Tag Archives: yellowface

“Kimmy Goes to a Play” as a Conversation Between Tina Fey and Asian American Activists

The culture war is a conversation.

While it is ultimately a conflict, more often than not this takes the form of ideas and criticism being slung back and forth across the trenches. To be heard is a minor success, but to be actually understood is victory.

Within this conversation it’s undoubtedly artists, especially those who have garnered celebrity status, who have the most powerful voices.


In 2014 the eponymous host of The Colbert Report featured a segment on his show about “The Ching-Chong Ding-Dong Foundation for Sensitivity to Orientals or Whatever”. Given his popularity it reached far and wide, and was eventually viewed by a Twitter activist who created the hashtag #CancelColbert in response.

chingchongcolbert

As it was meant to call attention to and ridicule the outrageous fact that a national sports team is named after an ethnic slur the response was out of line. It was a classic case of [obvious] satire being taken the wrong way, but by inadvertently contributing to what has been dubbed “a fake year of outrage’ this person’s misstep resulted in others who campaign for better representation and the like being worse than silenced, which is to say, ignored.

Despite calling out from what is ostensibly the same side, the misstep of a single loud voice meant that others were unheard.


The exchange between artist and critic is rarely ever an even one, and only becomes more difficult given the sensitivity surrounding such personal creative endeavours.

Lena Dunham is the star and creator of HBO’s Girls, and received enough disapproval about the lack of diversity in a show set in New York City that she was asked about it by NPR. She responded that “[she takes] that criticism very seriously,” and that very same year had Donald Glover playing Hannah’s Black boyfriend on the show.

While the presence of Sandy on the dramedy was a beneficial one, with arguments between the two capturing the tension that can be present in interracial relationships [including such exchanges as: “I never thought about the fact that you were black once.” / “That’s insane. You should, because that’s what I am.”], Glover’s character faltered in that he was very much a response to criticism. Continue reading

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Shame Day: Porn and Racism

Let’s be honest, porn is not the highest art form to begin with. That being said, it’s 2013, people. It is the 21st century and I expect better from all of us, even those in San Fernando Valley [lovingly dubbed “Porn Valley” by those in the industry].

glenntwdNow, I’m going to assume that most of you are familiar with AMC’s The Walking Dead [I’d be surprised if you weren’t, really]. If not, what you need to know is that it features among its core cast Glenn, who is played by Korean-American Steven Yeun]. A cast member of the original comic book series, Glenn makes his entrance by saving Rick, the protagonist of the series, and goes on to be an all-around successful human being [which, in a zombie apocalypse, equates to being a badass]. So that’s what you have to know about that.

What you also have to know, if you weren’t aware, is that porn studios churn out parodies like nobody’s business. They’ve parodied everything from beloved childhood cartoons [The Flintstones: A XXX Parody] to a 1976 DC/Marvel comic books crossover event [Superman vs Spider-Man XXX: An Axel Braun Parody]; nothing is sacred. It should come as no surprise, then, when they decided to take a stab at adapting AMC’s The Walking Dead [if you watch it, you’d know why I have to write it out like that].

Porn star Danny Wylde was cast to play Glenn in the as-of-yet untitled film. In it, he will be appearing as follows:

Continue reading

Evan and Gordon Talk: Racially Accurate Casting

EVAN: Today’s topic is something that I hold very near and dear to my heart. Years of research on the topic has made me witness to all of the arguments that can be used against needing to have racially accurate casting, and because of this I’m going to propose something a little different

GORDON: Namely?

EVAN: That I switch sides for this conversation, and speak out against it.

GORDON: Intriguing. Mind starting us off with the first salvo?

EVAN: Statement: Racially accurate casting is not important. The most talented actor should be the one who gets the role.

GORDON: Doesn’t appearance play a key role in what makes an actor good? Peter Dinklage is good, but you wouldn’t really find him believable playing Abraham Lincoln or Kareem Abdul Jabbar.

EVAN: In this case his stature, not his race, is what would keep him from playing either role in a convincing manner.

GORDON: But isn’t that essentially the same issue? Imagine the great Denzel Washington playing Lincoln- you’d be sitting there the entire time, no matter how much of a powerhouse Washington would be, taken out of the film because you have to deal with a black guy playing a white guy during the height of the civil war.

