Cringe at these awful Asian roles played by non-Asian actors
In light of the “Stop Asian Hate” movement that has gained momentum with the rise of hate crimes against Asian Americans this past year – including the mass shooting in Atlanta, Georgia that left eight folks dead, six of those being Asian – we’ve figured it’s time to take a look at Hollywood’s own problematic & racist past against Asians.
Hollywood has contributed their fair share of racism against East Asians (along with every other minority group while we’re at it). In the earlier years, there was yellowface and outright racism against Asians in film & TV scripts. While the racism has surely toned down since the early Hollywood years, it’s still there, just concealed a bit better.
Only in the past years has the film industry begun to see true Asian representation on the big screen, with Bong Joon-Ho’s Parasite sweeping Awards season, Crazy Rich Asians dominating the box office, and plenty more examples. However, we do have to add that hopefully, this paves the way for South Asians & Southeast Asians to also get better representation in the media also.
While Hollywood has been doing better in terms of representation (and when we say “better”, we mean what should have always been the bare minimum), we still can’t forget about their problematic past. Without further ado, let’s take a look at all the horrible roles where characters were supposed to be Asian, but were instead played by non-Asian actors and actresses.
Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany’s
While racism in Hollywood shouldn’t be a competition, we have to say Mickey Rooney portraying the character Yunioshi in the 1965 film Breakfast at Tiffany’s may have to take the cake for one of the most racist portrayals of the Asian race in Hollywood by white actors. Despite that though, Breakfast at Tiffany’s still remains a classic film adored by many despite just how offensive it is to Asians.
In Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Mickey Rooney goes full-out yellowface with taped eyelids, buck teeth, and speaks in a horribly offensive accent throughout the film. Rooney’s character Mr. Yunioshi is not a lead character in the film, but a comedic relief who plays the side role of Holly’s landlord and upstairs neighbor. Actors & creators of the film have acknowledged the Asian-racism since then, but the movie still remains racist.
Katharine Hepburn in Dragon Seed
In Dragon Seed, famous actress Katharine Hepburn plays the role of Jade, a Chinese woman who resists the conquering of her village when the Japanese come and try to take it over. This film is also another example of offensive yellowface, with the make-up artists very clearly trying to make Katharine Hepburn look more stereotypically East-Asian-looking with slanted eyes and other stereotypes.
While other actors & actresses who played the small roles of fellow villagers were actually played by Asian people, all of the lead roles were performed by white actors & actresses. Clearly, this shows that while there have been a few opportunities for Asian roles with depth in Hollywood, casting agents refused to give it to the right actors & actresses and allow actual Asians to play those roles.
Emma Stone in Aloha
By the early 2000’s, outright yellowface became less of an issue in Hollywood, but casting white actors & actresses in roles that were written about people of color was still happening on a regular basis. One example of a famous Hollywood actress being guilty of this is Emma Stone in Aloha, who played a half-Asian Hawaiian named Allison Ng despite being fully white.
While Hawaii remains the only state in America whose population is mostly Asian, casting a woman with blonde hair & blue eyes was incredibly unfair to mixed-race actors who have a harder time finding work in a white-dominated industry. Since then, both Cameron Crowe & Emma Stone have apologized publicly for these choices.
Scarlett Johansson in Ghost in a Shell
This ordeal has been a whole mess from the very beginning. Just like Emma Stone in Aloha, Scarlett Johansson, a white Hollywood actress, was cast to play a prominent Asian role. Complex recalled: “Paramount did tests to see if CGI could make white actors appear more Asian. Paramount denies this was for Scarlett’s character, although Screen Crush’s anonymous source says otherwise.”
Either way, we don’t think it’s very hard for casting agents & producers to just cast a role correctly, meaning that when a person of a certain race is written into the script, the person playing the role should be of that race. We’re glad however that things have finally been looking up, and Asian actors & actresses are finally having their opportunities in Hollywood.