Category Archives: colour-face

Re-enter Charlie Chan?

By Arturo R. García

As Angry Asian Man noted this week, the images of Warner Oland playing Charlie Chan are associated with a side of Hollywood’s “Golden Age” it would prefer nobody remember. Oland, who played Chan in was arguably the face of Yellowface in the 1930′s, playing not only the “Honorable Detective,” but Fu Manchu in another film series. But a forthcoming book has renewed interest in both the character and the men who brought him to both the printed page and the silver screen.

Yunte Huang’s Charlie Chan: The Untold History of the Honorable Detective and his Rendezvous with American History tells the story of Chang Apana, a detective with the Honolulu Police Department who was the inspiration for Chan. As detailed in a review of the book by The New Yorker, Apana – son of a Chinese immigrant father and a native Hawaiian mother – was allegedly “discovered” in 1924, when novelist Earl Derr Biggers noticed his name in an arrest record in a Honolulu newspaper. Within two years after Chan’s first appearance, Huang writes, Chang was being called “Charlie Chan” around Honolulu. But the detective’s job went beyond the usual police beat:

One of Chang’s jobs was to capture lepers, for forced transport to a leper colony on the island of Molokai, to die. Hawaiians called leprosy mai pake, “Chinese sickness,” because it came to the islands in the eighteen-thirties, and appeared to have arrived with the Chinese. Chang got that scar above his right eye while trying to capture a Japanese man who had contracted leprosy and who, armed with a sickle, refused to be sent to Molokai, on a journey over what came to be called the Bridge of Sighs.

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Nudie Neon Indians and the Sexualization of Native Women

By Guest Contributor Adrienne K., originally published at Native Appropriations

Neon Indian is a hipster-indie band that has been gaining some notoriety as of late. They performed on Jimmy Fallon, and have been making the music festival circuit as well. Though the name annoys me, I hadn’t actually associated them with any cultural appropriation, since nothing I’ve read about the band references anything Native. I figured maybe they were talking about the other kind of Indian. Their name actually comes from (if you believe teh blogz) a make-believe band front man Alan Palomo (who is Latino) had in high school.

So, even if the name wasn’t a direct reference, and the band has avoided Native stereotypes (send me images if you find otherwise), you can’t control your fans (Clearly, as we saw with the Blackhawks and Flyers fans last week).

The fans in that picture above crashed the Neon Indian stage at the music festival Bonaroo (more music festivals and headdresses, of course), wearing headdresses, feathers, and pasties on their bare breasts. According to hipster runoff, this is how it went down:

And it got even stranger during a riveting, bulked-up version of “Deadbeat Summer,” when a crew of scantily-clad ladies wearing homemade feather headdresses (two of whom were fully topless with colorfully painted boobs) bounded onto the stage, seemingly by design, and cavorted around aimlessly, jiggling to the wistful musings about sunlit streets and a starlit abyss. Depending on your vantage point, it was either hilarious or pathetic, but Palomo just laughed and shrugged.

Apparently the girls jumped up there on their own, and it wasn’t actually part of the set at all.

Here’s another image of the girls:

(image source)

Yes, the headdresses are wrong. But what gets me even more is the topless/feather pasties part. There’s a legacy and history there that many people don’t know or understand.

Native women have been highly sexualized throughout history and in pop culture. There are any number of examples I can pull from, the “Indian Princess” stereotype is everwhere–think the story of Pocahontas, or Tiger Lily in Peter Pan, or Cher in her “half breed” video, or the land ‘o’ lakes girl, seriously almost any image of a Native woman that you’ve seen in popular culture. We’re either sexy squaws (the most offensive term out there), wise grandmas, or overweight ogres. But the pervasive “sexy squaw” is the most dangerous, especially when you know the basic facts about sexual violence against Native women:

  • 1 in 3 Native women will be raped in their lifetime
  • 70% of sexual violence against Native women is committed by non-Natives

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Gene Luen Yang: Why I Won’t Be Watching the Last Airbender Movie

By Guest Contributor Angry Asian Man, originally published at Angry Asian Man

Award-winning graphic novelist Gene Luen Yang, author of American Born Chinese is a huge fan of Nickelodeon’s Avatar: The Last Airbender animated series. So when he found out the live-action movie adaptation would feature an all-white principal cast, he became one of the more vocal voices against the casting controversy.

With the movie’s release just over a month away, Gene has spoken out again against The Last Airbender (“the last stone from my slingshot on this topic”) — using a comic, of course — calling on folks to boycott the movie: Why I Won’t Be Watching The Last Airbender Movie. I’m re-posting it here:

Nicely done, Gene. To see more of Gene Luen Yang’s comic books (they’re great!) visit his website here. And for more information on The Last Airbender’scrappy casting choices, go to

Frank Marshall: “We didn’t discriminate against anyone.”

By Guest Contributors Mike Le and Marissa Lee, originally published at

Last week, Frank Marshall released “original” casting documents for Paramount’s The Last Airbender film to He announced that a third-party “local extra casting entity” inserted the “Caucasian or any other ethnicity” casting breakdown language that was used in August 2008 on the production’s official audition materials–including the website and fliers–as well as on Actors Access and other casting call databases.

Marshall calls the casting language “poorly worded and offensive” and writes that Paramount and the production “take responsibility for not doing a more thorough job monitoring these frequently used third-party agents.” He also reports that Paramount has been “in regular dialogue” with Asian American advocacy groups “to ensure that such a mistake does not happen in the future.”

Almost a year ago, Marshall dismissed repeated fan concerns about a discriminatory bias within The Last Airbender’s casting process: “The casting is complete and we did not discriminate against anyone. I am done talking about it.”

A year later, comes Marshall’s justification: The production didn’t “intend” to discriminate–and these documents, pulled from the producer’s private files, are the proof.

Unfortunately, Marshall again misses the point. This isn’t about the “intentions” of the production – it’s about what actually happened: The production’s concrete actions.

We can absolutely discuss the production’s actions and the impact of those actions:

  • Action:
    In 2008, regardless of who drafted the language, the production released casting sheets for the principal roles with a clear preference for Caucasian actors. “Wanted: Caucasian or any other ethnicity.”

    The language used varies from standard ‘colorblind casting’ breakdowns which typically read “please submit all ethnicities.” Despite the fact that the characters in Avatar: The Last Airbender were all ethnically Asian and Inuit, the wording choice otherizes “other ethnicities” and specifies one ethnicity above all others. The casting breakdown impacts what actors are submitted and vetted for the lead roles.

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Campus Minstrelsy: On “Compton Cookouts” and More

By Guest Contributor Mimi Thi Nguyen, originally posted at Threadbared

Western discourses of beauty as coextensive with humanity, morality, and security bear long and bloody histories of undergirding imperial racial classifications. It is as such that the racial Other has often been found under the sign of the ugly –which is to say, the morally reprehensible, the sexually and spiritually threatening— as the limit of the human and the enemy of beauty. Both beauty and ugliness have civilizational dimensions, dividing and valuing peoples hierarchically.

In this way, the off-campus party, dubbed the “Compton Cookout” and designed as a deliberate mockery of Black History Month at the University of California, San Diego, aptly demonstrates the terrible legacy of this politics of beauty. (If you’re not sure what this event and the resulting furor are about, please see here and here.) The Facebook invitation featured detailed instructions to party-goers on how to enact caricatures of black racial deviancy via “ghetto” dress and a performance of ugliness-as-subhumanity:

February marks a very important month in American society. No, i’m not referring to Valentines day or Presidents day. I’m talking about Black History month. As a time to celebrate and in hopes of showing respect, the Regents community cordially invites you to its very first Compton Cookout.For guys: I expect all males to be rockin Jersey’s, stuntin’ up in ya White T (XXXL smallest size acceptable), anything FUBU, Ecko, Rockawear, High/low top Jordans or Dunks, Chains, Jorts, stunner shades, 59 50 hats, Tats, etc.

For girls: For those of you who are unfamiliar with ghetto chicks-Ghetto chicks usually have gold teeth, start fights and drama, and wear cheap clothes – they consider Baby Phat to be high class and expensive couture. They also have short, nappy hair, and usually wear cheap weave, usually in bad colors, such as purple or bright red. They look and act similar to Shenaynay, and speak very loudly, while rolling their neck, and waving their finger in your face. Ghetto chicks have a very limited vocabulary, and attempt to make up for it, by forming new words, such as “constipulated”, or simply cursing persistently, or using other types of vulgarities, and making noises, such as “hmmg!”, or smacking their lips, and making other angry noises, grunts, and faces. The objective is for all you lovely ladies to look, act, and essentially take on these “respectable” qualities throughout the day.

