This attitude isn’t cute or cool at all. And whats sadder is that you’re asian and you’re promoting fetishization of your own race. -first
“Oriental was a rug that everyone steps on, so we ain’t no Orientals. We were Asian American.” -Richard Aoki
Yellow Face and Orientalism in the Media: Controlling What it Means to be Asian
[Inspired by my Amplify associate, Karachi, and her post on Blackface, Slurs and Appropriation]
Yellow Face isn’t just the mere inauthenticity and a failure of aesthetics of white people dressing up, wearing make up, trying to be Asian, and/or playing the roles of Asians. No, it’s definitely more insidious and problematic than that. It is systematic racism and discrimination, refusing to hire Asians or forcing them to play as villains, or when they receive a major role, it is typically a stereotypical one (i.e., martial arts, ‘wise man’, ‘dragon lady’, etc). It simulates a crude idea of what ‘Asians’ look like, all the while perpetuating terrible stereotypes, controlling what it means to be Asian whether it’s in person, on the stage, or on screen.
Orientalism: It’s a dichotomy created by the ‘West,’ it builds a view of the ‘East’ along with many elements of this culture that becomes obscured and exotic. Making a whole group of people seen as something monolithic, creating an erasure of actual identities.
I’m not even going to try to bother with getting too in-depth about the obvious cultural appropriation, ethnocentrism, and orientalism (not too much at least). I’m not going to go into Yellow Face on stage, in whitewashing (too much), in Europe, nor will I take the time to go through political caricatures of Asians throughout history. [Not that it’s less important or there’s a lack of evidence.] These following examples and history checks should do enough for now in getting my point across. (Please find a friend in Google if you really want to educate yourself though! Thank you!)
So, why did Yellowface occur? Was there a shortage of Asian people to play these Asian roles during the times this practice was most rampant (19th and 20th century)?
Meet Sessue Hayakawa (Born 1889-Death 1973), the first Asian American leading actor. He was one of the highest paid actors of his time. His talents were definitely recognized by Paramount Pictures and was even considered a sex icon. But despite all of this, he still met discrimination and racism everywhere he went. He was always forced to either play “the exotic villain” or “the exotic lover.” He waited for his turn to be casted as a hero of color, but it never came.
This is Anna May Wong (1905-1961). During the 1920s-1930s, Anna was given many different roles as a contracted Paramount Pictures actress, but they were always either as a “dragon lady” or a “butterfly lady.” Despite all of that, she was still a household name and was considered a fashion icon.
She was the top contender for the leading role of O-Lan, a Chinese heroine for the movie The Good Earth (1937) by MGM, but that role was later given to Luise Rainer (definitely not Asian). MGM went to her and tried to give her another role for a film called Lotus, but it meant that she had to be the villain again, so she turned it down and left for Europe for more opportunities and eventually went back to Paramount Pictures.
Say hello to Philip Ahn (1905-1973). For the film, Anything Goes, Ahn was initially rejected by the director, Lewis Milestone, because—I shit you not, he said this to Philip Ahn—he thought Philip’s “English was too good for the part.” During World War II, Philip Ahn was often forced to play roles of Japanese villains. He even received death threats because people thought he was actually Japanese.
Other Asian actors/actresses: Barbara Jean Wong, Fely Franquelli, Benson Fong, Chester Gan, Honorable Wu, Kam Tong, Keye Luke, Layne Tom Jr., Maurice Liu, Philip Ahn, Richard Loo, Lotus Long, Rudy Robles, Suzanna Kim, Teru Shimada, Willie Fung, Victor Sen Yung, Toshia Mori and Wing Foo.
Merle Oberon can also be added to the list, although she was part white/part Asian. She had to lie about her origins and applied whitening make up to pass as fully white. Other Asian actors and actresses: Jack Soo, Pat Morita, Mako, Bruce Lee, Lucy Liu, Margaret Cho, B.D. Wong, Amy Hill, Jennie Kwan, Masi Oka, James Lee, Ming Na, Daniel Dae Kim, Sendhil Ramamurthy, Charlyne Yi, Miyoshi Umeki, Shin Koyamada, John Cho, Brenda Song, and George Takei. Click on this link to see a hundred more.
After going through the list, ask yourself why the majority of the actors and actresses here are either in some martial arts movies or some other stereotypical crap?
TL;DR this section: There definitely wasn’t a shortage of Asian American actors and actresses. And there still isn’t.
Very Few Examples (of Very Many) of Yellowface in History:
Nil Ashter as General Yen from The Bitter Tea of General Yen (1933)
What Nils Ashter really looked like:
Harold Huber as Ito Takimura in Little Tokyo, USA (1942)
Interestingly enough, everyone who was a “bad guy” in this was portrayed as Japanese. Even more interesting, this was around the same time Japanese Internment Camps were happening.
What Harold Huber really looked like:
Katharine Hepburn as Jade Tan in in Dragon Seed (1944)
Katharine Hepburn just a few years after Dragon Seed:
Jennifer Jones as Dr. Han Suyin in Love is a Many Splendored-Thing (1955)
Another interesting concept found in this movie. “BEING WITH ASIAN WOMEN IS SO HOT AND EXOTIC. LET’S FETISHIZE THE SHIT OUT OF THEM.” Yup.
