Yellowface in CLOUD ATLAS

Hugo Weaving in yellowface

Yellowface in the new Cloud Atlas movie? Hollywood is getting out of control, forgetting the reality of racism in its mixed-up pursuit of ambition.

Shame on the movie business. Last night, I found out that the new Cloud Atlas movie will be sporting several actors in yellowface–that is, white actors made up to look Asian. You can see Hugo Weaving with slanty-eyes above. This is an absolute travesty, and it is being described elsewhere as “awesome” (Indiewire) and “ambitious” (everywhere). Why?

Cloud Atlas is based on a book of the same title that was published in 2004 to enormous acclaim, including being shortlisted for the Booker Prize and the Nebula Award and winning several best book of the year awards. It was also called ambitious everywhere, including by Tom Bissell in the New York Times, who called its author, David Mitchell, “clearly, a genius.” The book consists of six stories, told in the pattern
1 2 3 4 5 6 5 4 3 2 1, like nesting dolls split open to the doll in the center. Each story covers a different period in time, sequentially, so that by the time we get to 5 and 6, the stories are in the future. The 5th story takes place in a “corpocracy” in what appears to be Korea, where corporations are the government and the waitresses at the major food chain, Papa Song’s, are genetically-engineered fabricants, or clones. The 6th story takes place in the far far future, in a post-apocalyptic world, after the corpocracy has fallen. The (main) characters are all connected, sharing a specific birthmark. Mitchell has said that they “are reincarnations of the same soul” and that “the book’s theme is predacity … individuals prey on individuals, groups on groups, nations on nations.

The yellowface is clearly being used as a way to show that interconnectedness, and to tell the viewer that these characters share this reincarnated soul. Yet the movie is far underestimating its viewers by doing this. It is telling viewers that we are too stupid to understand the connection by a simple birthmark; that we are too stupid to see similarities between different races, different people; that we are too stupid to see beyond appearances. And it is telling us this by being this stupid itself.

Mitchell’s remarks, that “individuals prey on individuals, groups on groups, nations on nations,” strikes me here as being so on the nose. I can’t help but see this use of yellowface as degrading and offensive and perhaps even a value statement on race. Hear me out.

Mickey Rooney in yellow face in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”

Cloud Atlas was a chance, here, to showcase Asian actors in an Asian future, a corrupt future, yes, but an advanced society leading a world economy (if I remember correctly from the book). Hollywood has a long history of relegating Asian actors to stereotypes: the sensei with unusual teaching methods, the martial artist, the gangster, the weird foreigner, or the nerd. It is a fact often bemoaned by Asian Americans, and it is a large reason why a film like Harold and Kumar Go to Whitecastle can be seen as revolutionary while in basically every other way, it is a typical buddy comedy. Cloud Atlas could have given many Asian actors a shot and brought a lot of attention to them, through a big budget movie aimed at a wide and inclusive audience. Watching the trailer, I was excited to see one of my favorite Korean actresses, Bae Doona, who will play the fabricants. I was excited to see that the movie hadn’t whitewashed the Asian section of the book completely, replacing the Asian world with a white one, as so many movies and movie remakes do. But that was until I realized that the other people in the future, the ones not genetically engineered and not serving food at a restaurant chain, the real people, that is, will be played by white people in yellowface.

Bing Crosby in blackface in “Holiday Inn”

It is hard to realize this and not realize the cultural implications here. Let me spell it out again: in the future, even in a Korean future, the genetically engineered servants are Asian while the people being served are, underneath, white.

I spent all night unable to sleep. This yellowfacing of a well-known and well-loved book hit particularly close to home for me, as a writer and reader, and even more so as an adoptee, as someone who still sometimes cannot get it out of his head that he is not white. I grew up with white parents and white American “culture.” The parts of me that I hated, that somehow didn’t feel true, were the Korean parts. Yet I don’t think this was something I entirely put on myself. For a long time, I thought something was wrong with me—it is still hard to not to think this waybut I have realized that the reason I hated my small nose and small eyes was because I was being taught that people who looked like me were somehow lesser than white people. The movies taught me this. My peers, taught by movies and culture, taught me this. The looks I got when I went anywhere with my parents taught me this. I am still being taught this, when I walk around Cambridgeeven Cambridge, MAand get harassed by white people, greeted with a condescending “Ni Hao” by a homeless person, as if I couldn’t understand “Hello,” as if I needed to be singled out for my appearance, and as if all Asians are one ethnicity.

