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File:The Face of Fu Manchu.jpg

Christopher Lee wearing makeup to appear Asian on a promotional poster for the 1965 film The Face of Fu Manchu

East Asians have not always been accurately represented in Hollywood. Many times, Asian characters were portrayed predominantly by white actors, often while artificially changing their looks with makeup in order to approximate East Asian facial characteristics.

These portrayals are considered an example of the racism in the United States and overt racism common to the times. During the late 19th Century and early parts of the 20th, numerous anti-Asian sentiments were expressed by politicians and writers, especially on the West Coast, with headlines like "The 'Yellow Peril'" (Los Angeles Times, 1886) and "Conference Endorses Chinese Exclusion" (The New York Times, 1905)[1] and the later Japanese Exclusion Act. The American Immigration Act of 1924 limited the number of Asians because they were considered an "undesirable" race.[2]

Early Asian American Actors

In 1910, Lee Tung Foo was known as “the most remarkable China man in the United States” due to his performances in vaudeville.

Japanese American Sessue Hayakawa's roles in the silent films The Wrath of the Gods (1914) and The Typhoon (1914) transformed Hayakawa into an overnight success. The first Asian-American star of the American screen was born, and during the 1920s he was as famous as actors Charlie Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks[3] He was one of the highest paid stars of his time; making $5,000 a week in 1915 for The Cheat, and $2 million a year via his own production company during the 1920s.[4] Hayakawa was the romantic idol of millions of American women and[4][5] in many ways, he was a precursor to Rudolph Valentino. When Hayakawa's contract with Paramount expired in May, 1918, the studio wanted him to star in The Sheik, but Hayakawa turned them down in favour of starting his own company. The role went to Valentino who rose to overnight stardom.[4] Alongside the film Birth of a Nation and the re-birth of the Ku Klux Klan as a major political force during the 1920s, there would be no more depictions of an actual Asian "having his way" with a white woman, and Hayakawa's career stalled.

File:Anna May Wong Shanghai Express.jpg

Anna May Wong and Marlene Dietrich in Shanghai Express (1932)

Anna May Wong, considered by many the first Chinese-American movie star, was acting by the age of 14 and in 1922, at 17 years old, she became the first Asian to break Hollywood’s miscegenation rule playing opposite a white romantic lead in Toll of the Sea. Even though she was internationally known by 1924, her film roles were limited by stereotype and prejudice; tired of being typecast and passed over for significant Chinese character roles in favor of non-Asian actresses, in 1928 Wong left Hollywood for Europe. Interviewed by Doris Mackie for Film Weekly in 1933, Wong complained about her Hollywood roles: "I was so tired of the parts I had to play." Referring to yellowface, she commented: "There seems little for me in Hollywood, because, rather than real Chinese, producers prefer Hungarians, Mexicans, American Indians for Chinese roles." In 1935, she was considered for the leading role in The Good Earth, which went to Caucasian actress Luise Rainer. Wong refused the role of the villainess, the stereotypical Oriental Dragonlady.

Some Asian-American actors nonetheless attempted to start careers. Merle Oberon, a mixed-race Anglo-Indian, was able to get starring roles after concocting a phony story about her origins and using skin whitening make-up. Philip Ahn, after rejection for speaking English too well, braved death threats after playing Japanese villains. There were others like Barbara Jean Wong, Fely Franquelli, Benson Fong, Chester Gan, Honorable Wu, Kam Tong, Keye Luke, Layne Tom Jr., Maurice Liu, Philip Ahn, Richard Loo, Lotus Long, Rudy Robles, Suzanna Kim, Teru Shimada, Willie Fung, Victor Sen Yung, Toshia Mori and Wing Foo; all began their film careers in the 1930s and 40s.

With the number of Asian-American actors available, actor Robert Ito explained that job protection for Caucasian actors was one reason yellowface persisted. "With the relatively small percentage of actors that support themselves by acting, it was only logical that they should try to limit the available talent pool as much as possible. One way of doing this was by placing restrictions on minority actors, which, in the case of Asian actors, meant that they could usually only get roles as houseboys, cooks, laundrymen, and crazed war enemies, with the rare "white hero's loyal sidekick" roles going to the big name actors. When the script called for a larger Asian role, it was almost inevitably given to a white actor."[6]

Early History

In 1767, Arthur Murphy's theatrical work The Orphan of China was presented in Philadelphia.[7] In this early production, the actors and the audiences had never seen an Asian. On screen, Mary Pickford, a white Canadian, played Cio-Cio San in Madame Butterfly in (1915).