What Jennifer Jones actually looks like:
John Wayne as Genghis Khan in The Conqueror (1956)
John Wayne, y’all:
Mickey Rooney as Mr. Yunioshi in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)
Mickey Rooney at that time:
Joel Grey as Chiun (Kung Fu Master, everyone—on the left) in Remo Williams (1985)
What Joel Grey really looked like:
Other cases I haven’t really taken the time to cover: Charlie Chan Series (Actors who played as Charlie Chan from 1931-1981: Warner Oland, Sidney Toler, Roland Winters, Peter Ustinov) Fu Manchu, Madame Butterfly, The Teahouse of the August Moon, Shanghai Express, The Manchurian Candidate, Sayonara, Mr. Moto Series, 7 Faces of Dr. Lao, Short Circuit (1986 & 1988), The Party, Gunga Din, Broken Blossoms, The Year of Living Dangerously, etc.
I mean, I guess you could say, “But those movies were decades ago!”
Alex Borstein as Ms. Swan.
Nicholas Cage as Fu Manchu (2007)
(Other actors who played the role of Fu Manchu starting from the 1920s up ‘til now: H. Agar Lyons, Warner Oland, Boris Karloff, Harry Brannon, Christopher Lee, and Peter Sellers)
Christopher Walken as Feng (2007)
Rob Schneider as Asian Minister in I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry (2007)
M. Night’s The Last Airbender (2010)
Well, the show was based on Asian and Inuit culture. But just look at the casting. The three protagonists are all light skinned while Zuko (played by Dev Patel in the movie) is dark skinned, and by default in this movie, the bad guy. Someone please just remake this movie. Please.
British Actor, Jim Sturgess, (rocking bad eye prosthetics) playing as a Korean in Cloud Atlas (2012)
Like I said - I continue to refuse to support media businesses which overtly show you they’re totally about segregation era- hiring practices - because how much more obvious can it get than…
“We wanted an asian character, but we hired a white person, and even though we say it’s about acting chops MORE THAN APPEARANCE, we decided to dress them up to LOOK ASIAN, so in reality what we’re saying is we wanted someone who ‘looked asian’ but we were too damn racist to consider giving that money to an actual asian so instead we spent lots of money on make up and CGI to instead, so that tells you how much money we’re willing to drop to make sure we don’t accidentally give any Asian actors a paycheck.”
On why a non-Asian person saying “Asian women are hot” and me saying “I am Asian-American” are two very different things.
1. If a non-Asian person says “All Asian women are hot” they are making a stereotypical generalization based on the historic homogenization of Asian appearance. I.e.: All Asians look alike, meaning short, skinny, pale skinned, and black hair. This is wrong. Not all people from Asia look like this. It’s also rooted in weird Western exoticism of Asian women, because we’re all so “delicate” like “lotus flowers.”
2. If I describe myself as Asian-American, it’s because I find it an accurate representation of my ethnic/cultural background. Quite frankly, I have family that is located in SEVERAL different countries in Asia. I may be ethnically Chinese, but most of my family was born in the Philippines. I also have ties to Malaysia and Singapore. I, however, am an American citizen. If one can identify as Chinese-American because of being ethnically Chinese, but an American citizen (and by the way: American is NOT a synonym for “white”), then I think one should be able to identify as Chinese-Filipin@ etc. Given my pan-Asian background (and, really? the sheer amount of languages I grew up exposed to is ridiculous), I prefer the term “Asian-American.”
3. Which means all the people bitching about how I’m a hypocrite for pointing out the incorrect usage of the word “Asian” for “Asian fetish” can STFU, right now.
Seriously, what makes this vid original? They use the same old Hollywood stereotypes making them look as thought they are too lazy to look up China’s diversity. I think they tried to base parts of the video from Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon and House of Flying Daggers. Then they threw in Japanese Taiko drumming and used the 1000 Hand of Guan Yin from the Beijing Olympic performance….
Some tell me this is a parody.
Or at least that they are poking fun of orientalism…
It screams exotic Other.
“We both realized they had been trying to set us up. So they didn’t have anything on us. They came for her early in the morning, too. They didn’t detain her parents, they just detained her. Tashnuba and I were then trying to figure out what was going on, what they were going to do, if they were going to release us.That’s when a lady walked in. She said, “What are you guys in for?We said, “We don’t know.I hear you guys did something What did we do?” We were asking her for information.She said, “We’re going to take you to Pennsylvania.Tashnuba and I looked at each other, like, Pennsylvania? I said, “What are we goingto do in Pennsylvania? She answered, “They didn’t tell you? There’s a detention center there.”
Click the photo to read the rest of one 16 year olds harrowing account of being, in effect kidnapped, and detained for months by FBI agents with no cause, no explanation and no legal recourse.
… And most people have no idea that it is now perfectly legal in the United States to arrest (“detain” is a ridiculous euphemism) any US citizen—not just Arabs and Muslims— and hold them indefinitely with no access to legal representation. They don’t have to justify it or explain why, ever.
pledge allegiance to all that bullshit that he learned in school