Questions for the Audience

'Cloud Atlas' and the Use of 'Yellowface', is It Okay?

Why do we keep making the same mistakes?

Cloud Atlas yellowface
Photo: Warner Bros.
PLEASE NOTE: This article deals with the representation of race in film and fully invites constructive conversation, but please do so without resorting to racial slurs or offensive behavior as that will get us nowhere.

I've seen Cloud Atlas and I will admit, seeing Jim Sturgess made up to "look" like an Asian is a bit weird, just as it is with Hugo Weaving and James D'Arcy in the pictures above. It's equally odd to see Halle Berry and Doona Bae made up to look Caucasian and is just as jarring to see Weaving dressed up like a muscular female nurse at a retirement home. The focus at the moment, however, is not on those latter looks, but the former as seen in the images above. Whether it's considered weird, odd or jarring, the question is, is the use of yellowface in today's cinema okay?

In a piece at Jezebel, Laura Beck was offended while watching the trailer for Cloud Atlas writing:

Hugo Weaving and Jim Sturgess, white actors, play characters who in some lifetimes are East Asian. So, of course, they just had them perform those roles with their eyes taped to make them look, "Asian."

[...]

[M]y personal guess is that [directors Andy and Lana Wachowski and (though she ignores his involvement completely) Tom Tykwer] were probably like, "It's the same soul, so we need the same actor, race doesn't matter!" That's the issue with inherent bias, though. You're not necessarily coming from a nasty place, but the end result is still pretty much garbage.

Beck then hands off duties to Mike Le from Racebending.com who makes a good argument for why it is a problem:

In watching the Cloud Atlas trailer, the parallels are clear. As with these other films, we see that white creators and performers are permitted to determine what it means to be Asian. It's frustrating, because the trailer suggests a story that comfortably meshes with preconceptions and stereotypes of Asians: of a futuristic world of high technology and little soul, where the "all-look-same" vision of Asianness is directly translated into racks of identical, interchangeable Asian "fabricant" clones. It suggests a world where white actors (in yellowface) and Asian actresses enter into romantic trysts -- while excluding the voices and faces of Asian American actors.

I'd first like to take a look at this line from Le: "[T]he trailer suggests a story that comfortably meshes with preconceptions and stereotypes of Asians: of a futuristic world of high technology and little soul, where the "all-look-same" vision of Asianness is directly translated into racks of identical, interchangeable Asian "fabricant" clones."

Cloud Atlas
Photo: Warner Bros.

I fully admit I have not read David Mitchell's novel from which the film is based, but it is my understanding the future world Le is referring to is presented the same way in the book as it is in the film. And on this one particular point, I have to say, if the intent is for clones to look the same then to say it is forwarding a stereotype is a bit of a stretch. They are clones, a defining nature of which is that they will all be the same. The location in which that portion of the film is set is Seoul, Korea... Does it not stand to assume the clones would be Asian?

Yes, alternatives can be thought of such as setting that portion of the film in New York and using any race but Asian, or going the Blade Runner route in which multiple models of Replicants were used. But I think to focus on this narrative aspect of the film is to skirt the larger issue.

A tweet from Jim Sturgess that has since been deletedWhen it comes to the decision to make-up Jim Sturgess (as well as Hugo Weaving and James D'Arcy) in "yellowface", I can fully understand the frustration. Hollywood films are, by and large, dominated by white actors and a chance comes along to cast Asian actors in prominent roles in a big budget film and, instead, the decision is made to cast white actors and apply makeup to make them "look" like they're Asian.

Why the decision?

The argument here is to point to one of the film's themes and the idea our lives are connected and our souls live on through time. It's my understanding, in the book the connected souls across time are handled through the use of a birthmark. In the film it's handled by using the same actors.

Cloud Atlas is ambitious in that it attempts to tie six stories together spanning approximately 250 years and in doing so, using the same actors in each moment in time is an easy identifier for the audience, letting us know we're looking at the same character, or, in this case, soul. As a result we are left to explore the changes that soul takes from one life to the next.

After watching the film, one could easily argue the use of the same actor in each moment in time is unnecessary. If the tying together of the souls was so important, it could have been achieved just easily and more subtly using the birthmark idea and dissolving from the birthmark on a character from one moment in time to the next. It wouldn't have been as obvious as using Tom Hanks with fake teeth to Tom Hanks with a comb-over, but it would have tied the characters together through their actions rather than their appearance.