The Welsh-American Myrna Loy was the "go to girl" for any portrayal of Asian characters and was typecasted in over a dozen films, while Chinese detective Charlie Chan, who was modeled after Chang Apana, a real-life Chinese Hawaiian detective, was portrayed by several white actors including Warner Oland, Sidney Toler, and Peter Ustinov.

The list of actors who have donned makeup to portray Asians at some point in their career includes: Lon Chaney Sr., Edward G. Robinson, Loretta Young, Boris Karloff, Peter Lorre, Anthony Quinn, Katharine Hepburn, Rita Moreno, Rex Harrison, John Wayne, Marlon Brando, Alec Guinness, Tony Randall, John Gielgud, Max von Sydow, Linda Hunt, David Carradine, Joel Grey, and many others.

The use of yellowface makeup endured when blackface makeup has become taboo.[8] In the 21st Century Grindhouse, Balls of Fury, I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, and Crank: High Voltage all featured Caucasian actors as Asian caricatures.[9]

Recurring stereotypes such as the Fu Manchu-style Asian villain or the Madame Butterfly-style Asian female love interest (with a white hero) were going largely unchallenged.Template:When Asian Americans formed advocacy groups such as the East West Players and Media Action Network for Asian Americans (MANAA) to counter the practice.[10]

The Motion Picture Production Code was the set of industry censorship guidelines which governed the production of the vast majority of United States motion pictures released by major studios from 1930 to 1968. It was originally popularly known as the Hays Code, after its creator, Will H. Hays. With these guidelines, portrayals of miscegenation were forbidden.

Anti-miscegenation laws, also known as miscegenation laws, were laws that banned interracial marriage and sometimes sex between members of two different races. In North America, laws against interracial marriage and interracial sex existed and were enforced in the Thirteen Colonies from the late seventeenth century onwards, and subsequently in several US states and US territories until 1967.

Early Film

Madame Butterfly


Albanese as Cio-Cio San in Puccini's Madama Butterfly'

Madame Butterfly was originally a short story written by John Luther Long.[11] An Italian opera, Madama Butterfly was created by Giacomo Puccini after he saw a London play by David Belasco that was based on the short story.[12] The original production premiered on February 17, 1904, at La Scala in Milan.

It is the story of a teenaged Japanese maiden, Cio-Cio San, who marries and has a child with a white American navy lieutenant named Pinkerton.[13] The Lieutenant leaves Cio-Cio San and returns home where, unknown to Cio-Cio San, he marries a white American.[13] When he returns to Japan with his new wife, Cio-Cio San, who has given birth in the interim to Pinkerton's baby, kills herself.

The opera remains immensely popular but it has been accused of misogony and racism.[12] It is seen as perpetuating the notion of the dominant white male lording it over the subdued Asian female, who can be cast aside at will.[14] Nonetheless, the opera does paint Pinkerton's conduct as reprehensible and the libretto seeks to portray Cio-Cio San as a wronged individual worthy of sympathy and respect.

In 1915, the silent film version was directed by Sidney Olcott and starred Mary Pickford as Cio-Cio-San.[15]

The Forbidden City

The Forbidden City was released in 1918. The plot centers around an inter-racial romance between a Chinese princess (Norma Talmage) and an American. When palace officials discover she has fallen pregnant she is sentenced to death. In the latter part of the film Talmadge plays the now adult daughter of the affair, seeking her father in the Philippines.

Mr. Wu

Mr. Wu was originally a stage play, written by Harold Owen and Harry M. Vernon. It was first staged in London in 1913; the first U.S. production opened in New York on October 14, 1914. The actor Frank Morgan was in the original Broadway cast, appearing under his original name Frank Wupperman.

Matheson Lang was the first actor to portray Mr. Wu (in the 1913 West End production), who became so popular in the role that he starred in a 1919 film version. Lang continued to play Oriental roles (although not exclusively), and his autobiography was titled Mr. Wu Looks Back (1940).

Lon Chaney, Sr. and Renée Adorée were cast in the 1927 film. Cheekbones and lips were built up with cotton and collodion, the ends of cigar holders were inserted into his nostrils, and the long fingernails were constructed from stripes of painted film stock. Chaney used fishskin to fashion an Oriental cast to his eyes and grey crepe hair was used to create the distinctive Fu-Manchu moustache and goatee.