The “Compton Cookout” continues in the American theater tradition of blackface minstrelsy. As nineteenth-century free blacks used dress and clothing to distinguish themselves as also human, blackface minstrel performances subjected this self-fashioning black person to ridicule and loathing. In this, and as evidenced by the above, the defamation of black style is absolutely crucial to the racist imagination. Continue reading

The Fading Histories of People of Colour: Depardieu Plays Dumas

By Deputy Editor Thea Lim

DumasReader Carleandria sent us this link to an article from the Times Online, discussing a controversy that is gaining ground in France after the release of a biopic on French writer Alexandre “The Three Musketeers” Dumas starring Gérard Depardieu:

A fuss over race has soured the release of the latest film in which Gérard Depardieu takes on one of the giants of French history. Black actors and anti-racism campaigners are upset that the white star is cast as Alexandre Dumas, the country’s biggest national hero with mixed blood.

The blonde, blue-eyed Depardieu sports curly hair and darker skin in L’Autre Dumas [trailer here], directed by Safy Nebbou. Dumas, who is still probably the world’s best-loved French author, was an exuberant, high-living celebrity — like Depardieu. His paternal grandmother was a former Haitian slave. His father, a Napoleonic-era general, was deemed to be a Caribbean “negro”. In his lifetime, the novelist was mocked for his African features and he called himself ”un nègre”.

…Non-white celebrities, some Dumas experts and black organisations are angry because they say that the producers missed a chance to celebrate France’s ethnic diversity and remind the world of the writer’s part black origins.

“There is a mechanism of permanent discrimination by silence,” said Jacques Martial, a black actor who made his name playing a television police detective. Patrick Lozès, President of the Council of Black Associations (CRAN) wondered: “In 150 years time, could the role of Barack Obama be played in a film by a white actor with a fuzzy wig? Can Martin Luther King be played by a white?”

…In a protest on the internet, the CRAN said that the casting of Depardieu was fresh evidence of France’s failure to promote non-white stars in its cinema and media. “Very few of our compatriots know that Alexandre Dumas was mixed race and considered to be a black in his lifetime,” it said.

The film commits a double sin in the CRAN’s eyes because its plot, adapted from a successful play, discredits Dumas’ genius by depicting his white assistant as the true creator of his works. “Possibly for commercial reasons, they are white-washing Dumas in order to blacken him further,” it said.

…Dumas’ Wikipedia entry (yes, sorry) contains a quote in which Dumas replied to a taunt about being black. “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.”

Personally I had no idea that Dumas was black.  This makes me wonder how many famous people of colour – especially those of mixed heritage – are white-washed by history.   I also recently learned (through another reader tip!) that the Russian poet Alexander Pushkin was black too.

POC reclamation project, anyone?

Blanco: In Solidarity with 1.3% of UCSD

By Guest Contributor Ninoy Brown, originally published at FOBBDeep

More on UCSD’s most recent “post-racial” moment.

Within the last week, much public outrage has come upon UCSD as a result of the disgusting display of ignorance from the “Compton Cookout”.  National attention has been placed on the campus, and NAACP has recently spoken out against the incident.

With this, I wanted to post a letter that Dr. Jody Blanco, from UCSD’s Dept of Literature, had written for Kaibigang Pilipino.  Though intended for Filipinos/Filipino students and student organizations at UCSD, I felt the message was important for more folks to read, as well.

Dr. Blanco was an inspiration for many of us, student of color organizers, while attending UCSD.  In the letter, he contextualizes the “private party”, discussing why outrage is justified and why Filipino American students should stand as allies with our African American brothers and sisters.

Dear Filipina and Filipino students, colleagues, and friends:

I hope that you don’t mind my sending a mass email to you, which is something I don’t think I’ve ever done. While I know some, maybe many of you individually, I haven’t been to a KP GBM in many years, and haven’t had the opportunity to work as closely with you as I would have liked and would like to. Hopefully this is something we can begin to address and repair over time.

What has prompted this unusual message is the recent spate of events that have transpired the past week, and have caused or exacerbated the perceived lack of support for many historically underrepresented minorities – not just blacks, but Latinos, Arab- and certain Asian-Americans, Filipinos and Filipino-Americans included. I don’t need to tell you the details, which I’m sure you already know – a private party involving hundreds of UCSD students, framed as an expression of contempt for Black History Month and the free use of hate speech (which, as it turns out, was downloaded from a website); a follow-up televised program on the Koala newspaper website, expressing support for hate speech.

