Cloud Atlas Under Attack From Asian Group

Categories: Film

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I don't agree with the protest, mind you.

This isn't like that production I just criticized for trying to put a white person in blackface for a black role.

Cloud Atlas is expressly a movie that has various races and genders playing each other.

That's one of its main points.

So I didn't find it jarring to see whites as Asians, Asians as whites, and many other permutations.

But the Media Action Network for Asian Americans (MANAA) feels the film is "business-as-usual in its exclusion and offensive yellow-faced renditions of Asian people."

Here's what the group has to say:


"A multi-ethnic epic spanning 500 years and around the globe, it's an artistically ambitious approach to filmmaking. Unfortunately, it reflects the same old racial pecking order that the entertainment industry has been practicing for decades.

"One of the stories takes place in a totalitarian, mechanized Neo Seoul Korea in the year 2144. An Asian female clone (South Korean actress Doona Bae) is encouraged by another female clone (Chinese movie star Xun Zhou) to break out of her oppressive pre-programmed routine to serve men and become an independent thinker. The segment also includes White actors Sturgess, Weaving, and James D'Arcy as ostensibly Korean characters, using eye prosthetics to make their Caucasian features look more Asian.

"Cloud Atlas prides itself on its 'multi-racial cast', but that basically means White men and women of color, like La Jolla Playhouse's 'The Nightingale,' which was criticized last Summer for using only two Asian American actresses but allowing five White men to play Chinese characters.

"Cloud Atlas missed a great opportunity. The Korea story's protagonist is an Asian man--an action hero who defies the odds and holds off armies of attackers. He's the one who liberates Doona Bae from her repressive life and encourages her to join the resistance against the government. It would have been a great, stereotype-busting role for an Asian American actor to play, as Asian American men aren't allowed to be dynamic or heroic very often.

"But instead, they cast Jim Sturgess in yellowface. In fact, every major male character in the Korea story is played by non-Asian actors in really bad yellowface make-up. When you first see Hugo Weaving as a Korean executioner, there's this big close-up of him in this totally unconvincing Asian make-up. The Asian Americans at the pre-screening burst out laughing because he looked terrible--like a Vulcan on Star Trek. It took us out of the movie. And Jim Sturgess and James D'Arcy didn't look much better.

"In the modern age of movie make up, it is disturbing to see poorly done Asian eye prosthetics to make Caucasian men look Asian. The race-changing make-up totally disrupted the flow of the film. The old yellowface movie characters of the past like Fu Manchu and Charlie Chan looked more realistic than the characters in Cloud Atlas. Why couldn't they have cast a handsome Asian American actor of mixed race to play the multiple roles in Neo Seoul and the other time periods? It would have made the movie more believable.

"It appears that to turn white and black actors into Asian characters (black actor Keith David was also Asian in the 2144 story), the make-up artists believed they only had to change their eyes, not their facial structure and complexion. In two scenes in other segments of the film, Bae and Zhou are made up to appear Caucasian. The filmmakers, Aoki said, "obviously took more care to make them look convincingly white. The message the movie sends is, it takes a lot of work to get Asians to look Caucasian, but you can easily turn Caucasians into Asians by just changing the shape of their eyes.

"In another story set in the South Pacific in 1849, Maori slaves are played predominantly by blacks, including Afro-British actor David Gyasi. You have to ask yourself: Would the directors have used blackface on a white actor to play Gyasi's role? I don't think so: That would have outraged African American viewers. But badly done yellowface is still OK.

"In any case, this was a lost opportunity to cast real Asian Pacific Islanders. Why weren't there any real Asian male actors portraying any of the major characters in this supposedly racially diverse film? It's a double standard: White actors are allowed to play anything--except black characters--and have the dominant roles; Asian male actors are non-existent. And Pacific Islanders are played by blacks.

"If, in the making of this complex movie, the creators of Cloud Atlas can make creative leaps in time, place, characters, race and gender, why can't they also take a creative leap in the casting?"


Points taken, but for the most part, whatever you think of Cloud Atlas, they took more creative leaps in casting than any other film in years. And I bet it wins the Oscar for Best Makeup.