Broken Blossoms

The film Broken Blossoms is based on a short story, "The Chink and the Child" taken from the book "Limehouse Nights" by Thomas Burke.[16] It was released in 1919, during a period of strong anti-Chinese feeling in the USA, a fear known as the Yellow Peril. Griffith changed Burke's original story to promote a message of tolerance. In Burke’s story, the Chinese protagonist is a sordid young Shanghai drifter pressed into naval service, who frequents opium dens and whorehouses; in the film, he becomes a Buddhist missionary whose initial goal is to spread the word of Buddha and peace (although he is also shown frequenting opium dens when he is depressed). Even at his lowest point, he still prevents his gambling companions from fighting.

Classical Hollywood Cinema

The Good Earth


Paul Muni and Luise Rainer

File:Luise Rainer in The Good Earth trailer 2.jpg


The Good Earth (1937) is a film about Chinese farmers who struggle to survive[17] It was adapted by Talbot Jennings, Tess Slesinger, and Claudine West from the play by Donald Davis and Owen Davis, which was itself based on the 1931 novel The Good Earth by Nobel Prize-winning author Pearl S. Buck The film was directed by Sidney Franklin, Victor Fleming (uncredited) and Gustav Machaty (uncredited).

The film's budget was $2.8 million, a small fortune at the time, and took three years to make. Although Pearl Buck intended the film to be cast with all Chinese or Chinese-American actors, the studio opted to use established American stars, tapping Paul Muni and Luise Rainer for the lead roles. Both had won Oscars the previous year; Rainer for her role in The Great Ziegfeld and Muni for the lead in The Story of Louis Pasteur. When questioned about his choice of the American actors, Thalberg responded by saying, "I'm in the business of creating illusions."

In 1935, when MGM Studios was looking to make The Good Earth into a movie, Anna May Wong was considered a top contender for the role of O-lan, the Chinese heroine of the novel. However, because Paul Muni was of European descent, the Hays Code's anti-miscegenation rules meant his character's wife had to be played by a white woman. So, MGM gave the role of O-lan to a white actress and offered Wong the role of Lotus, the story’s villain, but Wong refused to be the only Chinese American playing the only negative character, stating: "...I won't play the part. If you let me play O-lan, I'll be very glad. But you're asking me - with Chinese blood - to do the only unsympathetic role in the picture featuring an all-American cast portraying Chinese characters."[18] MGM's refusal to consider Wong for this most high-profile of Chinese characters in U.S. film is remembered today as "one of the most notorious cases of casting discrimination in the 1930s".

The Good Earth was nominated for a total of five Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Direction (Sidney Franklin), Best Cinematography (Karl Freund), and Best Film Editing (Basil Wrangell). In addition to the Best Actress award (Luise Rainer), the film won for Best Cinematography.[19] Ironically, the year The Good Earth came out, Wong appeared on the cover of Look magazine's second issue, which labeled her "The World's Most Beautiful Chinese Girl." Stereotyped in America as a dragon lady, the cover photo had her holding a dagger.[20]

Breakfast at Tiffany's

File:Breakfast at Tiffanys.jpg


The 1961 film Breakfast at Tiffany's has been criticized for its portrayal of the character Mr. Yunioshi, Holly's bucktoothed, stereotyped Japanese neighbor. Played by Mickey Rooney, Rooney wore makeup to change his features to a caricatured approximation of a Japanese person.

In the 45th anniversary edition DVD release, producer Richard Shepherd repeatedly apologizes, saying,"If we could just change Mickey Rooney, I'd be thrilled with the movie."[21] Director Blake Edwards stated,"Looking back, I wish I had never done it...and I would give anything to be able to recast it, but it's there, and onward and upward."[21] In a 2008 interview about the film, 87-year-old Rooney said he was heartbroken about the criticism and that he had never received any complaints about his portrayal of the character.[22]

Fu Manchu

In 1929 the character Fu Manchu made his American film debut in The Mysterious Dr. Fu Manchu played by the Swedish-American actor Warner Oland. Oland repeated the role in 1930's The Return of Dr. Fu Manchu and 1931's Daughter of the Dragon. Oland appeared in character in the 1931 musical, Paramount on Parade where the Devil Doctor was seen to murder both Philo Vance and Sherlock Holmes.