In any piece of film where you’re expecting realism, you’re going to expect the actors to conform to the styles and facts of the time. If you portray Georgia in the 1960s, you’re obviously not going to have a largely black cast portraying the upper class  or if you were to set the scene in early 1900s Ghana  you wouldn’t have a cast comprised of Caucasians. It wouldn’t make sense, no matter how good they are.

EVAN: If anything, Cloud Atlas at least proves that a talented actor can portray whoever they like, given an adequate amount of makeup. Halle Berry plays a Korean Man in the film, and does so in a convincing fashion that doesn’t at all take viewers out of the film in the least.

GORDON: I haven’t seen that film, so I can’t speak to the use of the actors for the parts they play. From my understanding that was a work of fantasy (or science fiction, I’m only going off what I can gather from the trailers). And in one or two movies, it’s probably not a big deal. After all, Cate Blanchett played Bob Dylan.

But imagine this applied to each and every movie, it simply wouldn’t work. Realism would deteriorate- and this would be especially detrimental in a film trying to deal directly with race relations.

EVAN: I personally feel that allowing any race to play any other speaks much more in terms of race relations. That’s a world where colour is a non-issue  because it shouldn’t be.

EVAN: I’m dying, Gordon. My life force is seeping out of me.

GORDON: Try to stick with it…

GORDON: And while it’s true that race ought to be a non-issue, that’s simply not how things are or have been in the past. Using black actors to play black characters and white actors to play white characters is fundamental to demonstrating past inequity and injustice with American racism and segregation. And that’s just one element.

Let’s talk about Indians playing Arabs. It happened in Lost and it happened in Community (with multiple actors), but Arabs look nothing like Indians. Indian actors are used simply because they fit the stereotype of what most people think an Arab looks like. It perpetuates an inaccuracy.

EVAN: Isn’t the fact that the role is an Arab important a large enough step? This is a minority with a major role on a TV show, and an opportunity for minority actors to step up, which they have in both cases.

GORDON: Barring Monk and Arrested Development, when’s the last time you saw an Arab actor? I’m not trying to argue against Indian actors, or actors of Indian heritage getting roles, but for the purpose of portraying the world as it is (or at least with some realism) we should have actors with some vague resemblance to the people they’re portraying on film.

After all, would you not be thrown off by guys with German accents playing French resistance fighters during WWII?

EVAN: If they had German accents then they simply wouldn’t be right for the role, which brings me back to my first point.

GORDON: Which, by proxy, brings us back to my first response. Ethnicity (depending on the situation) is just as valid an element of a guy’s candidacy for a role dealing directly with ethnicity as accents, or height, or any other factor (actual talent, of course, being the most important).

Vincent Cassel should probably not play Malcolm X. Adrien Brody should probably not play the Queen of England, though that would be pretty funny.

EVAN: If we’re going to stick with believability, than why is it so important that Indians not play Arabs? No one has ever made a big deal out of this, so clearly people believe that they are what their role calls them to be-

Likewise a Korean can to play a Chinese person can play a Japanese person. Audiences can’t tell the difference and believe that they are whatever the role is, and that’s okay.

GORDON: But Koreans do not look Chinese, Chinese people don’t look Japanese, and Arabs and Indians certainly don’t look like each other. The only reason this happens is because most people either don’t know (partly due to this inaccurate casting) or don’t care (in other words, all non-whites are basically one homogenous mass.

If all your life, you had seen black men and been told “these are Uzbekistanis,” then you’d go your whole life simply assuming that Uzbekistanis are, in fact, indiscernible from guys from Benin.

Your ignorance should not dictate which actors get which parts. Further, no Uzbekistan could really ever get a chance to play and Uzbekistani because of the years of misinformation.

EVAN: But there is a huge difference between a black person and an Uzbekistani. The examples I made have similarities that the example you used clearly does not.

To be such a stickler for accuracy is the other extreme, and just as wrong. You wouldn’t get someone with mental problems to accurately portray a character with mental problems, that just doesn’t make sense. Race should matter if it is noticeable, and like I said in the case of shows like Lost it is not.

EVAN: The logic above was used against me by someone in a thread on Reddit  You can check out our exchange here.

GORDON: Granted, my example was extreme, but that doesn’t change the point. Even though a Thai guy and a Japanese guy share more similarities than a Beninese guy and an Uzbekistani guy, there are still distinct differences between people from Thailand and people from Japan.