I know I never felt like the parts of me that are Korean were the wrong parts when I was in Korea. I know this wasn’t on me.

Though some people would still have me think that it is.

Last week, after Gabby Douglas won a gold medal in the all-around gymnastics, the camera cut to Bob Costas, who said, “You know, it’s a happy measure of how far we’ve come that it doesn’t seem all that remarkable, but still it’s noteworthy, Gabby Douglas is, as it happens, the first African-American to win the women’s all-around in gymnastics. The barriers have long since been down, but sometimes there can be an imaginary barrier, based on how one might see oneself.” This after Douglas had mentioned that she was an underdog because she is black. Indeed, she is the first black woman to win a gold in her event. But Costas would have her believe that the difficulties she faced (faces) were all in her head.

He would have her believe this because he is white. There will be people (white people) who say Costas is right, that racism is dead, that Cloud Atlas is “awesome” for putting white actors in yellowface to show that we are all connected. Some of these people will be racists. Some of these people may actually have good intentions.

We all wish that there were no boundaries left, that Gabby Douglas didn’t face any extra challenges because of her race, that minorities and women do not face a bamboo or glass ceiling, that people are judged not for their skin color but for their individuality. Maybe Costas’s assertion and the blatant yellowfacing contains some kind of hope or largess or generosity of spirit (though how to explain the belittling of those who still feel the effects of being different). The truth is, though, that sexism and racism and discrimination of all types exist and even flourish. Only a few days ago, a white supremacist opened fire on a Sikh temple. He was an individual, but he is not alone.

On my twitter feed last night, while I was going off on yellowface and unable to turn off the inner tears, someone tweeted back to me that it seemed like the makeup was something the makers of Cloud Atlas seemed to be showing off, seemed to be proud of. And it does seem that way–these are the images plastered all over the movie’s webpage.

This, the producers might say, is what we can do in movies now. We can show how connected people are by using one actor to represent six characters. This is ambition. This is scope. This is the future. And despite not loving the book, the one thing I did love about Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas was its ambition, was what it could do. That reach, to connect all of history and all peoples, is something to admire. But I never felt like the author was saying, these are all white people (except the fabricant servers), the same white people over and over again. Mitchell points to the soul. I am not sure what the soul has to do with one’s appearance. The makers of Cloud Atlas are telling us something about appearance and soul here. They are telling us that the nature of your soul determines your looks. And that is a very dangerous message. It is the message that our differences (of appearance) are even more significant than our similarities. It is the opposite of connectivity. Cloud Atlas would have us believe that what makes us who we are determines what we look like, and perhaps vice versa.

This is ambition gone wrong. Even if we are to give Bob Costas and the makers of Cloud Atlas the benefit of the doubt, that they believe we live in some kind of post-racial society, where issues of skin color do not or should not exist, or only exist in the perception of those who feel persectuted, then my problem with this is that it appears to be large-minded but it is actually extremely small-minded. It is an inability to look at the truth of the situation, the truth to those who would feel effects of that discrimination apparently disappeared. It is to put a white perception on the issue of race, which is to say, it is racism. It is the majority’s view of the minority, insisted upon the minority without consideration of that minority’s reality. It is to think, what the world is like for me is what it is like for everyone.

I do not know why none of the other actors stood up and said, this is wrong. I do know that there are enormous pressures upon us to believe in the worldview that is presented to us, or more especially, presented by us. I do know that it is hard to stand up and be different or say something different. But if no one stands up against this, if we go out into the world and say this yellowfacing is “awesome” or “ambitious,” then it will only continue. And if it continues and continues, and we let it continue, then it will be or remain a part of the fabric of our culture, and it will be harder and harder to point it out and say it is something that does not belong. It is too easy, and too ignorant, and too lacking in empathy, to ignore the barriers that exist, to pretend that those barriers are no longer there.

photos from Cloud Atlas via Angry Asian Man

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About Matthew Salesses

Matthew Salesses contributed to the very first day of The Good Men Project. He writes the "Love, Recorded" column about his wife, baby, and cats. He has written for The New York Times, NPR, the Center for Asian American Media, Salon, The Rumpus, and others. He is the author, most recently, of Different Racisms: On Stereotypes, the Individual, and Asian American masculinity. See more at his eponymous website. Contact him via email or @salesses.

