Tag Archives: yellowface

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Quoted: Jeff Yang on SNL and Yellowface

In early January, you took a step — a big step — to address your lack of diversity by bringing aboard new castmember Sasheer Zamata, the first African American woman player for nearly six seasons, and two African American female writers, too:  LaKendra Tookes and Leslie Jones. But last Saturday was a reminder that this big step is only the first one.

That’s because, in a show being hosted by the awesome Melissa McCarthy, you turned her opening monologue into a skit about her feud with castmember Bobby Moynihan — a feud that erupted into a high-flying, wire-swinging martial arts duel between the duo. Now, let’s set aside the fact that the humorous context of their fisticuffs seems to have been anchored in the comic sight of a pair of lovably large people pirouetting through the air; they were game and graceful, and I tip my hat to the midair somersault McCarthy managed to pull off.

But it was almost as if you knew there weren’t enough yuks in just having McCarthy and Moynihan punching it out, Shaw Brothers style (and you were right). So to underscore the joke, you put a little yellow icing on the cake, bringing in a squinting, eyebrow-quirking Taran Killam in a Nehru jacket to play the fight’s narrator, complete with stilted accent and gong. (Taran Killam — Cobie Smulders’s husband. You know, the actress on CBS’s “How I Met Your Mother” who was just slammed for doing yellowface two weeks ago?)

Whoa, SNL. That wasn’t cool, and it wasn’t particularly funny, either. It looked like a desperate move to save a skit that was going nowhere. It was embarrassing. And even Killam himself seemed to look vaguely uncomfortable, as if he was saying in his head, “I’m only doing this because I’m the closest thing this show has to an actual Asian dude.”

– From The Wall Street Journal

Cloud Atlas Review: Yellowface And Orientalism

By Guest Contributor Jennifer; originally published at Mixed Race America

This post is the second installment in a three-part review. See parts one and three.

There are many people who have written about the phenomenon of “yellowface,” which is the Asian version of “blackface”–having white (although at times there have been black) actors and actresses portraying Asian and Asian American people in Hollywood films.  Racebending.com has a particularly astute and thorough accounting by contributor Michelle I.  I recommend reading her piece, “Yellowface: A Story in Pictures,” to familiarize yourself with the looooong history of yellowface in Hollywood cinema.  But I think this photo of Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany‘s probably says it all:

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Quoted: MANAA Speaks Up Against Cloud Atlas

Jim Sturgess in “Cloud Atlas.” Photo via Collider.com.

“Cloud Atlas” may be artistically ambitious, but it’s also racially retrograde, according to a blistering new release from the Media Action Network for Asian Americans …

… “Cloud Atlas” missed a great opportunity. The Korea story’s protagonist is an Asian man–an action hero who defies the odds and holds off armies of attackers,” Guy Aoki, MANAA’s founding president, said in a statement. “He’s the one who liberates [a clone played by actress] Doona Bae from her repressive life and encourages her to join the resistance against the government. It would have been a great, stereotype-busting role for an Asian American actor to play, as Asian American men aren’t allowed to be dynamic or heroic very often.”

Instead, it is Jim Sturgess who plays that role, while Hugo Weaving and James D’Arcy are also cast as Asian actors.
- The Hollywood Reporter

WB taps Tom Cruise to play Billy Cage–née Keiji Kiriya

By Guest Contributor Marissa Lee, cross-posted from Racebending

Warner Bros has finally glommed onto a lead actor for its adaptation of the Japanese science fiction novel All You Need is Kill.

Set in a post apocalyptic future, All You Need is Kill is about a young Japanese soldier, Keiji Kiriya, who serves on an international fighting force fighting an alien invasion. Keiji gets stuck in a “Groundhog’s Day” scenario where he keeps reliving the day he died.

Set to play the main character in the film adaptation? On December 1st, 2011, Variety reported: Tom Cruise.

