kay. M Author

    So this post is about Yellowface. However you have people complaining about Netflix casting a black person. Why are you not addressing the problem at hand: Whites playing yellowface since the beginning of time. Call that out then we’ll talk about modern casting. White people always want to ‘but what about’ everything. It’s exhausting.

    Reply
  20. BRYAN HALLIGAN Author

    Philly
    Music
    Asian to black Hollywood
    They disguise from white to black as well.
    All the Black in music and theater that is supposed to be black is Chinese in disguise as black people 🧞‍♂️ ✨🕴️☀️🕺🏿☀️

    Reply
  21. Kick butoxy Author

    Hollywood represent black's , Asians are all other races way more than than they deserve even though all of those other races have their own country and movies (maybe expect for Africans, they don't have movies)

    Reply
  22. Teh Mu Jin Author

    USA is the most racist country on earth. The beginning of USA is European genocide of native Indian. Then grow rich from slavery and colonialism.

    Reply
  23. Checka Minute Author

    these woke issue only happened just recently so why do you use films which are shown decades ago. ? its like pushing our morale standards to ancient greece

    Reply
  24. Ярослав Ковальчук Author

    And now we have this outrage over Ariel being played by Halle Bailey… because… real life mermaids are european-looking, i guess.

    Reply
  25. T C Author

    I have seen some of these movies and didn’t realize what I saw. Brainwashing and stereotyping in the United States of America is such a pervasive problem. The moment we stop buying tickets to this garbage Hollywood will have to stop making it.

    Reply
  26. Shree Nation Author

    I'm a fan of Korean and Japanese movies. I watched Jung Woo-Sung eat his whiskey glass in Asura, and Choi Min-Sik eat a live squid that choked his throat going in. US can't handle half the grit and brutality these actors can bring out of their pinky fingers.

    Reply
  27. Tim Author

    since when are robots humans and became ethnicity a thing to the point they become so hypocritical?
    interesting when its white people that stand by and let another ethnicity take the reigns of a role, people cheer and when its the other way around(and its not even a comparison tbh since its a robot and the character never expressed itself as a certain ethnicity to begin with)
    but its another example of "its never good enough", maybe let the outrage to the people u think are offended by this.
    Do people love how scarlet is playing the character in the Ghost of the Shell in Asian countries? maybe start there before being morally outraged and get on some white horse, would u even have cared about the movie if it wasn't Scarlet Johansen? i don't think so, its only worth your time because of it.

    Reply
  28. dafnesway Author

    1:23 Okay, no. That comparison is very unfair. They casted all types of actors in that movie; black, white, asian, and they had a very small cast, and the whole point was about reincarnation so it's not like it wasn't justified. Besides the fact the asian and black actors also changed races.

    Reply

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