Comments

  1. Really interesting article. I had no idea they were doing this for the movie–I’ve also never read the book, so maybe I don’t have much of a perspective, but I can’t believe that having white people play Asian characters is ever the right choice…I was also really struck by Bob Costas’ remarks, and I questioned whether I had heard him correctly. But I did, and that makes me pretty disappointed and angry, that he can dismiss racism and prejudice so cavalierly.

    Thanks for writing about this!

    • I doubt it will change your opinion, but you did not mention that two of the Asian actors also play humans in “whiteface” in other parts of the narrative.
      http://postimage.org/image/afhnvrqmz/
      http://wac.450f.edgecastcdn.net/80450F/screencrush.com/files/2012/07/8.jpg

      • Matthew Salesses says:

        “Whiteface” just doesn’t have the same history or cultural implications. I’m not “for” whiteface, either. I still think the movie could have used the same birthmark technique as in the book.

        • I agree with that, but the word “racism” is a powerful one (especially in boldface) and I think that when you ascribe those motives to someone, it’s only fair to lay out all the evidence.

          • Matthew Salesses says:

            Thank you for laying it out here.

            Morgan, appreciate the thoughts. I don’t think we need constant reminders of the birthmark, or that these characters are connected. One reminder per storyline would be enough, I think. I’m sure there’s more in the film to imply that we’re all connected (I hope) than appearance, anyway?

            • One would definitely hope so. And I think that this points to a larger underlying problem that underlies many of the things that are wrong with modern Hollywood filmmaking (not just racism): underestimating audiences. The studios are so tightly controlled by the bean counters that they are terrified of taking any creative risks. So they avoid making films that feature protagonists that are unfamiliar in any way (be it race or gender or outlook or anything else that a majority of their audience might not immediately identify with) or that are not based on a popular, preexisting property or that feature an unconventional narrative. Cloud Atlas is at least attempting the latter. Watching the video that the three directors made explaining why they wanted to make the movie, you can get a sense of how excited they are to be able to take the risk of telling an unusual story. I wonder if they could have gotten a similarly unconventional movie made if it didn’t feature white people or if it wasn’t adapted from a popular novel. I somehow doubt it, and that’s pretty sad.

              I hadn’t seen Jeff’s comment before I posted. I’ll be curious to see how prominent those “whiteface” characters are in the narrative. I certainly didn’t notice any in the trailer.

            • Underly underlies underlying…

            • The Blurpo says:

              Yes I agree on the critics, I was also a bit dissapointed. I thought that the asian man, we see in the trailer was a real asian actor, not a white dude morphed in a future korean man.
              But I think before we throw accusations of racism, we need to see the movie first. I didnt read the book, but from what I see in trailer (who is not a good realiable observation tool for the movie) the only black man is a slave, and the white dudes gets all the girls from different races.

              But this is a superficial observation (from me), beside thise racial “gaffes” I think (hope) it will be a epic movie. And I also hope our worries about this movie will be put to shame.

              Here is the trailer

              http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hWnAqFyaQ5s&feature=my_liked_videos&list=LLZsjMuY_sY8Uep7FjMztqpQ

            • Jennifer says:

              I actually think it’s pretty cool what they are doing, using actors in different roles, and changing up their appearance and race. And it’s not just whites playing Asian or Asians playing white. But Tom Hanks looks like he’s playing Hispanic and Halle Barry is playing Aboriginal & Jewish. And my guess we might even get more than that. Yeah, I agree, it would have been nice to have another Asian actor for the futuristic sci-fi part, but hey, I didn’t put up the money for this movie and spend countless hours trying to bring it to life. Usually when it comes to casting at least on these types of films with these types of directors it’s not about looks or really even acting. It’s more about a director wanting to work with a particular actor. And if they can have an actor fit the role then they will do it. The directors made an artistic choice to use the same actor for the same reincarnations and not just a birthmark. And trust me, you have how many actors in the same role? There are 15 actors in total for 6 different storylines. You would have to reinforce the birthmark how many times if you use even half of those in different roles. That’s too much screentime to reinforce something that can be done instantaneously if you use the same actor. Also it would get way to confusing and you would have to use very different birthmarks to not get people confused. It just makes more sense if you can do it the way they are doing it.

            • Ignoring racism for matters of convenience is not the right way to go, I think. Also, Jennifer, read the book. You would need to show the birthmark six times in the movie. That’s all. (If this movie is being loyal to the ideas and characters of the book.) Think about the way different actors are used to represent characters as children. We do not have any trouble figuring out that they are connected.