With regards to being a stickler- I admit, as I have previously, that you don’t have to have an exact replica of the character you’re trying to portray. Jet Li, I imagine, is doing pretty well for himself, and I still wouldn’t doubt his ability to portray a poor man very well. However, while you don’t need to be point for point, you do need to have some general similarity. That’s why we don’t have Emma Stone portraying Fidel Castro.

EVAN: I feel like the extremeness of your examples is damaging your point. If we’re sticking with race we should do that, and not bring in gender.

GORDON: It’s to demonstrate the underlying point in all of this: Verisimilitude. Realism. Accuracy.

EVAN: And since you said “you don’t have to have an exact replica of the character you’re trying to portray” why isn’t it okay to have Naveen Andrews play Sayid Jarrah on Lost?

GORDON: But the distinction is great enough. The accent is Indian, not Iraqi. Naveen does not look Iraqi. When an actor neither looks nor sounds like the character he is meant to portray, we have a problem.

EVAN: So if Jarrah had managed to sound Iraqi, would that have helped?

GORDON: It would’ve added to the realism and accuracy, yes. But that doesn’t change the fact that he’s very clearly Indian, not Arab.

EVAN: Clear to a very select few. As mentioned, people didn’t seem to notice for the most part.

GORDON: Clear to a very select few. As mentioned, people didn’t seem to notice for the most part.

Most people don’t know what an Arab looks like. Do they know that Monk is Lebanese? That Cousin Maeby is Iraqi? Most do not. Ignorance is not an excuse for inaccurate casting.

EVAN: And that brings our exhausting exchange to an end. Trying to argue for something I so strongly disagree was one of the more difficult things I’ve ever done. I hope that in reading this you were able to see the holes in my argument and the truth in Gordon’s.

GORDON: Booyah.

The past few paragraphs alone have had the same effect on Evan as that life-sucking device in the Princess Bride. Commend him for biting the bullet.

And as for our discussion next time, your options are: What do we make of the upcoming Star Wars sequel?

EVAN: And. . . how about . . . How much artistic merit is there in a show like Adventure Time?

GORDON: I like it.

And to our beloved and devoted followers (who would organize into a vicious and unholy army of darkness if we ever were to ask it of ’em), feel free to suggest your own topic down in the comments section.

EVAN: And, as usual, thanks for reading.

Fame Day: Racebending.com

This Thursday I want to call attention to a website that’s been in this blog’s links-sidebar basically since its inception. I came across Racebending.com around the time it began, and their stance on equality casting and representation in the media is one of the many reasons I decided it was time to start writing more about what I thought mattered.

As their name might suggest, the site came about as a response to M. Night Shyamalan’s film adaptation of the Nickelodeon show Avatar: The Last Airbender. The entirety of the series was set in a distinctly Asian-inspired universe, and the casting decision was made to have the majority of the protagonists be played by Caucasian actors. The change is starkly apparent in the image below:

And for those of you who don’t think Zuko is a villain, click on the link for a thorough explanation.

The organization did a great amount in revealing the decisions that went into the making of the film. Most importantly was their breakdown of the casting calls that read “Caucasian or any other ethnicity,” and how the language affects those who apply for the roles as well as hinting at what they are looking for. They also exposed the blatant racism used by casting director Deedee Rickets, who was quoted as answering the question “Are you at a disadvantage if you didn’t wear a costume?” with the following:

Absolutely not! It doesn’t mean you’re at a disadvantage if you didn’t come in a big African thing. But guys, even if you came with a scarf today, put it over your head so you’ll look like a Ukrainian villager or whatever.

Although the movement was not enough to sway the studio, producers, or director of the film, the site stays up, continuing to work towards educating the internet on when and where whitewashing is taking place, and what people can do to stop it. They also take care to call attention to those who are advancing the role of minorities in the media, giving credit where it’s due.

Most recently the blog has been concentrating on the upcoming film Cloud Atlas, which stands out due to its use of “yellowface” by various actors. While the directing Wachowski siblings and others have cited the theme of reincarnation and  the fact that actors of colour will also be playing White roles, media liaison Mike Le lays out the stark difference between the two. In an interview with  the radio station Vocalo 89.5 he explains the tradition of yellowface in cinema as a means of controlling the perceptions of a race, and the damage it has done and can still do.

All in all, Racebending.com is run by people who are doing good things, and who care about representation whether it be based on race, gender, or orientation. They strive to see the media reflect the immense amount of diversity in our world, and that alone should be worth checking them out.