After all, one character verbalizes the larger narrative theme at one point asking, "Why do we keep making the same mistakes?" and I'd argue the connection of the souls is hardly as important as one generation making the same mistakes as the one before.

Halle Berry and Jim Broadbent in Cloud Atlas
Halle Berry and Jim Broadbent in Cloud Atlas
Photo: Warner Bros.

Oddly enough, just considering the possibility of an alternative presentation of the material has made me second guess my review after seeing it in Toronto. My problem with the film from the start was how each segment of the story seemed redundant from one to the next. The use of the same actors in each was a large part of this.

Cloud Atlas is on point with the presentation of a continued social structure over the course of time in which the powerful lord over the meek. The way it is carried out may not be the same from one era to the next, but the pattern continues. We all know we are a product of the times we live in, our experiences and what we take away from those before us. This idea is explored in Looper and another Toronto Film Festival entry, The Place Beyond the Pines. If art reflects life, there is obviously an undercurrent going around where we are looking at our history and finally coming to the conclusion change is necessary.

Watching Cloud Atlas, I took a mental note of the use of yellowface, but said nothing of it, thinking to myself, Well, I guess if their goal was to interpret these characters as the continuing of souls across time it had to be done that way. Looking at it now, did it have to be done that way and is it wrong to question the way in which it was done or for people to be offended by it?

Mike Le hits it on the head when he writes:

We cannot judge what the Wachowski siblings intend to do with their depiction of Asian people any more than we could judge what M. Night Shyamalan intended in casting The Last Airbender. The intentions may be different, but acts of exclusion and discrimination cannot be about intent, but only about outcome.

To me this is Le asking filmmakers to take a greater responsibility in the way they depict race in their art. He isn't throwing stones as much as raising a red flag. It's interesting, too, to read Le's article and note how much it reflects the theme of Cloud Atlas itself, as one character says, "Why do we keep making the same mistakes?"

FURTHER READING: RaceBending.com offers a history of "yellowface" in cinema from the early 1900s to present day right here that is well worth a look.

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  • Todd Gilchrist

    Two points: (1) When Le says "only the outcome" is important, he's referring to his perception of the outcome, which may not be the same as others, even within his ethnic group, and certainly is not definitive no matter how much authority he presumes as the writer/ editor of Racebending.com. But more importantly (2) his analysis of "the outcome" is of the TRAILER only, not the film. I respectfully suggested that he and the site's readers wait to actually see the film to properly critique it -- the condemnation of which I disagree with, but respect their opinions/ ability to react in whatever way they feel is appropriate -- and was met with equally alarmist rhetoric saying that it wasn't necessary to see the whole film or even contextualize its themes to know categorically that the film was a horrible, racist reduction of ethnic stereotypes. Again, if viewers feel it's offensive, I would never suggest that they're wrong -- only that they'd have a lot more ammunition if they actually saw the thing.

  • Good Grief

    Film makers have a tendency to underestimate their audiences' intelligence or, at least, our ability to uphold a suspension of disbelief. If a character if played by two different actors, as long as they have the same traits, same quirks that MAKE that character then we'll buy it. It's as simple as that.
    Yellowface is entirely unnecessary, in my opinion. Sure, we're familiar with Hugo Weaving but we're not dumb enough to need him in Asian make up just to know it's his character in another timelines. In fact, it would probably be MORE impressive if we could make that connection between two totally different actors.

    Let's turn the tables. Is it ok that someone continues to call the Wachowskis "The Wachowski Brothers" because they're more familiar with Lana as a man? No, it's never ok. It would be OFFENSIVE, surely.
    Familiarity is not a justification for the politically incorrect. Yellowface, in this day and age, just seems lazy. There is a wealth of Asian talent out there and yet it's better to cast Caucasians already starring in the film? And then blame the audience? Give us more credit. What's more, provide a better excuse for something that will, of course, be deemed racist by some people.

