Saturday, October 27, 2012

Yellowface In Hollywood. The Saga Continues.

Here we go again. Hollywood's perpetual yellowface in blockbuster films continues. Never mind that Hollywood repeatedly fails to deliver brilliant performances based on popular selling novels and video games, Cloud Atlas is yet another forgone opportunity for an Asian American MALE actor to shatter antiquated stereotypes and finally play a role that reflects reality. I don't know about you, but all of my Asian American guy friends aren't comic reliefs, hanging from wires, demonstrating martial arts or speaking with thick Chinese accents. Warner Bros. could have easily chosen an Asian or Asian American male actor to reflect the times. Instead, Hollywood's predisposition to choose white actors in yellowface was sufficient just like they did with The Last Airbender, 21, Dragonball-Z, Breakfast At Tiffany's, Kung Fu...
"Asian men are not allowed to get intimate with beautiful women on screen." -Behind closed doors 
The movie is based on the novel, Cloud Atlas, which consists of six nested stories interwoven from the perspective of the main character of each subsequent story. One of those stories takes place in a futuristic Korea where actress Doona Bae plays Sonmi's character next to her white cast mate Jim Sturgess, you know, the same guy who played the lead role, originally an Asian from MIT in 21.

Of course, it's completely fine when there's an Asian woman cast alongside a white male protagonist, but having a beautiful woman with an Asian male heroine who actually becomes intimate with her? Forget it. Guy Aoki from MANAA argues it best,
“’Cloud Atlas’ prides itself on its ‘multi-racial cast but that basically means White men and women of color, like La Jolla Playhouse’s ‘The Nightingale,’ which was criticized last summer for using only two Asian American actresses but allowing five White men to play Chinese characters.
’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. He’s the one who liberates 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.
But instead, they cast Jim Sturgess in yellowface. In fact, every major male character in the Korea story is played by non-Asian actors in really bad yellowface make-up. When you first see Hugo Weaving as a Korean executioner, there’s this big close-up of him in this totally unconvincing Asian make-up. The Asian Americans at the pre-screening burst out laughing because he looked terrible--like a Vulcan on ‘Star Trek.’ It took us out of the movie. And Jim Sturgess and James D’Arcy didn’t look much better.”
Repulsing, but not surprising to say the least. I referenced Spin in a blog prior to this as the commenter reacquaints Washington Post readers' that Hollywood producers, directors and casting have an undeniable infatuation with sacrificing nonwhite females to white males. Even the Post dedicated an entire article to the familiar ad trope of pairing white males with Asian females, and after rereading it, I thought I'd share this excellent critique with you.
This is hardly a phenomenon. The author’s observation can be applied across the eons to every non-white ethnic group available for exploitation by Hollywood. Personally, I’ve been noticing the self-same 'fad' of the past 5 - 10 years or so in the depiction of Euro males with Afro females. The poster child of this has been [arguably] Zoe Saldana, who seems to be the only Afro leading lady capable of landing a big budget film, outside of the fading Halle Barry. Let's account.

In her last 'major' films [Death at a Funeral (2010) as Elaine; Avatar (2009) as Neytiri; Star Trek (2009) as Nyota Uhura; Columbiana as Cataleya Restrepo] she is paired exclusively with Euro male love interests. The relationship in Columbiana with Michael Vartan was so incongruous and gratuitous that one had to wonder if the role’s only purpose was to comfort Euro audiences with the assuring, calming presence of the white male libido and his dominance of the inexplicably empowered non-white female.
And Halle? She'll be opening with Tom hanks in Cloud Atlas, following her ongoing career motif as the white man's play thing or the recipient of the Great Liberator's succor in Monsters Ball, Swordfish,  Catwoman and Die Another Day [a James Bond film, where Euro delusions of sexual invincibility is put on full display].

The newest James Bond movie brings us Naomie Harris as the target of the irresistible white male libido. Of course, Naomie’s other big films were 28 Weeks Later [Love interest, you ask? The irreducibly pale Cillian Murphy] and The Pirates of the Caribbean movies.

Do I have to even mention Sanaa Lathan in Something New? This in a unfortunately growing line of Hollywood portrayals testifying to the necessary and natural demise of the clearly unnatural idea of stable romantic, dare I say ‘sensual’, Afro relationships.

Hollywood directors and casting cannot seem to resist the formula that to portray a Euro male character as the ULTIMTE in cool, a non-Euro woman must be sacrificed. Sacrificed, too is the mere notion that male Afro actors not named Will Smith or Denzel can play a leading role or have a romantic role with Afro women that exhibits the same sensuality or frequency afforded enumerable [and far less talented] Euro actors. Even the excellent Chiwetel Ejiofor could not manage more than a perfunctory kiss [by Hollywood standards] with Thandie Newton. Oh no; she can only get a groove on with euro sex pistol Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible. The other mentionable film in which she has a relationship with a non-euro lead, Crash, she is raped before her emasculated Afro husband by the Euro lead Matt Dillon, in whose arms she ultimately fall; he, in the end, transforming into the White Savior.

No. Nothing new to report here. Hollywood, despite the appearance of progress is, when duly scrutinized, firmly invested in the idea of European exceptionalism. Make me think of an old Public Enemy song...
I'll finish it for you. Fight the Power!

What is up with Hollywood casting and their pathological ways of oppressing male minorities from taking on protagonist roles that go beyond the realm of stereotypical memes? The economics of it all, as Hollywood usually argues, or dearth of Asian American male actors - another bullshit excuse - is a moot point in the year 2012 as the world is now flatter and more interconnected than ever. Naturally, by creating high barriers of entry to stifle ethnic male competition, the Hollywood mastermind is able to root out Asian men from playing roles that demonstrate sexiness and romantic love interests.

There comes a point though when you have to find another way to make a difference and say fuck the status quo. You can either play the game or create your own, and from what I see, Asian Americans should create their own. If mainstream American entertainment desires for Asian American males to exclusively play cookie-cutter, asexual roles, then Asian Americans ought to look elsewhere. I'm sure Asian American women are getting sick and tired of having to play exotic dragonladies also since the days of The Good Earth.

That's why I'm so glad that YouTube was invented. Finally we have an outlet where talented Asian Americans can express themselves and let their voices be heard by the masses, so they may finally receive the recognition and mainstream appeal they deserve.

Shout out to WongFu Productions. Keep it moving.

1 comment:

  1. Fuck that bullshit. That's like Tom Cruise in "The Last Samurai". How are you going to have a white dude as the LAST SAMURAI?!?!


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