Beauty, Career, DIY, Women

My Adventures Correcting Yellowface

OK you guys. This might be my favorite DIY project ever. It’s personal. And it’s weird. And I’m a little giddy about it. Excuse me while I go giggle behind my delicate Asian hand. 😉 It’s called Correcting Yellowface.

correcting yellow face, michelle villemaire, asian, diversity, hollywoodA few weeks ago, in a fit of frustration over the history of Hollywood whitewashing, I felt an urge to do something. I started taking pictures of myself. Not just random pictures. I took pictures of myself as Asian characters who were played by white women in film. And it felt sooooo good.

I put a chair in front of a white wall, set my camera timer, focused on my acting headshot (which had never seen so much action until this project) and ran into place hoping that my head was tilted just right and that I could get into character and emote something before the shutter started to click.

Why did I do this?

Growing up, I didn’t see many faces like mine on television and film. And because I wanted to be an actor it was really hard to believe that I could ever be one. Only women who had a certain skin color and eye shape were really allowed on screen, right? To this day white people are cast as Asians, deepening the message that Asians just aren’t wanted.

Hey, Hollywood is just a town of fallible humans. Producers, directors and casting agents? They make mistakes- and they need a little help. So, my friends, I decided to try my hand at correcting the yellowface.

I had doubts about my ability to pull off believable versions of these characters. Maybe I can’t do this, I thought. Maybe there’s a legit reason they don’t cast us. Maybe I’m not a good actor. Maybe I’m not beautiful enough.

But I kinda needed to know that I was. So I did this.

 

Luise Rainer in The Good Earth

Did y’all read The Good Earth in junior high? Do you remember when Olan birthed that baby and went right back to plowing the fields? Aw yeah. I was so proud to be of Chinese descent when I read that.

This role should have gone to my girl Anna May Wong but back then it was illegal for People of Color to play opposite white people as romantic leads. Since they had already cast a white actor to play the husband- the role of Olan was played by Luise Rainer- a white woman of German descent. The academy awarded her an Oscar for it.

asian, asian-american, actor, actress, hollywood, yellow face, luise rainer, michelle villemaire, homemademimiI just have to say- I didn’t wear makeup in this shot. A challenge for me and perhaps I will grant myself my own award for that. But Olan was a Chinese farmer. She birthed her babies in the fields and got right back to plowing. I wanted my sun spots to show, because imagine being a Chinese farmer- how bad for your skin! I look at my driver’s side arm and imagine THAT all over my face. My grandfather’s family were farmers in China and I love hearing his stories about riding to Thailand on horseback and eating stone soup. This one’s for you, grandpa.

Katharine Hepburn in Dragon Seed

Katharine Hepburn. One of the greatest American actresses of all time. But hold up- what did they do to her face? Why I do believe they taped her eyes to make them appear more Chinese. This is yellowface with a capital yellow.

It was also one of the most challenging photos to shoot. One, because it’s Katharine Hepburn and I didn’t want to disrespect the queen may she rest in peace. And two, trying to recreate one of our greatest actors’ expressions while that actress’s face has been tampered with is just some crazy gymnastics. I really got into my head here and it wasn’t pretty. I considered calling this post Wictor Wictoria because it occurred to me that I was an Asian woman trying to be a white woman trying to be an Asian woman.

dragonseed, katharine hepburn, michelle villemaire, yellowface, correction, asian, asian american, actor, actress, hollywoodIn the end I think we’ve proven that I can look just as creepy as she looks in fake bangs.

 

Myrna Loy in The Mask of Fu Manchu (and many more)

Myrna Loy was one hot white- I mean Chinese girl! Shooting this one really started to mess with me and my ideas of beauty. That face! Those eyes! Those gorgeous BLUE eyes! Let’s be honest, blue-eyed peoples’ eyes are like crystal prisms the way they catch the light and throw it around. When I was eight I wanted so desperately to look white that I used shampoo for blonde people and put clothespins on my nose to try to make it narrower. I’m proud of my half-Asian heritage now- very proud- but those were some dark days. Trying to recreate a pic of Myrna Loy brought me back.

fu manchu, mask of fu manchiu, myrna loy, michelle villemaire, homemademimi, hollywood, yellowface, correctionBut then I saw what I had shot and smiled. There I was. For one frame. A 40’s movie star.

