Examples of Yellowface
In Hollywood, many times, Asian characters have been portrayed predominantly by white actors, often changing their looks with makeup in order to approximate East Asian facial characteristics, a practice known as yellowface. Media portrayals of East Asians in the American media's history have predominantly reflected a dominant Americentric perception rather than realistic and authentic depictions of true cultures, customs and behaviors.
Fu Manchu, Charlie Chan, and Madame Butterfly
- Fu Manchu and Charlie Chan were the most common East Asian characters in film and television of the mid-20th century, and they were almost always played by white actors in yellowface. An updated film version of Charlie Chan was planned in the 1990s by Miramax; this new Charlie Chan was to be "hip, slim, cerebral, sexy and ... a martial-arts master", but the film did not come to fruition.
- Madama Butterfly, an opera about Japanese woman who falls in love with an American sailor who leaves her, and when he returns with an American wife, the devastated Cio-Cio San commits suicide. This immensely popular opera is often performed with a non-Asian singer playing the role of Cio-Cio San in yellowface.
Pre Civil Rights Movement
|1915||Madame Butterfly (1915 film)||Mary Pickford as Cio-Cio San
Many of the film's leading roles are white actors donning yellowface to play Asian roles
|1918||The Forbidden City||Norma Talmadge as San San Toy
E. Alyn Warren as Wong Li
Michael Rayle as The Mandarin
L. Rogers Lytton as Chinese Emperor
|1919||Broken Blossoms||Richard Barthelmess as Cheng Huan||D.W. Griffith|
|1919||Mr. Wu||Matheson Lang as Mr. Wu
Meggie Albanesi as Nang Ping
|Maurice Elvey||British Version|
|1927||Mr. Wu||Lon Chaney as Mr. Wu
Renée Adorée as Wu Nang Ping
|William Nigh||American Version|
|1932||The Hatchet Man||Edward G. Robinson and Loretta Young||William A. Wellman||
|1932||Frisco Jenny||Helen Jerome Eddy||William A. Wellman||* Helen Jerome Eddy, portrays Frisco Jenny's loyal servant Amah.
|1932||Thirteen Women||Myrna Loy||George Archainbaud||
|1933||The Bitter Tea of General Yen||Nils Asther||Frank Capra||
|1934||The Mysterious Mr. Wong||Bela Lugosi||William Nigh||
|1937||The Good Earth||Paul Muni as Wang Lung
Luise Rainer as O-Lan
All of the Lead Roles
|Sidney Franklin||All of the lead roles were played by actors in Yellowface while all the extras and minor roles were played by Asians.|
|1937||Lost Horizon||H.B. Warner||Frank Capra|
|1937–1939||Mr. Moto film series||Peter Lorre as Mr. Moto film series||
|1939||Island of Lost Men||Anthony Quinn||Kurt Neumann||
|1939||The Mystery of Mr. Wong||Boris Karloff||William Nigh|
|1940||The Letter||Gale Sondergaard||William Wyler|
|1942||Little Tokyo, U.S.A.||Harold Huber as Takimura, American-born spy for Tokyo, June Duprez as Teru||Otto Brower||
|1944||Dragon Seed||Katharine Hepburn, Walter Huston, Aline MacMahon, Turhan Bey, Agnes Moorehead, J. Carrol Naish, and Hurd Hatfield||Harold S. Bucquet and Jack Conway||
|1946||Anna and the King of Siam||Rex Harrison, Linda Darnell, and Gale Sondergaard||John Cromwell|
|1946||Ziegfeld Follies||Fred Astaire and Lucille Bremer||Lemuel Ayers, Roy Del Ruth, Robert Lewis, Vincente Minnelli, Merrill Pye, George Sidney, Charles Walters||
|1955||Blood Alley||Anita Ekberg, Berry Kroeger, Paul Fix, and Mike Mazurki||William A. Wellman||
|1955||Love is a Many Splendored Thing||Jennifer Jones||Henry King||
|1956||The Conqueror||John Wayne||Dick Powell||
|1956||The King and I||Yul Brynner and Rita Moreno||Walter Lang||
|1956||The Teahouse of the August Moon||Marlon Brando||Daniel Mann||
|1957||Sayonara||Ricardo Montalbán as Nakamura||Joshua Logan||A movie dealing with racism, prejudice, and interracial marriage in post war Japan|
|1958||The Inn of the Sixth Happiness||Curd Jürgens and Robert Donat||Mark Robson|
|1961||Flower Drum Song||Juanita Hall||Henry Koster||
|1962||The Manchurian Candidate||Henry Silva||John Frankenheimer|
|1962||A Majority of One||Alec Guinness||Mervyn LeRoy|
|1963||55 Days at Peking||Flora Robson||Nicholas Ray|
|1964||7 Faces of Dr. Lao||Tony Randall||George Pal|
|1965||Pierrot le fou||Anna Karina||Jean-Luc Godard||
|1965||Genghis Khan||Robert Morley, James Mason and others||Henry Levin|
|1965||Gilligan's Island||Vito Scotti|
|1965||Get Smart||Leonard Strong (actor)||* As "The Claw", in the episode: "Diplomat's Daughter". "Not Craw, Craw!"|
|1965||The Return of Mr. Moto||Henry Silva||Ernest Morris||
|1966||7 Women||Woody Strode and Mike Mazurki||John Ford|
After Civil Rights Movement
Note: This is also after the anti-miscegenation laws were repealed in the United States of America that prevented East Asian actors from playing opposite white actors as love interests.