  • John Debono

    As someone who saw the gala premiere in Toronto, I did not find it offensive and understand the artistic reasoning, although Le does make a fair point. Using the logic of displaying the collective souls as they travel through time, why not cast at least one Asian male to play a major role the Seoul storyline while using the make-up team to make them look Caucasian? If they believed that these three were the best actors for the roles, I can accept that, but in theory there is no reason why an Asian actor could not play one of these roles. (Without spoiling anything, Ken Watanabe would have been a great addition to the cast.)

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Movie_Lou/ Movie_Lou

    As a mixed race male, over 40 years of age, I have grown rather tired of the complaining about race/bias/stereotypes when it comes to art. Art is as 'subjective' as math is 'objective'. While every individual (not just minorities) has a certain threshold for what offends them, the notion that Asian actors weren't selected to portray Asian characters should not be deemed biased, insulting or offensive.

    There are many avenues in which to approach this article, but how about from an economic one? If I'm not mistaken, the sheer budget of this film almost kept it from being started, not to mention completed. Has anyone re-assessed the cast in this film?! High quality indeed and I imagine they (the actors) climbed aboard expecting substantial pay. If I'm not mistaken there were numerous different investors from all around the globe. Point of fact: $35 million of the $120 million budget was provided by four Asian investors. Does Beck think those four Asian investors believe there is bias or that the end result of the film is "garbage"? Does Beck even know who is helping to finance the film?
    http://www.geeksofdoom.com/2012/09/04/the-wachowskis-open-up-about-filming-cloud-atlas/

    While the aggregate amount of labor cost for additional 'Asian' actors (in these roles) "may" have been minuscule compared to the overall production budget, was this a point of discussion among the production crew and financiers? Additionally, w/ a story of such complexity, could separate actors performing these roles carry over the same emotion/characteristics of the original actors? The original actors are in essence the soul for their numerous characters. The economic avenue is just another direction in which to approach this debate about race and art w/respect to Cloud Atlas.

    Brad, bravo on addressing the topic! Great stuff man.

    • Arjuna

      this is just a great comment and brings up some points many might not think about, if some actors are playing six characters it could be as simple as asking that actor to play all those characters just to save money when the film almost didn't get off the ground in the first place. Of course the point that they could of went from asian to white face or black face etc. but that just wasn't how the cookie crumbled. But I would argue that even stemming from the world the Wachowski's created in the matrix they have a big philosophy of racial and sexual idealism where race and sex really doesn't matter and I believe the intentions were pure and the movie has a huge role for a female Asian so its not as if the whole community was shafted. This film should actually be applauded for not only having strong female characters but black and asian too along with white.

      • Arjuna

        I think this definitely pales in comparison compared to the casting in The Last Airbender and Jake Gyllenhaal in Prince of Persia. At least in this instant it does relate to the themes no matter how trivial or "just an excuse" it is where as in those other two instants it was a clear bias of hollywood towards white actors over asian.

        fyi I have no dog in this fight as an Indian Irishman!

  • Ricster

    Interesting article and headline.
    The term 'Yellowface" already carries a negative connotation.
    The Wachowskis used Asian actors in the Matrix series, so I seriously doubt there was any prejudice involved in the decisions made for this movie.

    I agree the make-up looks odd, not quite right. From what I've seen so far, I'm inclined to lean towards the opinion that they should have used Asian actors. To be fair though, I've yet to see the movie.
    Whether using Caucasian actors was the right decision or not, ultimately depends on the actors' abilities to convince me that the characters they portrayed were credible.
    On a related note, I find it hard to watch "Memoirs of a Geisha" because the actresses clearly look Chinese and not Japanese, which ends up distracting me from the story.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Aleonardis/ Aleonardis

    Talking about the matters of race in a film you haven't seen is an instant trap so I don't think these outlets should have blown their load to begrudge the film outright. I haven't seen the film yet, I should be seeing it in the next two weeks, so I'll try and keep this short since I don't know the context of the use of yellowface in the film.

    It seems like this movie is much more internationally driven than most typical hollywood vehicles. I really don't think it's the Wachowski's and Twyker's intentions to exclude actors of a certain race out of a racist agenda. If anything, these guys might be the most gender-race neutral filmmakers working today in the mainstream. The Matrix Trilogy has always felt like a cultural hodgepodge and that's what I've extracted from any and all marketing I've seen from the movie so far.

