“Ugh, that’s painful.”
“Yellowface” is using makeup to make somebody look “East Asian.” It happened a lot in early Hollywood, but has it gone away?
Find out how yellowface is still around, and about its awful impact, with these reactions from East Asian people.
The Editors at Everyday Feminism
Click for the Transcript
Speaker 1: Oh, my God! Oh, he looks like an alien.
Text: In early Hollywood, white actors were often made up to portray characters of other races. “Yellowface” is using makeup to make someone look East Asian.
Marlon Brando, Teahouse of the August Moon (1956). Brando’s character is a Japanese interpreter for the American army.
Marlon Brando: (The video shows a clip of the film) Rest of world not like Okinawa.
Speaker 1: Wait, is that him?
Marlon Brando: (From the film) World filled with delightful variation. Example—
Speaker 2: Fuck.
Speaker 1: (Laughing.)
Speaker 3: My stomach is turning watching this.
Speaker 4: Oh, my God.
Speaker 1: (Imitating Marlon Brando’s character’s voice) My name is Marlon Brando.
Speaker 5: Accents in themselves aren’t funny things. It’s somebody trying to learn a new language.
Speaker 3: Is that all it takes to make yourself look Asian?
Speaker 6: Just looks like a white dude doing like a shitty accent.
Speaker 4: Marlon Brando is also one of the greatest American actors, and seeing this, you’re like, “No, you’re not.”
Speaker 5: Watching this feels just really dehumanizing.
Text: Mickey Rooney, Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961). Rooney plays a cranky Japanese landlord.
Mickey Rooney: (In a clip from the film) Ms. Golightly!
Speaker 8: Ugh, that’s painful.
Mickey Rooney: (Speaking in an accent) I must protest! If you don’t stop that phonograph right this minute, I’m going to call the police department!
Speaker 8: Yeah, this is really racist.
Speaker 5: This guy could’ve been an orc in Lord of the Rings. That’s how much makeup he has on right now.
Speaker 8: Literally a political cartoon.
Speaker 4: The Asian guy is not human. He’s clearly not supposed to be human.
Speaker 5: An early example of the way Asian men are portrayed is gross.
Speaker 1: Oh, Audrey Hepburn, she’s so gorgeous and graceful, and then all of a sudden you get Mickey Rooney like, “Roar, roar! Roar, roar, roar!”
Speaker 4: It’s like a kick in the nuts.
Text: But is yellowface gone now?
James D’Arcy, Cloud Atlas (2012). Cloud Atlas involves characters being reborn in different eras, sometimes as different races.
James D’Arcy: (In a clip from the movie) The report said Commander Chang was killed in the assault.
Speaker 4: Whoa.
Speaker 1: Oh, my God!
Speaker 6: He looks like a fucking alien.
Speaker 3: Just because they break all the rules and have everybody race bend doesn’t mean that it’s still okay to do yellowface.
Speaker 1: With this kind of makeup, you don’t transcend time. You just look really bad.
Speaker 8: The actors did a great job, but you just cannot make a white man look Asian.
Speaker 1: Level of discomfort is not like diarrhea discomfort like before, but more like mild indigestion.
Speaker 5: Asian men are either portrayed as dweeby children or like a scary, alien, cold monk.
Text: Alyson Hannigan, How I Met Your Mother (2014). This episode was explained to be a tribute to old kung fu movies.
Another actor from How I Met Your Mother: Can you teach me how to do that?
Alyson Hannigan: (Wearing a traditional Chinese shirt and hairstyle) No, I retired from teaching long ago.
Speaker 1: (Mimicking Alyson Hannigan’s voice) I am Alyson Hannigan.
Speaker 8: The problem with this is the term Orientalism.
Speaker 6: Yep.
Speaker 8: It’s not homage anymore when you start playing someone else’s race.
Speaker 6: It just makes me feel so exoticized.
Speaker 5: It kind of just reads, “We’re going to take a hodgepodge of Asian influences.”
Speaker 8: You could’ve easily done an homage where you would exist in that universe of the Far East, but you’re still a white character.
Speaker 1: Could you have imagined if How I Met Your Mother decided to do a whole episode where they did the same thing but it was blackness. We would not have accepted that.
Speaker 3: It’s so tough because I love the show. I like watched it every day. For them to do this really breaks my heart.
Speaker 6: I think that people confuse interest in another culture with understanding for that culture.
Text: Final Thoughts
Speaker 5: You get to a point where you’re just like, “I don’t expect anything better from my media than what I’ve been given.”
Speaker 8: Yellowface, you can’t get past the damn makeup!
Speaker 5: I think it’s sort of like, “Oh, well, the Asians are louder now and they’ll get mad at us if we do straight-up yellowface.”
Speaker 4: There are no Asian bankable stars because no Asian has been cast in a role where they’ve been allowed to become a bankable star.
Speaker 3: The blame should not be on the actors, it should be on the directors and the casting.
Speaker 8: Hollywood doesn’t have as much of an excuse to say, “I can’t cast an Asian actor,” because there are Asian actors.
Speaker 5: I’m sure the people making these decisions think the media has gotten better. If you ask an Asian person, I feel like they would tell you very different. Hey, do you think the media’s gotten better?
Speaker 3: To be honest, yes, but better doesn’t mean it’s good enough.
To learn more about this topic, check out:
- How Emma Stone’s Role As an ‘Asian’ Character Reveals a Huge Hollywood Problem
- 6 Reasons We Need to Dismantle the Model Minority Myth of Those ‘Hard-Working’ Asians