In 1932, Boris Karloff took over the character in the film The Mask of Fu Manchu. The film's tone has long been considered racist and offensive, but that only added to its cult status alongside its humor and Grand Guignol sets and torture sequences. The film was suppressed for many years, but has since received critical re-evaluation and been released on DVD uncut.

The Mask of Fu Manchu at the Internet Movie Database

Charlie Chan

Charlie Chan was played by Warner Oland. Films included Shanghai Express, The Painted Veil, Werewolf of London, and Shanghai.

Other Films

Year Film Actor/s Notes
1932 The Hatchet Man Edward G. Robinson and Loretta Young
  • Makeup artists had noticed that audiences were more likely to reject Western actors in Asian disguise if the faces of actual Asians were in near proximity. Rather than cast the film with all Asian actors, which would have then meant no star names to attract American audiences, studios simply eliminated most of the Asian actors from the cast.[23]
  • Oriental Hollywood excesses make for rather uncomfortable viewing today, even when directed by such cinematic experts as William Wellman. The director obviously wished to address the clash between ancient culture and modern American life, tradition versus modernity, but the bizarre "Oriental" makeup of Occidental stars Edward G. Robinson and Loretta Young simply gets in the way of the message, especially when contrasted to such genuine Asian supporting players as Toshia Mori and Willie Fung, both briefly spotted skulking about in the background.
  • Made during the few years before strict enforcement of the Hollywood Production Code, The Hatchet Man has elements that would not be allowed later such as adultery, narcotics and a somewhat graphic use of a flying hatchet.
1932 Frisco Jenny Helen Jerome Eddy
  • Helen Jerome Eddy, portrays Frisco Jenny's loyal servant Amah.
  • Although not a success on the original release, in recent years, Frisco Jenny has been among the pre-Code films rediscovered and re-evaluated thanks to theatrical revivals and cable television screenings. New fans have been impressed by Chatterton's depiction of a tough woman who takes charge of her own destiny long before women's liberation and Wellman's energetic direction and creative camera placement.[24]
1932 Thirteen Women Myrna Loy
  • Ursula Georgi (Myrna Loy), a half-Javanese Eurasian woman who was subjected to harsh bigotry from the other women during her school days due to her mixed-race heritage. Georgi exacts revenge by using a suborned swami to manipulate the women into killing themselves or each other.
  • Not a popular success either critically or financially, Thirteen Women has achieved a "cult classic" status in recent years. A pre-code era film, modern critics have stated that its theme was ahead of its time and out of step with the tastes of 1930s cinema patrons.[25]
1933 The Bitter Tea of General Yen Nils Asther
  • General Yen was a box office failure upon its release and has since been overshadowed by Capra's later efforts. In recent years, the film has grown in critical acclaim. In 2000, the film was chosen by British film critic Derek Malcolm as one of the hundred best films in The Century of Films.
  • According to a New York Times Review, Mr. Asther's make-up is impressive, with slanting eyes and dark skin. He talks with a foreign accent.[26]
  • Toshia Mori who in 1932 became the only Asian actress to be selected as a WAMPAS Baby Star, an annual list of young and promising film actresses, was billed third in the film's credits, behind Barbara Stanwyck and Nils Asther. This was her most significant film role, she returned to minor characters in her subsequent films.
1934 The Mysterious Mr. Wong Béla Lugosi
  • Bela Lugosi stars as Mr. Wong, a "harmless" Chinatown shopkeeper by day and relentless blood-thirsty pursuer of the Twelve Coins of Confucius by night.
  • They didn't even bother to disguise Lugosi's thick Hungarian accent. It was directed by William Nigh, who three years later directed Karloff in the Mr. Wong detective films.
1937 Lost Horizon H.B. Warner
  • H.B. Warner as Chang, an ancient Chinese man who rescues the plane crash survivors and takes them to Shangri-La. H.B. Warner lost the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor to Joseph Schildkraut for the same film.
  • Lost Horizon was named one of the 10 best films of 1937 by The New York Times and later won two Academy Awards, for Best Film Editing, and Best Art Direction.[27]
1937–1939 Mr. Moto film series Peter Lorre as Mr. Moto film series
  • Between 1937 and 1939 eight motion pictures were produced by 20th Century Fox starring Peter Lorre[28] as Mr. Kentaro Moto.[29]
  • Unlike the novels, Moto is the central character, wears glasses, and no longer has gold teeth. He is still impeccably dressed in primarily Western suits, only wearing a yukata when he is relaxing at home.
  • The stories are action-oriented due to Moto’s liberal use of judo (only hinted at in the novels) and due to his tendency to wear disguises.
  • Mr. Moto is described as being just over 5 feet tall in the film Danger Island. (Lorre was actually 5 feet 5 inches).
1939 Island of Lost Men Anthony Quinn
1939 The Mystery of Mr. Wong Boris Karloff
  • Boris Karloff was in yellowface as the detective.
  • Amongst the Asians in background: Chester Gan, Lotus Long as the maid, Lee Tung Foo as Mr. Wong's Butler and door opener.
1940 The Letter Gale Sondergaard
  • Sondergaard plays a Eurasian, a trope of the Dragonlady.
  • Variety said, "Never has [the W. Somerset Maugham play] been done with greater production values, a better all-around cast or finer direction. Its defect is its grimness. Director William Wyler, however, sets himself a tempo which is in rhythm with the Malay locale . . . Davis' frigidity at times seems to go even beyond the characterization. On the other hand, Marshall never falters. Virtually stealing these honors in the pic, however, is Stephenson as the attorney, while Sondergaard is the perfect mask-like threat".[31]
1942 Little Tokyo, U.S.A. Harold Huber as Takimura, American-born spy for Tokyo, June Duprez as Teru
  • In its day, Little Tokyo, U.S.A. exemplified yellowface at its most pernicious. While other works had used Asian make-up to ridicule or vilify Asian features, this B movie used yellowface directly to deny a group of Asian Americans their civil rights.[32] Twentieth Century-Fox seized on one of the most controversial aspects of the homefront, the roundup and internment of people of Japanese descent on the West Coast. Little Tokyo basically developed the theme that anyone of Japanese descent, including American citizens, was loyal to the emperor of Japan and a potential traitor to America.
  • The movie employed a quasi-documentary style of filming. Twentieth Century sent its cameramen to the Japanese quarter of Los Angeles to shoot the actual evacuation. However, after the evacuation, night shots were difficult in the deserted "Little Tokyo". Night scenes were filmed in Chinatown, instead-who would notice that the street signs had Chinese instead of Japanese characters? This assumption carried over to casting: Chinese actor Richard Loo played one of the lead Japanese roles in the film.
  • The movie ends up extolling the necessity for the internment of Japanese Americans. In retrospect, knowing that not a single charge of espionage was ever brought against a Japanese American during wartime, this sensationalistic story reeks of racist propaganda.[33][34]
  • Little Tokyo, U.S.A. stands as a cautionary reminder of just how horribly a community's image can be distorted when it's not there to represent itself.
1944 Dragon Seed Katharine Hepburn, Walter Huston, Aline MacMahon, Turhan Bey, Agnes Moorehead, J. Carrol Naish, and Hurd Hatfield
  • Based on a best-selling book by Pearl S. Buck, the film portrays a peaceful village in China that has been invaded by the Imperial Japanese Army during the Second Sino-Japanese war. The men in the village choose to adopt a peaceful attitude toward their conquerors, but Jade (played by Hepburn), a headstrong woman, stands up to the Japanese.
  • In Lion of Hollywood author Scott Eyman wrote that this was one of the worst of all MGM pictures (p. 364).[35]
1946 Anna and the King of Siam Rex Harrison, Linda Darnell, and Gale Sondergaard
1946 Ziegfeld Follies Fred Astaire and Lucille Bremer Limehouse Blues: Conceived as a "dramatic pantomime" with Astaire as a proud but poverty-stricken Chinese labourer whose infatuation with the unattainable Bremer leads to tragedy. The story serves as bookends for a dream ballet inspired by Chinese dance motifs in an unfortunate, racially stereotyped setting.
1955 Blood Alley Anita Ekberg, Berry Kroeger, Paul Fix, and Mike Mazurki
  • Despite the star power of its lead actors and director, Blood Alley received a lukewarm reception from critics [2]. The New York Times proclaimed, "Blood Alley, despite its exotic, oriental setting, is a standard chase melodrama patterned on a familiar blueprint."[3]
  • Far better were Paul Fix, Berry Kroeger, and Anita Ekberg, who weren't the most convincing "Chinese" in the world but who seem to fit right in with the blood-and-thunder proceedings.[37]
  • Today's critics have focused on Blood Alley's anti-communist aspect, website calling it "only a banal actioner" [4] and DVDtalk proclaiming it "preposterous but entertaining" and claiming that "Wayne and Bacall have no chemistry at all" [5].
1955 Love is a Many Splendored Thing Jennifer Jones
1956 The Conqueror John Wayne
  • The picture was a critical and commercial failure (often ranked as one of the worst films of the 1950s), which is remarkable given the stature of the cast. Wayne, who was at the height of his career, had lobbied for the role after seeing the script and was widely believed to have been grossly miscast. (He was so "honored" by The Golden Turkey Awards.)
1956 The King and I Yul Brynner and Rita Moreno
  • Brynner, Russian born, reprised his role as King Mongut of Siam from the original Broadway production; Moreno, who is of Puerto-Rican heritage, played Tuptim. The film was banned in Thailand (formerly Siam in King Mongkut's days).
1956 The Teahouse of the August Moon Marlon Brando
  • Brando spent two hours a day for the standard prosthetic eyepieces and makeup. His role was made all the more noticeable because he is the only actor in yellowface in a sea of Asian extras and secondary characters.[38]
  • Brando actually attempted an "authentic" Japanese accent and he even has some Japanese dialogue.
1958 The Inn of the Sixth Happiness *Curd Jürgens and Robert Donat The film makers, since release, have been criticised for casting, Ingrid Bergman, a tall woman with a Swedish accent, as Gladys Aylward who was in fact short and had a cockney accent. Likewise, the two leads, British actor Robert Donat and Austrian actor Curt Jurgens were not even Chinese.
1961 Flower Drum Song Juanita Hall
  • The film and stage play were based on the 1957 novel of the same name by the Chinese-American author C.Y. Lee.
  • In 1960 producer Ross Hunter cast Anna May Wong, in Flower Drum Song. However, Wong became ill in December 1960 and was replaced by Juanita Hall.
  • This movie was unusual (for its time) in featuring nearly all Asian-American cast members (one of the few speaking Caucasian parts being that of a mugger), including dancers, though two of the singing voices were not by Asian ones. Starring in this movie were Nancy Kwan, James Shigeta, Benson Fong, James Hong, Reiko Sato and the original Broadway cast members Jack Soo, Miyoshi Umeki and Juanita Hall (an African-American actress who previously played the Pacific Islander Bloody Mary in the Broadway and film productions of Rodgers and Hammerstein's South Pacific).
  • In 2008, Flower Drum Song was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".[39]
1962 The Manchurian Candidate Henry Silva Notes
1962 My Geisha Shirley MacLaine Notes
1962 A Majority of One Alec Guinness Notes
1963 55 Days at Peking Flora Robson Notes
1964 7 Faces of Dr. Lao Tony Randall Notes
1965 Pierrot le fou Anna Karina Notes
1965 Genghis Khan Robert Morley, James Mason and others Notes
1965 Gilligan's Island Vito Scotti Notes
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
  • In 1965 Mr. Moto's character was revived in a low-budget Robert Lippert production filmed in England starring Henry Silva.[40]
  • In Mr. Moto Returns, a.k.a. The Return of Mr. Moto, Mr. I.A. Moto is now a member of Interpol.
  • The extremely tall Silva conveyed an almost James Bond-like playboy character; in the fight scenes he is clearly not proficient in martial arts. He speaks in a lazy 'Beatnik' manner.
  • Nowhere in the film is it even mentioned that Moto is Japanese. He is referred to as an "oriental" and, oddly, in the trailer, Moto is referred to as a “swinging Chinese cat.” It is only when he is disguised as a Japanese oil representative, Mr. Takura, that a more stereotypical portrayal of a Japanese businessman is given.
1966 7 Women Woody Strode and Mike Mazurki Notes