            • I never said it was a matter of convenience. I said it was an artistic choice and made more sense in what they wanted to achieve. And I believe if it wasn’t true to the book, the author wouldn’t have approved of the film and wouldn’t be playing a part in it (he is cast in a minor role). So in the book there is one birthmark to relate to the idea of reincarnation, yes. But obviously in the film they are taking it to another level with a number of characters in the reincarnation theme. Also in you’re example of children and adults playing the same role, they have the same name, that tends to eliminate the confusion. These characters do not have that, so again please explain to me how it would work. But then again you might be right and this is one big slap in the face to the Asian race and is on the same level as Breakfast at Tiffany’s. But I would like to see the movie before I make judgements. Also can I say, I love Breakfast at Tiffany’s, yeah, it’s totally racist and actually homophobic (but you don’t talk about that change), but it was a moment in time and hopefully this movie has no “Miss Gorightry!”

              Remember the whole fiasco with The Last Temptation of Christ. All my life I kept hearing about how it’s horrible and Jesus doesn’t die on the cross for our sins and the proposed boycotts. Then I saw the movie. He does die on the cross and it was just him contemplating what would happen if he didn’t go ahead and go through with it. So again these were people who never saw the movies made their own conclusions before they even saw the product. So after October please come back to me and tell me how I’m racist because you’ve already made you’re conclusions and will say it anyways.

              Personally I’m with Morgan Freeman when asked on how we get rid of racism. “Stop talking about it”. Not to say we don’t stand up for injustice and prejudice, but when we stop talking about it over stupid things like movies or music or fast food, putting labels on everything, stop speaking in terms of black, white, yellow, and talk about people, then we can start dealing problems. Like how horrible it is that Asians particularly women feel the need to get eyelid surgery to make their eyes look more round. I’ll have to see if you have an article on that.

            • I bet Morgan Freeman did not have to beatdown Hollywood by the time he started acting. let’s give the black activitists that pioneered racial equality some credit where it’s due; To finally say it’s not ok to use blackface. To say a black person can play themselves on Hollywood and on TV controlled by the whote media.

              Creative difference can only speak to so much when you know racial inequality is there. read up on the Nightingale diabolical recently in the blogshere. I believe racial equalty and representation should become broader and not limited by what white hollywood is happy with. Let asians represent themselves if they are no good for any other role Hollywood deem they can or can not play.

            • Thank you! +1000 for everything written above.

              I understand that if you are sensitive to a subject, you will see related connections far more in your daily life. However, that does not mean that your perception is correct. Jumping to the conclusion of racism here is not only reckless, but could be seen as a form of labelling just as closed-minded and uninformed as racism itself.

            • It’s not all in my mind as you are insinuating. It is real that racism exists, it’s not ALL POWERFUL, nor is it to be ignored, the covert as well as the overt.

              ” However, that does not mean that your perception is correct.”

              Perception is reality.

            • Morgan Freeman is senile, and whites made him rich, he’ll say ANYTHING to appease whites, you should know that.

          • Crystal Hall says:

            There are plenty of examples of racism that are not flamboyantly overt, and to me, in this case, it’s rearing it’s ugly head as ignorance being dismissed as art . Hollywood has misrepresented, exaggerated, and brutalized the Asian male archetype since film became a medium for entertainment. And it’s been common practice in Hollywood to give roles meant for Asian and Asian American actors to their Caucasian counterparts.

            I don’t think the question should be “where’s the evidence of racism” but “would it have been that difficult to cast an Asian?”

  2. I’m of two minds about this. On the one hand, I really hate the whitewashing of minority characters in Hollywood films, and I would like to see more minority actors given good roles instead of being relegated to stereotypes. I was enraged by the whitewashing of The Last Airbender, where all of the clearly Asian characters *except for the villain* were played by white actors. On the other hand, it seems to me like there’s a decent rationale for the casting decisions in this particular case. I have to admit that I’ve only read part of Cloud Atlas so far, so my thinking may be completely off-base. That said, I suspect that casting the same actors as different incarnations of the same people probably has less to do with special effects ambition or a philosophical outlook that equates appearance with one’s true nature than it has to do with the practical constraints of filmmaking. There are two ways that the casting of multiple actors would be impractical. First, it would require casting (and paying) six times as many actors for some of the film’s roles. Second (and I suspect that this was the more salient reason) film is, by necessity, a visual medium. Novels have tools for communicating themes that do not translate well into film. A novel can give us a direct look into a character’s interior life (a window into their soul) in a way that a film cannot. Films require the interior qualities of characters to be externalized in some way that the audience can see. I haven’t read enough of Cloud Atlas yet to have a sense for how easily the birthmark motif could be translated to film, but it seems likely to me that the filmmakers decided that using the same actors throughout would be a more effective visual shorthand than repeated closeups of a birthmark. It seems especially unlikely to me in that the choice was motivated by a deeper belief about people’s appearances reflecting their souls, given that one of the film’s directors, Lana Wachowski, is transgender and probably has an intimate understanding of how one’s outward physical traits may not have anything to do with one’s inner identity.