Myrna Loy did yellowface many times so there were tons of great pics I wanted to play with. Why should white girls get to wear all the fun Asian costumes? This one sent me to Chinatown in search of a badass headdress.

mask of fu manchu, myrna loy, michelle villemaire, hollywood, yellowface, actor, actressI showed my husband this pic of me as the daughter of Fu Manchu and his response was: “You look fucking dangerous”.

Mm-hmm. That’s what I’m talkin’ about.

Rita Moreno in The King and I

Look, I know that Rita Moreno is hot. Like super hot. But she is of Latin descent, and since I am of Thai blood I had no choice but to take a shot at Tuptim. I went to Thai town and rented outfits from this awesome Thai clothing shop called The Phukaw and Tonk, a local Thai photographer, took my pics.

Years ago I auditioned for the role of Tuptim in the updated Anna and the King with Jodie Foster. I didn’t get the part- the role went to the gorgeous and talented Bai Ling. Tuptim is a Burmese princess who is given to the King of Thailand as a gift (slave) and lives in a gilded palace with a bunch of other wives. I am a mom from the Palisades having some kind of mid-life crisis dressed as a Thai fairy outside of Jumbo’s Clown Room. Tuptim and I have more in common than you think. rita moreno, michellevillemaire, the king and i, hollywood, yellow face, asian, asian american, actor, actress, correction, thai, thai danceI wish my grandma were alive so I could show her this picture. She’d have plenty to say about it. How suay (beautiful) my dress is, how nice my yim (smile) is, and how my hands are all… wrong. Wrong wrong wrong. Why aren’t you bending them back? You don’t look like dancer at all! Look like man hand!

This one’s for you grandma. We miss you.

Scarlett Johansson in Ghost in the Shell

Who doesn’t want to be a Japanese manga character!! You cannot blame Scarlett Johansson for wanting to play Motoko Kusanagi in Ghost in the Shell, but maybe she could’ve just done some cosplay at Comicon and stepped aside for someone like Karen Fukuhara or Rinko Kukuchi or Kiki Sukezane or [insert Asian actress] or ME to have a turn?

scarlett johansson, michelle villemaire, ghost in the shell, yellow face, hollywood, actor, actress, diversity,

As far as I know I do not have Japanese blood. But my mother and I are often mistaken for Japanese when we are in Thailand. Just the other day she told me people used to joke that when Japanese soldiers came to her village, my grandma… well you see where that joke goes.

I’ve sent away for AncestryDNA kits so stay tuned.

(*UPDATE: We might indeed be part Japanese! My mom is 89% East Asian, but hard to determine specifics as this category covers a lot of terrain. The fun surprise was learning she is also 11% Polynesian…)

Emma Stone in Aloha

Remember when we all heard that Emma Stone was playing a half-Asian woman in Aloha and we lost our shit? That felt good. We really bonded over that. But I have to admit in the midst of our outrage, I couldn’t help but notice this awesome vintage hat Emma was wearing in a publicity photo. Now, not only was I jealous that Emma Stone got to play opposite Bradley Cooper as half-Asian Allison Ng, but she also had a killer hat that was no where to be found on the internet. I needed to remedy this situation right quick.

My friend shot me at our local farmer’s market. And I made my own hat.

aloha, emma stone, michelle villemaire, yellow face, asian, actor, actress, hollywood, hawaiianSo, there it is. My adventures in correcting yellowface. Sometimes, when other people aren’t doing things right you just gotta Do IT Yourself. During this project there were moments of empowerment, sadness, frustration, satisfaction and glee. Also, a bunch of money spent on props. And it was so worth it. Like most of my creative endeavors I was motivated by the simple desire to entertain myself and my kooky inner circle of friends and family. But there’s more to this. This photographic journey is a love letter to all my Asian brothers and sisters out there trying to break into a tough business. I feel your struggle. But please keep fighting the fight. You are talented. You are beautiful. And goddammit, we belong in the picture. xo

 

Special thanks to

Matt Dusig for his awesome photography and photoshop skills. Check him out here.