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Unintentionally Eating the Other

by Guest Contributor Minh-ha T. Pham, originally published at Threadbared

Last Thursday, Crystal Renn, the model who recently appeared in a Vogue Japan spread with her eyes taped in ways that were suggestive of an old theater makeup trick meant to make white actors look “Asian,” offered an explanation and defense of the cosmetic practice. Tape, it should be noted, is only one of many tools in the arsenal of this particular form of racial drag, also known as yellowfacing – a practice that is literally older than America. Contrary to popular headlines suggesting that “yellowface is the new blackface,” there is nothing new or novel about yellowfacing. One of the earliest incidences of yellowfacing in the U.S. occurred in 1767 when Arthur Murphy presented his play The Orphan of China in Philadelphia.

What interests me about this moment of racial drag or “transformation,” as Renn’s called it, are the reactions to it and her own explanation of the decision to tape her eyes. In last week’s published conversation with Jezebel editor Jenna Sauers, Renn insists that she “wasn’t trying To ‘look Asian’ in that eye tape shoot”. And I wanted to believe her. I have great respect for Sauers. Her writing has always displayed a great deal of thoughtfulness and acuity and she’s been a generous supporter of Threadbared for a long time. For all these reasons, I approached Sauers’ conversation with Renn as a generous reader, willing to be convinced. After all, Sauers initially assumed Renn was yellowfacing too. If she could be surprised with Renn’s explanation, I thought I might be too.

Here’s how Renn explains the eye-taping:

  • In a way you become something else.
  • No, it tends to be when there’s more makeup and drama. And the point is transformation.
  • To transform is the greatest part of my work. It’s the thing that makes me the happiest. And to be able to try to do as many looks as I can and to show as many faces as I can, it’s exciting to me . . . I’ve had moles painted on my face. I’ve had freckles painted on.
  • I become something else.
  • We didn’t even think about [race] on the shoot. I’m the one who suggested it, and it didn’t even cross my mind. It’s something that I regularly ask makeup artists, you know, if it will bring something more to the character. Offer a different face.
  • As the model, as somebody who thrives on the transformation, I am beyond thrilled to do stories where they change my gender, where they take me and make me something completely different.

What is so striking about Renn’s explanation is its ambiguity. She never says what look she was going for – just that she intended to become “something else.” This intangible “something” that has more “drama”, more “character” , and is so “exciting” is, for Renn, not racially specific. It is instead a generalized exotica, an experience of vague sensuousness. But do racist acts require intentionality? And what are the implications of Renn’s deracialization of a practice that was so clearly racist to so many people?

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The Truth of Lagerfeld’s Idea of China

by Guest Contributor Minh-ha, originally published at Threadbared

Several days ago, Karl Lagerfeld, head designer and creative director at Chanel, debuted Paris-Shanghai: A Fantasy, a short film made to accompany the Chanel pre-Fall runway show. The 22-minute short was projected on an outdoor screen amid the Shanghai cityscape. (The film clip is below.)

Cross-overs between fashion and film are nothing new. Indeed, Paris-Shanghai isn’t Lagerfeld’s first foray into filmmaking either. Last year, he made his directorial debut with a 10-minute silent film called Paris-Moscow. Another designer/filmmaker is Tom Ford who just released his first film, A Single Man, a feature-length adaptation of a novel (with the same name) by Christopher Isherwood. And while The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover was not produced or directed by a fashion designer, Jean-Paul Gaultier’s contribution to the 1989 acerbic comedy film on the pleasures and perils of (all manner of) consumption undeniably exceeded his role as head costume designer.