    Whether it was needed, for the actors to assume multiple different genders and ethnicities is a question I can't answer cause I haven't seen the film. From what the filmmakers have said about the decision to do so, it seems to me it was a completely rational and humbling decision, in a way to shatter the principles of racism. A way to look beyond all these factors and give all these characters one defining and everlasting similarity. The fact that they all are humans.

    Great article Brad and it's gotten me even more excited to see the film. Wondering if your thoughts on it have gone down or up since giving it an afterthought. Maybe address it in the podcast.

  • Newbourne

    After watching the trailer, I immediately thought how cool it would have been had they used different actors and the audience had to deduce "who was who" while watching the film. It would have been really cool thinking "Damn, so Jet Li is Halle Berry reincarnated?? AWESOME". But I guess they just didn't want to go that route. I need to watch the movie first before I comment on how classy the yellowface was.

  • Wayne

    The article mentioned a point about the Asian actresses in the film wearing makeup to play Caucasian characters, but failed to develop this point, and instead decided to focus on the Caucasian actors playing Asian characters.
    I think the crux of the argument for Cloud Atlas should be: "Is the use of yellow/white/black face okay?"
    While there are Caucasian actors playing Asian characters, there are also Asian actors playing Caucasian characters. Then, if your opinion is that yellowface is not okay, then by extension, whiteface is not okay too.
    This article puts too much emphasis on the yellowface aspect, not providing readers with enough information that white/black face is also used in the movie.
    In my opinion, given that every actor in the movie plays multiple characters of different races, it is clear that the intention AND the outcome of the directorial decision was to show the connectivity of the human soul, instead of being a way to not employ Asian actors.
    Regarding the fakeness of the Asian makeup, the same can be said for the Caucasian makeup on Asian actors in Cloud Atlas. The race-transforming makeup is equally weird no matter what actor and what character. Hence, I find the point about 'taping eyelids' to be moot - they're not saying that all Asians are recognizable by their single eyelids, just as they're not saying that all Caucasians are recognizable by double eyelids.

    • shaed

      Whiteface does not have the racist history of yellowface and blackface. A minority actor playing a majority character is not problematic the way a majority actor playing a minority character is.

      You obviously don't understand much about racism.

  • alynch

    I’m basically okay with its use in this film. As best as I can tell, there are two arguments against its use in the film. The first is that yellowface or blackface or really any instance of a white actor being made up to look like a previously subjugated race can never be justified, regardless of any reasons that might be inherent in the story. Doesn’t matter if you’re just giving a dramatic representation of a white guy impersonating another race (e.g. Tropic Thunder), because there’s such a strong, negative cultural association with its use that you simply should never to do it. If you can’t tell the story without it, then you should tell a different story. That’s a viewpoint that I reject wholeheartedly. While I’m certainly sympathetic to how the very use of it regardless of context can be offensive to some, I don’t agree with the notion of letting morality determine what is and isn’t appropriate artistic content. In fact, I’d say that separating art from morality is the core concept of how I assess any work.

    The second, and much more common argument, is that Cloud Atlas’s use of it is not justified. This argument comes in two forms. First, I’ve heard some make the argument by pointing out that this heavy emphasis on multiple souls living out multiple lives was not in the novel. There was a small hint of a shared soul in that some characters had the same birthmark, but that device was only used for the lead character in each story. It wasn’t anywhere near as extensive as what the film is putting forth, where the entire principle cast is playing multiple roles. I reject this form of the argument because to use the book as the basis is to fail to treat the two works as separate entities, which is essential to judging an adaptation. Yes, the book told a story where there was only a single soul shared among six different characters, but the movie is telling a different story. The argument that uses the book essentially reduces down to the basic, “But the book did X and the movie did Y” complaint that is made against almost all adaptations.