My sister-in-law Lu for her historical consultation and support.

My husband for telling me I looked “fucking dangerous.”

My kids for dealing with me this past month but especially that one weekend.

My entire kooky inner circle- you know who you are. 😉

I love you all.

 

For more, check out my HomeMadeMimi YouTube Channel where I DIY with power tools and funnies.

Here’s a link to my video about Correcting Yellowface!

And check out these awesome stories about Correcting Yellowface!

The GuardianNBC NEWSYAHOOAV ClubCCTV America, Upworthy

Angry Asian ManCAAMEDIAPOPSUGARBuzzFeedHuffingtonPost

.MICInsiderThe Next FamilyWomen of ChinaBusiness Insider

EndTheNRAMThaiSELFGlobal Times

 

 

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  • Alyssa Kolsky Hertzig

    this is an awesome, awesome post. LOVE!!!

  • sarahauerswald

    So awesome! You did a terrific job staging the photos and making the points…

  • Love love love this!! And you look stunning in every single one of them!
    And while I’m a huge Myrna Loy fan? You rocked both of those so much harder.
    Absolutely fabulous!

    • WOW I don’t even know what to say to that. Thank you, Lucretia. You made my day. xo

  • You know, I shared this based on the pics and didn’t read the text the first time around. This time I did and it makes me even more glad I shared it. The personal enlightenment and introspection you had (as well as all the work and fun) made it a joy at an even deeper level. Thanks!

  • 24/7 Modern Mom™

    This is an amazing post!

  • Tracey

    This is fabulous! Thank you.

  • You’re beautiful, stunning, amazing! And I’m so glad you did this!!

  • Dora Ng

    Amazing.

  • Anne Parris

    Absolutely brilliant, Michelle.

  • Another_Karen

    Cool project. I especially liked The Good Earth one. I believe the lady whom the Aloha character was based on had reddish hair and didn’t “look” Asian, so I can’t fault the film for not hunting down Asian or part-Asian actresses for the part. I admire your dedication in making your own hat!
    I still get mad about Mindy Park in The Martian, even though that was a mistake on the casting director’s part and her ethnicity wasn’t explicitly stated in the novel.

    • Thank you Karen! So glad you enjoyed it. I know, regarding the Aloha one I could not find a pic of the original woman, but on that I just have to say that there are plenty of asians in the acting pool who fall under that “don’t look asian” category. When I worked as a Polynesian dancer in NY (oh yes I did- bar mitzvahs and everything) I would always feel shame because I knew there were people out there who knew I was not one bit Hawaiian! YES! The Mindy Park situation is super unfortunate. I really hope this recent movement shines enough light on the dearth of asians to get the casting directors and executives to step up.

    • RexS

      I didn’t read the novel, but since “Park” is NOT an exclusively Korean name (just like Lee, to cite the most common example, is not an exclusively Chinese or Korean name) I just assumed the character was supposed to be white, and even when I found out she was Korean in the novel (though many like yourself have likewise reported her ethnicity is never explicitly stated) I was in no way offended. The character would make sense whether played by an white actress or an Asian one. Now, if her name was Mindy Shin, or Mindy Jang, and they still put Mackenzie Davis in the role, then the filmmakers wouldn’t have had a leg to stand on. As it stands, those complaining — even the Asians — only have maybe half-a-leg to stand on. 😉

    • Me too! I think there is definitely more than half a leg. I know it’s not an exclusively Korean name but personally knowing a lot of Korean Parks and zero white Parks, I thought/hoped it was meant to be an Asian character in the book. I mean, the author could have chosen any of thousands of more unambiguous names if he didn’t mean for her to be Korean…it must have been a conscious decision. And either way, it seemed just as likely to be Korean as white so why not take the opportunity to add another person of color to the cast?? Especially after they changed the ethnicity of another Asian cast member (I realize they tried a little harder in that case but the result was still another non-Asian playing an Asian that they rewrote to be half).