|1970||The Yin and the Yang of Mr. Go||James Mason as Y.Y. Go||Burgess Meredith|
|1972-1975||Kung Fu||David Carradine as Kwai Chang Caine||David Carradine wore Yellowface makeup/prostethics to look more East Asian|
|1973||Lost Horizon||John Gielgud as Chang||Charles Jarrott|
|1975||One of Our Dinosaurs is Missing||Peter Ustinov and others||Robert Stevenson|
|1976||Murder by Death||Peter Sellers||Robert Moore||Peter Sellers plays Inspector Sidney Wang, based on Charlie Chan and appropriately accompanied by his adopted, Japanese son Willie (Richard Narita). Wang wears elaborate Chinese costumes, and his grammar is frequently criticized by the annoyed host much the same way that Inspector Clouseau. It could be argued that Sellers' role is in itself a parody of yellowface casting in earlier films.|
|1980||The Fiendish Plot of Dr. Fu Manchu||Peter Sellers||Piers Haggard
|This is the last Fu Manchu created.|
|1980||Flash Gordon||Max von Sydow as Emperor Ming||Mike Hodges||Ming the Merciless is the sci fi version of Fu Manchu.|
|1981||Charlie Chan and the Curse of the Dragon Queen||Peter Ustinov as Charlie Chan||In 1980, Jerry Shylock proposed a multi-million dollar comedy film, to be called Charlie Chan and the Dragon Lady. A group calling itself C.A.N. (Coalition of Asians to Nix) was formed, protesting the fact that two white actors, Peter Ustinov and Angie Dickinson, had been cast in the primary roles. Others protested that the film itself contained a number of stereotypes; Shylock responded that the film was not a documentary. The film was released the following year as Charlie Chan and the Curse of the Dragon Queen and was an "abysmal failure". More successful was Wayne Wang's Chan is Missing (1982), which was a spoof of the older Chan films.|
|1982||Conan the Barbarian||Gerry Lopez as Subotai||John Milius||The character Subotai is a 'Hyrkanian' who in the mythos of Conan the Barbarian are the ancestors of Asians and further the character is named after Subotai one of the general so Genghis Khan, but the character however is played by the white actor Gerry Lopez.|
|1982||The Year of Living Dangerously||Linda Hunt as Billy Kwan||Peter Weir||Actress Linda Hunt won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her portrayal of an Asian man.|
|1982||Marco Polo (TV miniseries)||Leonard Nimoy as Achmet||Giuliano Montaldo||Italian and American television mini-series|
|1985||Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins||Joel Grey as Chiun||Guy Hamilton||Film based on the Destroyer book series. Joel Grey garnered a Saturn Award and a second Golden Globe nomination for "Best Supporting Actor" for his Yellowface portrayal.|
|1993-1997||Kung Fu: The Legend Continues||David Carradine as Kwai Chang Caine||David Carradine once again wore Yellowface makeup/prosthetics to make him look East Asian|
|1994||Sabotage||Adam Yauch||Spike Jonze||Beastie Boys music video.|
|1996-1999||Tracey Takes On...||Tracey Ullman as Mrs. Noh Nang Ning||Ullman wore prosthetics to make her look East Asian.|
|1999||Galaxy Quest||Tony Shalhoub as Fred Kwan / Tech Sergeant Chen||Dean Parisot||Shalhoub (an American of Arab descent) plays an actor with a Korean family name; Shalhoub wears makeup which makes him look more East Asian|
|2005||We Can Be Heroes: Finding The Australian of the Year||Chris Lilley as Ricky Wong||We Can Be Heroes: Finding The Australian of the Year is an Australian Television series, Ricky Wong is a 23-year-old Chinese physics student who lives in the suburb of Wheelers Hill, Melbourne, Victoria. He is often exuberant and tells his colleagues that "Physics is Phun" and that they are in the "Wong" laboratory. This character is largely a vehicle for parodying the stereotypical "Chinese overachiever", or model migrant.|
|2006||Cloud 9||Paul Rodriguez as Mr. Wong||Cloud 9 |
|2007||Balls of Fury||Christopher Walken as Feng||Ben Garant||Feng is a parody of the yellow peril and Fu Manchu stereotype.|
|2007||Norbit||Eddie Murphy as Mr. Wong||Brian Robbins||For his portrayal Eddie Murphy received a Golden Raspberry Award. Worst Supporting Actor (Eddie Murphy; as Mr. Wong) |
|2007||Grindhouse||Nicolas Cage as Dr. Fu Manchu||Rob Zombie||Fake Trailer: Werewolf Women of the SS |
|2007||I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry||Rob Schneider as the Asian minister and photographer||Dennis Dugan||Schneider is in fact half Filipino by descent, but wore prosthetics for the role which were criticised as an offensive stereotype.