The 'New Hollywood' and Post-classical cinema

After 1967, anti-miscegenation laws were repealed in the United States of America.

Year Film Actor/s Notes
1973 Lost Horizon John Gielgud as Chang Notes
1975 One of Our Dinosaurs is Missing Peter Ustinov and others Notes
1976 Murder by Death Peter Sellers 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. It could be argued that Sellers' role is in itself a parody of yellowface casting in earlier films.
1978 Revenge of the Pink Panther Peter Sellers Inspector Clouseau had many disguises and this included the quintessential Chinaman stereotype.
1980 The Fiendish Plot of Dr. Fu Manchu Peter Sellers Notes
1980 Flash Gordon Max von Sydow as Emperor Ming 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.[41] The film was released the following year as Charlie Chan and the Curse of the Dragon Queen and was an "abysmal failure."[42] More successful was Wayne Wang's Chan is Missing (1982), which was a spoof of the older Chan films.[43] An updated film version of the character was planned in the 1990s by Miramax; this new Charlie Chan was to be "hip, slim, cerebral, sexy and ... a martial-arts master",[43] but the film did not come to fruition.[43]
1981 Hardly Working Jerry Lewis
1982 The Year of Living Dangerously Linda Hunt as Billy Kwan The Year of Living Dangerously was entered into the 1983 Cannes Film Festival[44] where it was well-received by audiences and critics.[45]