    The other form this argument takes is one that accepts the films premise on its own terms. It accepts that the film is a story where the same multiple set of souls live in different times and places, but it argues against the notion that it was necessary to use the same cast in all the stories in order to convey this premise. That’s the argument that this article takes, pointing out how they could’ve used something similar to the birthmark device from the novel to draw connections. This is the best argument, but one that I still don’t think holds up. Let’s think about this for a moment. Cloud Atlas is a film with 13 actors in its principle cast, all of whom play roles in at least three of the stories and some of whom (such as Hanks, Berry, Grant, and Weaving) play roles in all six. This means it’s telling a story where 13 different souls live across multiple times and places. To keep track of all of them, you would need a different identifying feature (birthmark, hair color, height, speech patter, etc.) to follow of each one of these 13. Now ask yourself, would a filmgoer be able to follow something like that onscreen without keeping a notepad handy? And if we were to use separate actors for all the roles, how many actors are we talking here? If were to average out the cast to 4 characters per actors (which seems fair), we are talking about 13 souls being played by a combination of 52 different actors. A film like that would be an incomprehensible mess. I suppose you could then argue that might just want to drop the multiple souls motif, and let the movie be more like a conventional anthology film, but then you’d be circling back to the very first argument of rejecting the film at a core premise level, regardless of justification within the story.

  • intunexxx

    I'm actually of the opinion that the casting was a success for Asian actresses. Originally, the pivotal role of Sonmi~451 was going to be offered to Natalie Portman, but she was unable, for some reason, to step in. They could have gone for another A-list (and white) actress, but instead, they cast Bae, which is important because she is the titular hero of her own section of the novel. If we consider that each of the six sections of the novel/movie has a main character, Bae becomes equally as important as Hanks, Berry, Sturgess, Whishaw, and Broadbent. Not to mention, she does plenty of race-bending of her own; according to Bae herself, she even plays a Mexican woman.

    But that's completely okay, right? Because Bae is Asian and is a minority, she's allowed to play whiteface and brownface.

    See, that's where it gets tricky. I'm Asian myself, by the way, and I had no problem with the casting until everyone started making a huge issue of it, and I began wondering if I SHOULD be having a problem. I spent a long time debating whether or not my complete and utter Americanization was clouding my judgment, but then I decided that that wasn't the case. And, it's exactly because of that double standard. Most racial arguments nowadays vilify the majority and victimize the minority. But, when the minority slathers on whiteface, no one says, "boo" because they're too afraid of appearing racist. It goes both ways, folks. And very few groups, the white majority or the Asian/African/Latino/etc minorities included, refuse to go there. And until they do, I won't really take any racial argument seriously. If anyone is looking for a really insightful read about these issues, I'd recommend the play "Yellow Face" by David Henry Hwang, one of the few racially themed works that actually went there.

    I'm not under the impression that any minority group has it easy especially in Hollywood. But I think they do themselves a great disservice when they refuse to admit and discuss the racist and exclusionary rhetoric that their own race uses against Caucasians. I know. I've been guilty of it myself. But I'm not giving myself a free pass because I'm a minority. Minorities are just as culpable for continuing racial issues as the majority is. Because at the end of the day, what are White, Asian, African? Labels. It shouldn't matter who's using them.

    And, a quick note on the interpretation of Asian faces... yes, we have almond-shaped eyes and single eyelids. I fail to see how, if they were going to transform white into Asian, they could have done it any differently.

    • Maria

      Thank you. The only competent statement I have read on this issue. It's amazing how much self perpetuity is out there.

    • hana

      "And, a quick note on the interpretation of Asian faces... yes, we have almond-shaped eyes and single eyelids."

      This is not true at all. A lot of Asians (East Asians) have double-eyelids.

  • markymark

    Just judging the yellowface pictures at the top there, I would say Jim Sturgess actually looks convincing as an Asian male (and hey he has experience, having already starred in '21' in lieu of an Asian cast), but Hugo Weaving and D'arcy look super ridiculous, like Klingons.

    Anyway judging by the state of Hollywood at the moment, it will be a very, very long time before 'Asian American' actors (particularly male) become more...mainstream and acceptable. This perhaps reflects American societal attitudes towards Asians (who only make up about 5 percent of the US population anyway). The British are unlikely to help as they also have a small East Asian population.

  • Mark

    " It's equally odd to see Halle Berry and Doona Bae made up to look Caucasian"

    Halle Berry is equally as Caucasian as she is Black. Her mother is a blonde hair, blue-eyed White woman. American's obsession with the one-drop rule of slavery days marks her as Black though she could just as easily be called White. As pointed out, the Asian actors are also made to be Cauasian putting on White-face. I think people should just wait to see the movie before taking offense to the racial identity changes of the characters.