Nominated for the Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Supporting Actor but lost to Eddie Murphy.
|2008||My Name Is Bruce||Ted Raimi as Wing||Bruce Campbell|
|2009||Crank: High Voltage||David Carradine as Poon Dong||Neveldine/Taylor||Poon Dong, played by David Carradine, is the head of the Chinese Triad. In Crank: High Voltage. The name of the character is a pun, being both a stereotypical Chinese-sounding name and slang for genitalia.|
|2009||Chanel - Paris - Shanghai A Fantasy - The Short Movie||Freja Beha, Baptiste Giabiconi||Karl Lagerfeld||Karl Lagerfeld Opened His Pre-Fall Show in Shanghai With a Film That Included Yellow Face. Lagerfeld defended this as a reference to old films. "It is an homage to Europeans trying to look Chinese", he explained. "Like in The Good Earth, the people in the movie liked the idea that they had to look like Chinese. Or like actors in Madame Butterfly. People around the world like to dress up as different nationalities." "It is about the idea of China, not the reality."  Chinese persons played the maid, a courtesan and background characters. The film is currently on YouTube |
|2009||Hanger||Wade Gibb as Russell||Ryan Nicholson||A black comedy in which a Chinese man with Down syndrome is portrayed by a Caucasian actor under heavy prosthetics and make-up.|
|2012||Cloud Atlas||Jim Sturgess, Hugo Weaving, Halle Berry, Hugh Grant, James D'Arcy, and Keith David||Lana and Andy Wachowski||A significant number of cast members applied makeup, focusing mostly on the eyes, to make their features appear more Korean/East Asian in one of the film's stories. The film is based on the idea of having the same actors reappear in different roles in six different story lines, one of which is set in 'Neo Seoul' in the year 2144. The film thus also has Asian actresses Doona Bae and Zhou Xun appear in non-Asian roles, and African-American actress Halle Berry portrayed a white character. Blackface is not used in the film, however.|
|2013||The Walking Dead: A Hardcore Parody||Danny Wylde as Glenn Rhee||Danny Wylde||A pornographic parody of The Walking Dead, controversy interrupted over the character Glenn being portrayed by a Caucasian actor under heavy make-up and prosthetics.|
|2013||Pacific Rim||Clifton Collins, Jr. as Tendo Choi||Guillermo Del Toro||Mexican-American actor Clifton Collins, Jr. portrays in Yellowface a Chinese-American character Tendo Choi the Jaeger technician. Collins has been quoted describing his character as the "Brains" behind the Jaegers.|
Yellowface worn by a character in a film
In some films, white characters, played by white actors, have played Asians, often as a disguise.
|1962||My Geisha||Shirley MacLaine||Jack Cardiff|
|1978||Revenge of the Pink Panther||Peter Sellers||Blake Edwards||Inspector Clouseau had many disguises and this included the quintessential Chinaman stereotype.|
|1981||Hardly Working||Jerry Lewis||Jerry Lewis|
|1997||The Pest||John Leguizamo||Paul Miller||Leguizamo used Yellowface twice in the film to disguise himself as both a Chinese and Japanese man to try and escape hunters trying to kill him and in both situations his character Pest portrayed them as stereotypical Asian caricatures.|
|2001||Not Another Teen Movie||Samm Levine as Bruce||Joel Gallen||Bruce is a white high school student who pretends to be Asian. A parody of racist stereotypes in teen films, most notably Long Duk Dong in Sixteen Candles.|
|2011||Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows||Robert Downey, Jr.||Guy Ritchie||The character of Sherlock Holmes donned Yellowface to disguise himself as a Chinese man for a short while in the film.|
- Kashiwabara, Amy, Vanishing Son: The Appearance, Disappearance, and Assimilation of the Asian-American Man in American Mainstream Media, UC Berkeley Media Resources Center
- Sengupta (1997).
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- "Lost Horizon (1937)". Tcm.com. Retrieved 2014-02-10.
- Peter Lorre at the Internet Movie Database
- Mr. Moto at the Internet Movie Database
- "The Letter". Variety. 1939-12-31. Retrieved 2014-02-10.
- [dead link]
- "Movies: About Little Tokyo, USA". The New York Times.
- "At the Palace". The New York Times. August 7, 1942.[dead link]
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- "'Flower Drum Song' Among 25 Films Inducted Into Registry - BWWMoviesWorld". Broadwayworld.com. Retrieved 2014-02-10.
- The Return of Mr. Moto at the Internet Movie Database
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- Pitts (1991), 301.
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