    In light of those factors, casting white actors as Asians seems like a better option than simply making the future characters white. I think it would have been better, though, if they had mixed the casting up more. If they can make white actors look Asian, they ought to be able to make Asian actors look white. It seems like an obvious solution to the problem, and I wish they had considered it.

    I agree that Bob Costas’ “imaginary barrier” remarks were condescending bullshit, though. Just because people have internalized racism, we shouldn’t forget that there is plenty of external racism left.

  3. Roe Wade says:

    Well if Tom
    Cruise can play a heterosexual?????

  4. “Am not Shpanish. Am Ejuptian.”

  5. Peter Houlihan says:

    I think there’s a slightly less damning tradition of asian impersonation in the US than there is of blackface. Also, the fact that there’s an actual artistic reason for doing it (maintaining the same actor throughout the film) justifies the decision a little. I’d have to see the film to decide for sure but I’m not willing to rule it out on principal.

    • Is it okay to “justify” racism now?

      • Peter Houlihan says:

        Nope, if I thought it was motivated by racism I wouldn’t consider it justified.

        • Matthew Salesses says:

          I wonder if something needs to be motivated by racism to BE racism. I guess I don’t think so.

          • Matthew Salesses says:

            Let’s not let off the casual racists, or the ignorant.

          • Peter Houlihan says:

            Actually I would, but whether or not one would consider it racism, it’s still problematic when someone unintentially promotes racist ideologies. I just don’t see this film as doing that.

            • Matthew Salesses says:

              You think that because “there’s a slightly less damning tradition of asian impersonation in the US than there is of blackface” that yellowface isn’t racist then? Your other point seemed to be about motivation.

            • Peter Houlihan says:

              I think blackface is a special case, yes, I think that it’s been so horribly misused in the past that it can’t be redeemed. This isn’t to say that there aren’t any examples of racist depictions of asian people, or that yellowface is never racist just that I don’t agree that this is such a case.

            • Matthew Salesses says:

              I wonder why you think it’s so different? Why is it offensive if a white person puts on makeup to “be” a black person but not offensive if a white person puts on makeup to “be” an Asian person?

              I wrote about how Asian Americans get treated differently, and have different rules of racism, by the way, here: http://therumpus.net/2012/03/different-racisms-on-jeremy-lin-and-how-the-rules-of-racism-are-different-for-asian-americans/

            • Matthew Salesses says:

              I’m genuinely curious as to why just the act of dressing up a white person as an Asian person isn’t racist in itself. Doesn’t it imply that a white person can understand what it is like to be Asian? Doesn’t it go in the face of a long long history of racism?

              Also, there is a long history of extremely offensive yellowface, and of things like pulling on your eyes to make you “look” Asian. For the film version, see Breakfast in Tiffany’s.

            • Peter Houlihan says:

              I think it’s different because there is a rich history of white people using blackface in order to perpetuate racist stereotypes. In this context, most decisions to cast a white actor in a black role would ally them with a racially charged icon. If a chinese version of the minstrels had been common practice I’d make the same argument about this depiction.

              I think it’s entirely possible for a white actor to play an asian role, just as it’s possible for straight actors to play gay roles or cisgendered actors to play a transperson or an asian american actor born in the 20th century to play a tibetan person born in the 12th century. Acting, as a profession, is all about finding out what makes another person tick and bringing that to the screen, even when they don’t have personal experience of that person’s life. I also don’t think that the gulf between “asian person” and “white person” is so deep that one could not possibly understand the other.

              In most instances I’d question why an actor of one ethnicity would be chosen to play another one, it seems unnecessary. But in this instance they’ve a valid artistic reason to do so: they want to have the same actor portray multiple characters, so I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.