  • Mike

    I just dont understand, why is this still an issue? casting someone of a different race to play another race is nothing new. its nothing to be offended by. Is it because they are white actors? or because asians are portrayed having slanted eyes? Being an african american man, should i get offended when robert downey jr's character in tropic thunder? no and neither should anone else. its just a movie, its art, its fiction. let someone tell a story the way they want to tell it. In the movie, halle barry is completely caucasian (i know she is half already) but should white women complain about them not hiring a white woman for the role and be offended? no. The same with the airbender and prince of persia movie, that director seen those actors as his character. its not like this is done for every single movie, where in stead of having a real asian actor in an asian movie, we are just going to cast all white guys and make them look asian. If that where the case, i could see people having a leg to stand on.

    • shaed

      The intent of RDJ's character is to point out the offensiveness and how clueless Hollywood types are about it.

  • William

    "white creators and performers are permitted to determine what it means to be Asian"

    Therefore not only shouldn't these Caucasian actors be playing Asians, neither should these Caucasian Directors be creating movies with Asian scenes, and going to the logical extreme Mitchell nor any other Caucasian Writer should ever dare write about Asians or "what it means to be Asian".

  • Else Harbeau

    I notice that the two articles quoted are making lazy, politically correct assumptions about a film neither person has actually seen, based on a few website photos and a trailer. I've actually seen Cloud Atlas and read the novel it's based on... all these arguments are at best specious and at worst offensive. The term "yellowface" is loaded and unfair to the filmmakers. And, as other comments have noted, ALL actors in the film play across race and gender, not just Caucasians. Comparing Cloud Atlas to early Hollywood films where whites played Asians also misses the point that such casting choices in that era were made to make white audiences feel comfortable, or provide white actors with the best roles while Asians were often cast as extras or minor villains. In Cloud Atlas, Bae Doona, a Korean actress, plays the film's most important heroine. James D'Arcy and Hugo Weaving play villains or compromised characters in that segment; only Jim Sturgess has substantial screentime in an Asian role. (The fuss over Hugo Weaving's makeup in particular is ridiculous, as his character has maybe two minutes of screentime.) Jim Sturgess and Bae Doona play across race in order to portray two lovers reincarnated across time-- thus she plays white elsewhere in the film, and Mexican as well. Meagan Sixsmith, a white character in the novel, is portrayed by Asian actress Zhu Zhu. African American actors Halle Berry and Keith David also play Korean characters, hers a male doctor. Is that "racist" too? And isn't the notion that there has to be a male Asian actor in there somewhere the same sort of quota imposition that these self-proclaimed cultural commentators also object to? (I can imagine the howls of protest if the only male, Asian role was the one played by Weaving or D'Arcy... ) There is no net loss of roles for Asians in the film because they play characters that wouldn't be available to them anywhere else. Almost without exception, the actors cited cross-racial roles when asked which of their characters they enjoyed playing the most during a Toronto Film Festival press conference. Halle Berry in particular noted that in any other film with period settings, she'd have to play a slave or underling of some sort. I understand the frustration when roles written for or by Asian artists are recast with whites in Hollywood adaptations, but the intentions and effect here are completely different. And saying intentions don't matter... I can't respond to that politely. The makeup effects aren't seamless, but I would argue that this is intentional so viewers can draw thematic connections between various characters. Possibly to tweak hypersensitive pseudointellectuals who get hung up on minor physical characteristics too. Or maybe that's an accidental side effect that only emphasizes why we need more films like this, that defy racial intolerance and identity politics narrowmindedness in equal measure

    ALSO, it should be noted that the Neo Seoul society portrayed in the film is different from that in the novel: the official language is English, and it's suggested that it's a mixed-race society in which Korea has possibly been overthrown by outsiders who've imposed elements of their corporate-driven culture. Thus these could be interpreted as mixed-race characters. (Most of their names aren't remotely Korean). This makes the casting of Bae Doona as Sonmi all the more key. No one involved with the film or novel is making broad assumptions about "what it means to be Asian"... or any other race for that matter. The film is daring us to transcend petty, surface judgments of this sort and find our common humanity. These critics are saying actors should only play characters exactly like themselves (which is no longer "acting" really, is it?), and that we can all only truly understand people of our own race, gender, etc. I say this is nonsense, and is the very sort of intolerance these critics claim to be opposing.

