Yellowface – Asians in Hollywood

Via Indigo Willing over on Twitter, For those of you who teach race and ethnicity, this article is a must-read and bookmark on representations and casting of Asians in movies and television throughout the 20th century until now.

Yellowface, at its core, is not only the practice of applying prostheses or paint to simulate a crude idea of what “Asians” look like; it is non-Asian bodies (usually white) controlling what it means to be Asian on screen and stage, particularly in lead/major roles.

Tied to blackface and the portrayal of African Americans on the stage by whites in the nineteenth century, the term yellowface appears as early as the 1950s to describe the continuation in film of having white actors playing major Asian and Asian American roles and the grouping together of all makeup technologies used to make one look “Asian.”

Thanks to the power of film executives in casting, Asian and Asian Americans who had decades of theatrical experience in vaudeville were unable to find work or were relegated to stereotypical roles–laundrymen, prostitutes, or servants.

– Krystyn R. Moon
Yellowface: Creating the Chinese in American Popular Music and Performance, 1850-1920s (page 164)

The yellowface controversy is not about the quality of the films or performances. It is about systematic bias in casting as much as it is about individual choices made by directors, performers, and production companies.”

The article has a lot of photos and illustrations. It is a great resource.

And I am sure the same kind of analysis could be replicated with Native Americans and Latinos.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *