Long throughout film history, there has been instances of ‘yellow face’ with white people acting as asians by transforming themselves with makeup and speaking in questionable accents.
Take for example The Good Earth, a 1937 film that told the story of a Chinese farming couple, yet the main cast was made up of white people made to look more ‘asian’ with makeup. Luise Rainer’s portrayal of O-Lan in the film even won her the Best Actress Award.
Or how about Breakfast at Tiffany’s, the 1961 film is a classic, yet it is hard to ignore the distasteful and blatantly racist portrayal of the Japanese character, Mr. Yunioshi. Played by a white man, Mickey Rooney, makeup was used to change his face to a caricatured version of a Japanese person, complete with buckteeth and a terrible accent.
You could argue that these films are fairly old, that things were different back then, but how about I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, this 2007 film bears striking similarity to Breakfast at Tiffany’s with Robert Schneider playing an Asian minister. Although Schneider is part Filipino himself, this doesn’t excuse the fact that the portrayal is racist and mimics the stereotypical perception of a Japanese during the WWII. If he was already part asian, why the need to use makeup to turn him into an exaggerated stereotypical version of an asian man?
Here’s a suggestion for all the producers, directors and casting people out there, how about next time you want someone to play an asian role, you actually cast an asian person and stop using asian stereotypes as the butt of your jokes, that way you can save yourself the backlash because trust me, there will be backlash. Asians are not invisible and we will make our voices heard.
Stay tuned for the next post to see some cool campaigns that are fighting back against whitewashing!