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.

icarusty
icarusty

@ANonnyMouse if they were half asian in 2144 Korea, then why not in the far far future, or 2012 London or any white mantion? Nope, just an east asian one can they be mixed, and with whites. Agendas are in play.

icarusty
icarusty

@Dexter.Shah It is quite obvious that white America does not seek out Asian men to be role models - they are the threat, a visual represenation of China, the rising threat. Black men, even latino men may be acceptable, and of course women of all races can be portrayed as strong - and in the case of asians, strong asian women "escaping" their oppressive men to be with a white man is ideal.

wenqiweiabcd
wenqiweiabcd

@Dexter.Shah Oh, yeah, I fully believed the story of this certain Mr. "Vin Zhu"-----however I'd like to point out that "V"is not in the alphabet of Mandarin Chinese romanisation. You might want to reconfirm the validity of your tale. 

jdbui
jdbui

Lighten up is code for "know your place".  Back in the day, it was "this negro is too uppity". Today, it's "lighten up". You whites never stop do you?

marko2037
marko2037

@rharlow1 Exactly.  The aim of the movie wasn't to just have a bunch of different characters in arbitrary timelines,.  The whole theme of the movie revolves around reincarnation.  They wanted to have the same characters play their past or future counterparts so that they are easily recognizable and allow the audience to see the parallels without the need for excessive narration.  There is nothing racist about it.  If you were making a movie in which the main character were an asian male (who only existed in one timeline) in the present and you chose Hugo Weaving to portray him (over millions of qualified Asian actors) then that would be racist.  

tommyc123
tommyc123

@FredsterNYC If the term "lighten up" meant skin color, then yes, it would be a problem. But the term means to take it easy, relax, don't be so serious. It has nothing to do with skin color.

euphoria
euphoria

@blissbaby 

Ya, but Hollywood doesnt like to portray Asian males in a very positive light, does it

icarusty
icarusty

@blissbaby Asians will lighten up when in movies we see women of all races escape from the evil oppressive white male to the arms of an asian man.



MTlaB
MTlaB

 @blissbaby Yeah, but Hollywood is all about white males and there is a decades long history of racism that still exists with Asians. So lighten up, white people, when other people get tired of only seeing white people in media.

tommyc123
tommyc123

@jdbui You say, "Today, it's "lighten up". You whites never stop do you?"

You really made me laugh hysterically when I read this bit of ignorance. The term "lighten up" means to relax, chill out, take it easy. Got it??? It has nothing to do with race. And if you'd like a more race balanced world, try starting with yourself and quit saying "you whites". That makes you just as racist as the racists. :-) Peace.  

jdbui
jdbui

They had no problem casting women and men of color. There were black and asian women and black men. Yet they had a huge problem casting asian and pacific islander men...really? People like you are part of the problem

icarusty
icarusty

@euphoria @blissbaby they never do. Women of all races, white and black men - all accepted to be positive role models in media. Asian men are the pariah.

marko2037
marko2037

@MTlaB @blissbaby Oh course Hollywood is "all about white males".   They are still the majority in this country.  Is Bollywood any different?  Funny I don't remember seeing Black or Latino actors in any of those productions.  I wonder why.    Being a huge fan of Korean action, suspense and horror films, I've seen well over a hundred and not seen any sort of ethnic diversity. 

tommyc123
tommyc123

So hostile! Such anger! Your faux outrage is lost within the ignorance of what you think a whole group of people believe. So by your own argument and only for arguments sake, by warning me as a white person that something bad is going to happen to us, doesn't that make you the hater and racist? You would like or want to become the oppressor? Would that give you the ultimate happiness? Well then sir, congratulations, you have just joined the world of racists.

jdbui
jdbui

@tommyc123 @jdbui 

Makes me just racist as you?  No, you whites win at that game, just like you win at everything else right?  Remember, you whites are a minority on a global scale...if you continually piss off 80 percent of the world, one day karma will come back to bite you and it will be unpleasant. You have been warned

jdbui
jdbui

@icarusty @jdbui 

I am absolutely convinced there is a conspiracy against men who's "country of origin" just so happens to be a country that has had the great fortune of being listed as yet another one of America's enemies. They've stopped casting Germans and Russians as enemies once the cold war ended and now they need a new bad guy to disenfranchise and traumatize an entire new generation

icarusty
icarusty

@jdbui Exactly, see my above post. All races for women are catered for and supported. Black and white men are also supported. Asian men and arabs are the no-no in white media.

tommyc123
tommyc123

@jdbui

It must be horrible to see life only through the lens of race like you do. You're so enraged that don't even see that you are guilty of the same faults of the people you accuse. I see everyone as equal. Maybe you should stop having a knee jerk reaction to every little thing and open your heart to what's good in everyone of every race.

jdbui
jdbui

@tommyc123 @jdbui 

Own up to your label white man. You've labeled everyone else in the world that isn't you.  Now it's time for you to accept the label that youv'e earned for yourself and continually earn - "racist".  This is a universally accepted truth even by your fellow whites. Racist white men who push that label onto any other people who criticize their oppressive and hegemonic ways to preserve the image they've given themselves of aryan moral perfection suffers from the most egregious hypocrisy that doesn't even touch the so-called half assed accusation of "hypocrisy" you spill out of your delusional self-aggrandizing mouth.  

tommyc123
tommyc123

@jdbui I think you should check your hypocrisy when you say "you white people". Racism isn't only confined to white people and your comment proves it.

euphoria
euphoria

@marko2037 @MTlaB @blissbaby 

korea is one of the most homogeneous countries in the world, of course there can't be that much diversity. in Man From Nowhere, the guy with the karambit was from SEA. america is supposed to be a nation for immigrants from all over the world. are u saying that america belongs to white people?

jdbui
jdbui

Yea because whites, blacks, latinos make up a significant percentage of Indian and Korean demographic...*rolls eyes*. 

You know why I think you white people make these half assed excuses when confronted with blatant racism? Because it's a buzz-kill. This is your racist little party and no one likes it when some-one crashes it with truth

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