            • I’m curious as to why you think a Caucasian made up as an Asian is racism where the reverse is somehow not.

              Your examples of yellow face and black face of the past were for the purposes of ridicule for comedic outcome. This is not the case here and to make the comparison is unfair and disingenuous.

              The makeup done in this film, as far as I can tell, is for the purposes of maintaining an emotional connection with the character . A birthmark in the book is adequate for this, but for a film you need more. You need to feel you are looking at the same person.

              If they gave them buck teeth and thick glasses, squinted and repeated “A so!” all the time I would be on your side, but this this is not racism by any stretch.

    • Peter Houlihan says:

      *principle

    • Crystal Hall says:

      I think that’s a pretty weak excuse for the use of yellow face, which as an Asian American I find equally horrendous to black face. You might think black face has a more nefarious tradition, but Asians have been mocked in the same manner for as long as they have been brought to the US as indentured servants and slaves.

      Common knowledge of Asian American history is just not up to par with what is known about African American history. Did you know that Asian Americans were granted the right to vote (in phases) beginning in 1943 up until 1965?! African American men were allowed to vote in 1869, 79 years after the first documented Asians arrived in the US and almost 100 years before all Asian Americans were afforded the right to vote.

      It really infuriates me that someone can justify an ignorant act as “art” and not know the history of the demographic that it is affecting. There are no degrees of racism – ignorance is just ignorance.

  6. BeigeFace says:

    “It is to put a white perception on the issue of race, which is to say, it is racism.”
    Only if being white means being racist. Just like if being black means being XYZ, and being beige means being ABC. When people think that (a) there is such a thing as ‘a racist’ (any more than there is such a thing as ‘a gay’) and (b) that ‘a racist’ can be identified by the color of his [sic] skin…

  7. Can we say “Angry Yellow Man”.

  8. It was pointed out to you that some of the Asian actors were also made up to look Caucasian in this movie and you dismiss it.

    Your misguided cry of racism has backfired and now you are resorting to double standards to save face. Save the racism card for genuine acts of hatred in the world. Calling this racist does more harm than good.

    • The long tradition of American culture inflictting minstrelsy on Asian populations for use as entertainment and/or political screeds is *vast*. Almost as vast as the tedious ignorance on display here by those quick to defend, slow to listen, and in some cases it seems, happy to blather about this “awesome” adaptation without reading the novel, which is the biggest clue as to why the approach to this movie is fundamentally problematic.

      Charlie Chan. Fu Manchu. The Quiet Earth. Breakfast at Tiffany’s – Asian minstrelsy.

      Last Airbender. Akira (if that one happens..I hope it doesn’t). Cloud Atlas – Asians whitewashed out of the narrative.

      As for “the writer must have been okay with it,” that statement would be laughable if not for the blatant display of missing critical thinking ability. Google around to see what Ursula Le Guin said about Hollywood’s whitewash of A Wizard of Earthsea, then click around to educate yourself a bit about just how much power a typical writer does not have when dealing with Hollywood.

      Most importantly, read this young man’s post again. What he’s sharing is just how very damaging this kind of crap is to those not white enough to ignore, excuse or defend it.

      Pam

  9. Rebecca Vera says:

    I’m sorry, but this title is misleading and severely incorrect. CLOUD ATLAS it is NOT a HOLLYWOOD movie, is backed by the German production companies A Company and X Film.
    Actually, this movie was rejected by Hollywoody because they said it was impossible to make. Yep.

  10. From what I gathered, the film does not closely follow the structure of the novel. For an INDEPENDENT production, they have to do this. It is a miracle they were able to independent finance 100 million dollars. And yes, if the film wants to recoup the cost, it has to be spoon feed the audience somewhat. For example, Inception had to go out of its way to with it endless exposition. Furthermore, a bigger cast would also increase the production budget.

    I also find it interesting that Halle Berry is playing a WHITE Woman.

    PS – One of the directors had a sex change, which I can see why the directors are taking this approach, since the film deals with how predetermined identities shape the individual.