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37 comments
icarusty
icarusty

"The filmmakers, Aoki said, "obviously took more care to make them look convincingly white. The message the movie sends is, it takes a lot of work to get Asians to look Caucasian, but you can easily turn Caucasians into Asians by just changing the shape of their eyes."


This is a valid point. The Korean girl dressed up as the redhead white in the far future setting you can tell a lot of effort was made to look genuinely "white" - for the whites > asian part, no effort was made at all. 

icarusty
icarusty

The asian men characters in this white made movie are, as predictable as it is, made out to be evil, soulless characters - the "archiver" who was robotic and monotone, whilst the boss as the sex slave abusing drunk cruel master who killed any women who wouldn't bow to his whims. No wonder no asian man would play it, they are fed up of the negative portrayal.


Furthermore, this portrayal is in line with the poor asian woman, looking for freedom, escape from slavery from their asian male "masters". Considering how many asian women actually take to this mindset, is it any wonder asian women would snap at the chance to play it?


There are race and social dynamics at work here.  It's isn't just yellowface.

ANonnyMouse
ANonnyMouse

Umm...I thought the point was that the races were intermingled and those characters were half-asian.

deejayinnes
deejayinnes

Normally I would dismiss this as just another publicity grab by an activist group but I just happen to be part Maori and I found the use of African American actors to portray Maori and Moriori surprisingly unsettling. There aren't enough Polynesian actors or even extras out there to make up the cast numbers? On another matter, there's the slave issue. The existance of Moriori slaves is accurate enough but Maori slavery just doesn't make sense with what I know about New Zealand history. Again, its a minor point until it happens to be about your heritage and not someone else's.

wenqiweiabcd
wenqiweiabcd

Whatever you say, Hugo Weaving and D'Arcy (the latter being even worse) look horrible when cast as Koreans. The skin is ghostly pale, the eyes slanted to an inhuman extent, and overall they just look too unearthly to be men let alone Korean men. There are plenty of qualified actors in China and South Korea who'd are fluent in English and the decision to cast European actors as Koreans is outright braindeath. As much as I enjoyed the rest of the film, scenes involving these characters are active atrocities. 

Dexter.Shah
Dexter.Shah

Michael Musto:

A straight masculine Chinese man who wants to act as a profession in the U.S is non existent. The SAG had 5,100 Asian actors in the union circa 2000yr. I was one of them. I would've continued to starve if I didn't go to Columbia to get my MBA. The U.S film industry just does not hire Asian male actors and if they do it's in insulting caricatures of what a Chinese man is suppose to be.  There was a 6'5 Chinese male actor named Vin Zhu in the 1990's who was a bodybuilder with great symmetry and was cut with great definition whom he auditioned for  in strong silent type roles and was totally rejected. He even tried out for Sex In the City and was laughed out. The audition was a quick look and that was it. Vin went on to get a PH.D in Econ and works for a Chinese bank.   Chinese male actors would starve to death if they stayed in the profession

SaltyBill58
SaltyBill58

Yes, an Oscar for make-up, and certainly a nomination for Best Editing, don't you think?

rharlow1
rharlow1

Halle Berry, Xun Zhou, and several other non-Caucasian actors are playing Caucasian roles.  Should white folk get upset because of whiteface?  Honestly, maybe people should check out what the film is about first-- reincarnation and soul connections, etc.  Reincarnation isn't particularly racist.  Why would they find different actors to play the same characters, merely because they are Caucasian in one life, and Asian in the next?  Lighten up, your angst is misdirected.

FredsterNYC
FredsterNYC

The phrase "Lighten up" in itself is a problem. But in this day and age, something is profoundly wrong when you you can't find actors to portray a particular race within that race.

tclim988
tclim988

Context is everything. Taken out of context, what blissbaby says is perfectly reasonably. In context, the story is very different.

blissbaby
blissbaby

But the movie has Asians as white people. it's all fair.

nostradavid
nostradavid

"Words like sunbeams, when concentrated can burn." 

blissbaby
blissbaby

Like you say it's a movie about mixing things up--and one of the directors is transgender. Lighten up, Asians.

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