    Finally, this film wouldn't have been made at all without Asian financing. It's not a "Hollywood" movie at all. No offensive racial stereotypes are perpetuated (no eyes are "slanted", and everyone uses their own accent-- another point which suggests the makeup is meant to be transparent/imperfect.) An Asian character and actress are the moral pivot point of the whole endeavor. By insulting the filmmakers, you're also insulting their efforts. This film will be profoundly moving for some and a didactic mess for others... obviously everyone is entitled to their own reaction. But labeling these actors and filmmakers based on a trailer and knee-jerk victim-mentality solipsism is unfair and somewhat slanderous.

    • The Jackal

      Well-put. All of your points voiced everything I felt about the misinformed and judgmental article.

  • The Jackal

    In our past history, blackface and yellowface was used to caricature African & Asian Americans. The makeup and mannerisms of the white performers was meant to invoke the most stereotypical associations of race, based on preconceived, racist notions. Blackface in particular was used to present African Americans in a negative light. It poked fun at African Americans through displays of buffoonery and degrading acts. Asians fared no better, just look at the character in Breakfast at Tiffany's.

    I believe the Wachoski siblings (one of whom it must be noted has transformed himself from a man into a woman) are attempting something completely different. The use of makeup to differentiate race in this film is not meant to poke fun at other races (whether it be a black woman portraying a Caucasian or a white actor portraying an Asian). The characters are not meant to be caricatures or stereotypical. Biologically humans don't even fall into different races. In fact a black male has more in common "biologically" with a white male then he does with a black female. Race (aided by differences in physical appearance, particularly skin pigmentation) is ultimately a cultural creation.

    I think it's very bold of the Wachoski's to present a film where people are not defined so much by their "race" as they are by culture and ultimately, the human spirit. We should embrace our differences as a species on screen, of course, but not get so hung up on whether an Asian actor always portrays an Asian or a man always portrays a man.

    Why are we even using a racist term like "yellowface?" Asian people are not yellow. The fact we are arguing this point, in my mind, points to the fact that people somehow have a need for actors to portray only their own gender or race. Why? This is the nature of acting. A good actor should be able to portray other races, genders, species (Yoda, the Na'avi), no problem. This is film is an artistic creation made with a sensitivity and cultural awareness usually unseen in major Hollywood pictures. It is about the triumph of the human race and its indomitable spirit. I wish boldness were applauded in this case and not the subject of scorn.

    Thems the facts

    • J W

      Very well said.

  • J W

    I've noticed a lot of critics just have not read Cloud Atlas, they're just launching everything they've got from trailers or the film itself.
    Firstly, I think Mike Le's article is heavily flawed and the topic has not been well researched. He literally seems like a crying child, playing on every little detail he could get; from a trailer.
    It's nice to see the author of this article pointing out that; " if the intent is for clones to look the same then to say it is forwarding a stereotype is a bit of a stretch. They are clones, a defining nature of which is that they will all be the same. The location in which that portion of the film is set is Seoul, Korea... Does it not stand to assume the clones would be Asian?"
    The same critics try to bring in the fact that the film could have used birthmarks instead of actors playing multiple roles. "After watching the film, one could easily argue the use of the same actor in each moment in time is unnecessary. If the tying together of the souls was so important, it could have been achieved just easily and more subtly using the birthmark idea and dissolving from the birthmark on a character from one moment in time to the next."
    In the book it is the main characters who are connected. They are the characters who have birthmarks that link them through the ages. The film features different actors for each main character, they are characters who are connected.
    When it comes to the film, the directors have decided to show just how connected everyone is, by having major characters play minor characters in other stories. The birthmark concept just doesn't work for this. To suggest this would suggest having multiple birth-marks of different design, something that would crowd the film. Perhaps the directors could have gone with indicators; laughs or habits; but this is a film and audiences are not going to be intently studying the film, determined to find links like that, especially if these links are not known to exist.
    Lastly, I think it's ridiculous for many critics to state that the directors wished to incite a theme of white supremacy; this is a film directed by a trio including trans-gendered woman, staring people of multiple races, ages and sexes.