  11. This is actually a foreign film’, not a Hollywood production. Some of the funding actually came from South Korea.

  12. “The bulk of the NYT piece, however, is focused on the unusual financing of the film, which ended up being a mix of money from South Korea, Germany, Singapore, China and a bit from Warner Bros., which will distribute the film in the USA.
    http://www.slashfilm.com/halle-berry-cloud-atlas/

  13. I can understand what you mean by that the movie is a bit racist. I guess first we can clarify that it is racist in terms of a way of categorizing or stereotyping. Like that it’s racist that they have an idea of what certain ethnicity should look like. However, we don’t know if a certain actor is wearing a mask to just look different for the movie and the other scenes he doesn’t because it is more convenient that way- maybe it’s not to try to look Asian, but he just needed to look different. Maybe they used the same actor for different roles to show that it was the same soul. It’s true they could cast a different actor to play the same soul of another actor, but WHY NOT have the same actor just wear a mask to look different and not necessarily to try to look like a certain ethnicity. There’s nothing wrong with that other than people who may interpret it differently or are racist themselves and say, “hey, that actor or director thinks that’s how an asian should look like so maybe that’s really the case”. Instead we can think hey, that actor is trying to play a different character and needed to look different. Or that the the movie was trying to just show it was the same soul in different looking people that was really the same actor in different times, but the fact that it’s the same actor is not the point of the story of the movie. They’re trying to show it’s the same soul is all.

  14. It was just an excuse to slap Asians in the face. Now this will open the floodgates for a LOT more whites yellowface. Remember, yellowface like it’s ugly brother Blackface have RACIST origins.

  15. as someone who has actually seen the movie and seen the Wachowski’s discuss this a few points. One, they and the author together thought the birthmark would not be sufficient since they changed the order of the book. So they went with actors playing multiple roles. The fact that quite a few times people play against racial type, not just the examples you give, it really changes how it is perceived. I do think it might have been better if they had an asian actor go Caucasian to create the same feeling. However, purely so that the balance would be more against employing so many white actors. Assuming racism prior to seeing the film is so blatantly irresponsible it is more then offensive, but be smirches the efforts of anti-racists everywhere.
    second, this is not a hollywood film, it has hollywood distribution now but was made completely outside the system. A few minutes of research would have shown that. Yes, there is a difficult history of white privilege at play here, however seeing as the film is in many ways about that very thing, perhaps seeing it and seeing how it played out would have been a better way to handle your concern.

  16. Eldergothfather says:

    I think; get over it. I am of Hispanic heritage and have had to endure seeing the likes of people in ‘brownface’ playing hispanics who were anything but. This has been going on for a long time and we move on. (http://www.remezcla.com/2011/latin/non-latin-actors-latino-roles-movies/) Not to even mention the most hideous, Robbie Benson and if it could not get worse, now with election season, visit Romney’s appearance on a Univision town hall…if you’re going to let this bother you, you will have a long miserable life attacking what Hollywood is just not going to change.(http://www.commondreams.org/scriptfiles/views03/1201-02.htm)…BTW I don’t see you mention John Wayne’s portrayal of Genghis Khan….that should have really been offensive.

    • Get over it?
      That is always the easy way out isn’t it. Don’t be so passive buddy, it will get you no where.

  17. Matthew Salesses says:
  18. Thank you for posting this. I plan on protesting outside theaters when this movie is released. Do you mind if I make copies of your article available for people going to see this movie?

  19. Thank you for this article. I had no idea this was what they were doing with the movie. It’s insulting on so many levels. Further discussion here: http://tinyurl.com/9ntbpb9

  20. It puzzles me how some articles keep nagging at me and this is one.

    I could care less about what role any actor plays- I don’t think Steve Buscemi should get every fireman role and don’t think blackface is, now, any more rascist than other makeup.
    In a CGI world anyone can play ANYTHING not just anyone.

  21. This movie gets an F. I don’t care if the Asian people are white faced. Why not cast Asian/Black/Latino people in the upcoming Hobbit film if race isn’t an issue? Or why not cast real Asian faces in the Last Airbender movie instead of white people dressed up as Asians? The fact is, uninformed white westerners don’t get racism nor should even attempt to debate the issue when they don’t even know what the issue is. I’d rather see no Asian faces, than the mockery that passes as Asian advancement in Hollywood. Bruce Lee knew it back in the 60s, and Hollywood is just as racist today.

    • It is more accurate to say that A:TLA had white people dressed up as Inuit people and a Metis (or whatever the American equivalent is) person dressed up as an Asian person, at least as far as main characters go.

  22. Should American Actors be indignant that Homeland has Brits playing Americans?

  23. I see the trailer, last night, for Les Misérables & it seems to be Australians & Americans instead of French actors, I’m outraged

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