Yellowface in Cloud Atlas
Sure, Cloud Atlas had an amazing score and tied the 6 storylines together pretty well. Sure, it was innovative to use the same 6 actors/actresses in the roles across the 6 different inter-connected stories. But let’s not skim over the fact that the directors had James Sturgess put on yellowface to become Hae-Joo Chang in the Sonmi ~451 plot. Putting make up on to entertain an audience in order to represent/act as a different race is not a recent phenomena.
In fact, the [now socially outlawed] practice of blackface has dated all the way back to the early 19th century with the traveling minstrel shows of the South. Of course, there are still the odd pictures that show up online of some stupid kids dressing up for a party, but I’d argue that blackface is no longer a conventionally accepted practice. We haven’t reached that point with yellowface yet. I mean, we have Mickey Rooney playing an uncomfortably stereotyped (angry, blind, terriblly accent, buck-toothed) Asian man in Breakfast at Tiffany’s–probably/hopefully because no self-respecting Asian was willing to accept the role, or Katy Perry’s awkward geisha performance at the AMA’s. I get it, Wachowski’s, you wanted to stick with the whole everyone-is-connected-through-space-and-time-and-our-actions-have-far-reaching-consequences theme from Cloud Atlas. But was it necessary? I mean, did the special effects department even look at Korean people or did they just try to make Sturgess have squinty eyes?
Then again, it wouldn’t be fair for me to complain about yellowface without making a comment on Doona Bae’s terrifying portrayal of Tilda (Ewing’s wife), who looks like a timid, make-up-less Red Queen from Tim Burton’s rendition of Alice in Wonderland.
For a movie that’s about the long-term consequences of actions, I think the directors really need to reconsider their perpetualization of the notion that race is something that you can plaster onto your skin.