Actress Linda Hunt won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.[46]

1982 Marco Polo (TV miniseries) Leonard Nimoy as Achmet American television mini-series
1985 Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins Joel Grey as Chiun Film based on the Destroyer book series. The role garnered Joel Grey a Saturn Award and a second Golden Globe nomination for "Best Supporting Actor".
1994 Sabotage Adam Yauch Beastie Boys music video.
1999 Galaxy Quest Tony Shalhoub as Fred Kwan / Tech Sergeant Chen Shalhoub (an American of Arab descent) plays an actor with a Korean family name, whose character in turn has a Chinese name; Shalhoub wears makeup which makes him look more East Asian

21st Century

Year Film Actor/s & Role Notes
2001 Not Another Teen Movie Samm Levine as Bruce A parody of racist stereotypes in teen films, most notably Long Duk Dong in Sixteen Candles.
2005 Australian television series We Can Be Heroes Chris Lilley as Ricky Wong 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 [47]
2007 Balls of Fury Christopher Walken as Feng Feng is a parody of the yellow peril and Fu Manchu stereotype.
2007 Norbit Eddie Murphy as Mr. Wong For his portrayal Eddie Murphy received a Golden Raspberry Award. Worst Supporting Actor (Eddie Murphy; as Mr. Wong) [48]
2007 Grindhouse Nicolas Cage as Dr. Fu Manchu Fake Trailer: Werewolf Women of the SS [49]
2007 I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry Rob Schneider as the Asian minister and photographer Schneider is in fact one quarter Filipino by descent, but wore prosthetics for the role which were criticised as an offensive stereotype.

Nominated for the Worst Supporting Actor Golden Raspberry Award but lost to Eddie Murphy.

2008 My Name Is Bruce Ted Raimi as Wing Notes
2009 Crank: High Voltage David Carradine as Poon Dong Poon Dong, played by the late 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 Opened His Pre-Fall Show in Shanghai With a Film That Included Yellow Face.[50] 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." [51] Chinese persons played the maid, a courtesan and background characters. The film is currently on youtube [52]

See also

Further reading

  • Wang, Yiman (2005). "The Art of Screen Passing: Anna May Wong's Yellow Yellowface Performance in the Art Deco Era". In Catherine Russell. Camera Obscura 60: New Women of the Silent Screen: China, Japan, Hollywood. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press. pp. 159–191. ISBN 0-8223-6624-X.
  • Paul, John Steven (Spring 2001 University of Hawai'i Press). Misreading the Chinese Character: Images of the Chinese in Euroamerican Drama to 1925 (review) Asian Theatre Journal - Volume 18, Number 1, pp. 117-119,.
  • Moon, Krystyn R.. Yellowface: Creating the Chinese in American Popular Music and Performance, 1850s-1920s.
  • Prasso, Sheridan. The Asian Mystique: dragon ladies, geisha girls, & our fantasies of the exotic orient.


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  9. TheatreWorks Silicon Valley In The Works The Practice of Yellow Face' by David Henry Hwang
  10. Rising Sun: Interview with activist Guy Aoki - Total eclipse of the Sun by Robert M. Payne
  11. Analysis of John Luther Long's "Madame Butterfly"
  12. 12.0 12.1 Madama Butterfly, Puccini's masterpiece transcends its age By Benjamin Woodward
  13. 13.0 13.1 [1]] Puccini opera is racist
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  17. What's So Bad About "The Good Earth" by Charles W. Hayford.
  18. Profile of Anna May Wong: Remembering The Silent Star by Kenneth Quan
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  50. Karl Lagerfeld Talks Shanghai and Fashion
  51. Karl Lagerfeld Opened His Pre-Fall Show in Shanghai With a Film That Included Yellow Face -- The Cut
  52. |Chanel - Paris - Shanghai A Fantasy - The Short Movie

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