By now, if you’ve been listening to the local and national news, you may also have a sense of the fallout: black students at UCSD threatening to withdraw or transfer out of UCSD en masse; the administration’s simultaneous condemnation of these events and declaration of non-commitment to any further significant actions to be taken in response to the outbreak of hate speech on campus; the intervention of the San Diego city council and California state assembly members committed to take responsibility and hold people accountable (because the university won’t); a public statement made by the NAACP promising to conduct its own investigation into the matter; national coverage of our campus and university on network TV, featuring reporters and analysts who express open disbelief at the campus’s presumed commitment to its principles of community, and bewilderment at the administration’s failure to take any meaningful or effective action defending and protecting its students from injury and insult.

For those of you who have close friends in the black community, you may have witnessed or heard stories of their trauma and insecurity: students weeping in the halls and on Library Walk at their helplessness and inability to represent themselves against the violence of having other people represent them. If you are like me, you are familiar with this feeling: you have grown up seeing your parents scolded by an angry grocery clerk or policeman for appearing ignorant or slow; you have been denigrated or mocked by whites for excelling at the things you love or feel passionate about; you have felt betrayed by an authority who witnessed your persecution at one point or another, and pretended not to notice. You are familiar with the mistrust, lack of confidence, and sometimes, the outright fear, of the world outside your immediate family and friends; you have struggled consciously or unconsciously to accept or refuse the possibility that the world outside this insulated circle neither values nor encourages your participation and contribution to a wider community. If you can’t relate to what I’m saying, perhaps it’s all for the best, because I wouldn’t wish that consciousness and psychological conflict on anybody. But if you can relate to what your African-American brothers and sisters are feeling, you probably also understand that this is what most ethnic and / or historically underrepresented minorities, in the US and in every country, experience to one degree or another. It is the experience we share in common, an experience that oftentimes draws us close to one another in times of danger.

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Race in the Carnival and Mardi Gras Colour Face

By Deputy Editor Thea Lim

From time to time, we at Racialicious discuss the stickiness of trying to talk about race in the context of cultures we are not familiar with.  It’s easy for us to talk about the U.S. and Canada, since members of our team live solely in these two countries. But when it gets to trying to talk about other countries, it’s hard for us to do that with as much right, or sensitivity.  Because there is nothing worse than getting xenophobic while you are trying to be anti-racist; in other words making assumptions or presumptions about a racial culture that you know nothing about.

So when reader Frida sent us in a tip about Carnival in Germany (roughly equivalent to Mardi Gras in the U.S.) I wasn’t quite sure how to handle it.   Frida noted that snide and politically satirical floats were par for the course at Carnival, and this year was particularly rife with floats mocking “fallen saviour” President Obama.  Nonetheless, this float caught her eye:

Frida did a good job of interpreting this bizarre float, explaining:

On this particular parade float, Obama and Hu are depicted in bed together, with Obama handing Hu cash– a remark on the tremendous loan debt America owes China. Note how Hu, dressed in yellow, is depicted as wearing a yellow stereotypical “coolie” hat.

I know very little about Germany’s racial culture that is informed by real, on-the-ground knowledge.  Out of context, this image is maddening for so many reasons.  Like the sex for cash motif: how much do the races of each leader play into the choice of this image?  Both African Americans and Asians have been target of distressing sexual stereotypes to do with sex work for eons, in a way that also dehumanises sex workers.  But perhaps there is no history of that in Germany, which makes this image more difficult to dissect than if it was an American image.

But then there is the drawing of John Lennon and Yoko Ono in a heart on the side of the float (yes, whaaa’?).  Frida writes:

In the picture above, there seems to be a painting of John Lennon and Yoko Ono (?) on the side of the float, bordered by a heart. Representing what exactly? Is it some remark on the relationship between “Orientals” and Westerners? What do John and Yoko have to do with Obama and Hu?

Uh, interracial pairings involving Americans and East Asians all look same?

And of course, there is the dreaded coolie hat, that universal indicator of Chinese culture; everyone except Obama and  Uncle Sam are wearing coolie hats.


But we’re not just dealing with German culture here, we’re also dealing with Carnival/Mardi Gras culture.  And the point of this culture is inversion.  It’s a time for adults to invert sexual and racial mores without consequence, even though this float seems loaded up with racial stereotypes that are very much grounded in the uninverted status quo.

Every year at Mardi Gras and Carnivals worldwide, racism comes to play.  For example we can look at the ubiquitous Voodoo floats featured at almost any U.S. Mardi Gras (Grases?), and be troubled by the reductive and inaccurate representation of “voodoo.” For example, I recently saw a Voodoo float staffed by white people, where everyone was dressed like the cast of Flintstones, with bones in their hair and leopard print loincloths.  I imagine that that representation of Voudou, which is an important part of Louisiana culture and history, is about as respectful as the coolie hat. Continue reading