Lagerfeld’s latest film has Lithuanian model Edita Vilkeviciute playing a very tightly-wound Coco Chanel who travels to 1960s Shanghai in her dreams. (Vilkeviciute also played Chanel in Paris-Moscow.) There, she meets two “Chinese” youth in Mao-style suits, played by Danish supermodel Freja Beha and Lagerfeld’s French male muse, Baptiste Giabiconi. Both are adorned with Mao-style outfits and heavy kohl-lined eyes. While the Beha character admits that she doesn’t “know much about Western designers,” she admires Chanel’s jacket and is soon invited to try it on. Chanel then offers the Giabiconi character a men’s jacket to try on. As Beha and Giabiconi happily embrace each other in their new jackets and hurry to admire themselves in the mirror (speaking fake Chinese), Chanel beams smugly at the camera, “You see, everyone in the whole world can wear Chanel.”
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David Carradine’s Legacy of Shame

by Guest Contributor (and regular commenter) Atlasien

David Carradine was found dead yesterday in a hotel room in Bangkok. The circumstances of his death are outrageously sensationalistic. I won’t go into any detail other than to remark that these circumstances have helped ensure a steady barrage of media coverage. Just now, tuning into NPR in my car, I heard part of a David Carradine interview, replayed to commemorate the occasion of his death.

He was a famous and much-loved actor. Tributes to Carradine are pouring in. In discussion threads devoted to Carradine, you’ll find many nostalgic accounts of childhood evenings spent watching his TV show, Kung Fu.

Some Asian-Americans, such as myself, may find these tributes quite upsetting.

I remind myself that David Carradine was an actor. He was doing a job for money. It’s difficult to draw a work/life dividing line when it comes to celebrity actors, but the line does exist. And I cannot presume to judge the moral worth of David Carradine’s life. He was a human being whose life is just as worthy of respect, just as precious, as the life of any other human being.

But I can judge his career. Fuck David Carradine’s godawful racist career! Continue reading

Radar Online’s list of racial stereotypes in the movies

by Carmen Van Kerckhove

Radar Online just published a great list called From Borat to Mammy: The top ten stereotypes in cinema history:

Hollywood has a long history of racial insensitivity—stereotypes are its stock in trade. But, as with Borat, watchdog groups are too quick to sound the alarm when things get out of hand. Unfortunately for film-goers with less-fragile constitutions, some of the most deliciously offensive characters in cinema have been relegated to the dustbin as a result. Where were the Golden Globes when Long Duk Dong dropped his L’s in Sixteen Candles? It just doesn’t seem fair. Come with us on a tour of Hollywood’s walk of shame, where we gaze, slack-jawed, upon the ten best stereotypes ever captured on film.

(Hat tip to Angry Asian Man.) So who’s on the list?

Long Duk Dong
From: Sixteen Candles, 1984
Played By: Gedde Watanabe
Groups Offended: Asians, exchange students

Speedy Gonzales
From: The Looney, Looney, Looney Bugs Bunny Movie, 1981; various Looney Tunes and Merry Melodies animated shorts
Voiced By: Mel Blanc
Groups Offended: Mexicans, mice

James ‘Buffalo Bill’ Gumb
From: The Silence of the Lambs, 1991
Played By: Ted Levine
Groups Offended: Gays, transsexuals, lesbians, serial killers, cannibals

Dick Hallorann
From:The Shining, 1980
Played By: Scatman Crothers
Groups Offended: African-Americans, mystics, Lady Cleo, Dionne Warwick, most of the Psychic Friends Network

Jar Jar Binks
From: Star Wars: Phantom Menace, 1999; Attack of the Clones, 2002; Revenge of the Sith, 2005)
Voiced By: Ahmed Best
Groups Offended: Jamaicans, nerds

Pagoda
From: The Royal Tenenbaums, 2001
Played By: Kumar Pallana
Groups Offended: Indians, hipsters

Grand Vizier Jafar
From: Aladdin, 1992
Voiced By: Jonathan Freeman
Groups Offended: Arabs, street urchins

Caiaphas
From: The Passion of the Christ, 2004
Played By: Mattia Sbragia
Groups Offended: Jews, Jews for Jesus

Mr. Yunioshi
From: Breakfast at Tiffany’s, 1961
Played By: Mickey Rooney
Groups Offended: Asians

Mammy
From: Gone With the Wind, 1939
Played By: Hattie McDaniel
Groups Offended: African Americans