  • Michelle, I don’t know you – but I want to. These are amazing. Well done. Incredibly well done. Just beautiful pics and beautiful sentiments to go with each one. Thank you for sharing the journey you took to create the settings and the experience of seeing these scenes come to life. Fan-freaking-tastic.

    • Um well with a blog called goodgirlgoneredneck I think I need to know you too!! Thanks so much for reading it, these comments are making my day!

  • I am just sitting down to read this now and it’s INCREDIBLE just like you! What a powerful read and you are so amazingly beautiful. Such a well done piece, thank you for taking the time to create it and share with us.

    • You are so sweet. Thank you. It was something I just *had* to do and didn’t know what would come of it, so I’m just thrilled that it’s touching people.

  • nonyabizzz

    This is great!

  • Joannah Hansen

    Great photos. 🙂 My peeve was when they cast a Chinese actor instead of a Japanese one for Hikaru Sulu in the reboot of Star Trek. 🙁 I’m sorry, but there *is* a difference, Hollywood.

    • UGH. YES! There is a difference! Glad you enjoyed the piece. 😉

    • toorahloo

      John Cho is Korean, not Chinese. Indeed, there is a difference.

    • Dennis Huh

      You’re the worst..yeah there IS a difference between asians. Not all of them are chinese.

    • Amber Goss

      …Meanwhile I cackled like a madwoman when a Korean man was cast in a Japanese role because I was taking a class on East Asian history at the time and well…

    • Bonnie Whicher

      I was listening to George Takei at MegaCon Convention last weekend about his role as Mr. Sulu and how they came up with the character’s name.
      They were correct for casting actor John Cho (a Korean) for the movie.

    • Stéphanie

      yes there is, and I agree that caucasian pple should not play asians (or black, or middle eastern, or any other ethnicity for that mather) because there are amazing actors around the world. Just like, why cast Julia Ormond, a great british english speaking actress, as a French Canadian Megan Draper’s mother in Mad Men.

    • Sachi

      John Cho got the blessings of George Takei to play Sulu. He was worried about taking the role because he’s Korean, not Japanese. But in the end, he’s representing Asians in a fantastic, respectful way, and he did a killer job. If Takei says it’s all good, then who are we to say otherwise?

  • Fish Jones

    This is AWESOME! 😀

  • You go, girl!! It’s incredible what you’ve done here – and you’ve executed it so well!!

  • Isabelle Hakala

    You are better in every single shot. These all should have been you!

  • Marilyn

    This is beautiful. Nice work!

  • Daniel Watson

    Great article and imagery !

  • Amber Goss

    Amazing

  • krs

    “And goddammit, we belong in the picture.” Yes, we do. These are amazing. All the best, Michelle.

    Love, fellow Asian Kim.

  • Amazingly well done with the photo’s and editing!!
    Loved your writing on this article too! Xx
    http://icepandora.blogspot.com

  • sandi k

    Such a smart project!

  • Lisa Lazar

    In her autobiographical play Life Without Makeup, Rita Morena speaks both eloquently and hilariously about being cast in all sorts of “ethnic” roles. The absurd makeup, the ridiculous phony accents. She knew how wrong it was, but it was EMPLOYMENT. It was a different time, and views about race on the part of studio executives were apparently less nuanced then than we’d expect them to be today.

    • KlowIsHere

      It has never changed, though. Ghost in the Shell is not even out yet.

      • RexS

        It’s FAR less prevalent now than it was then. We just hear the complaints about it louder and more often because internets. Sadly, this tendency focus on the most egregious — and beyond obvious — examples of old Hollywood only marginalizes those Asian-American actors who WERE able to break typecasting and whitewashing back then. And yes, there were several, but oh how they get overlooked. 🙁

  • sue rock

    You are 1500 times better in EVERY SINGLE IMAGE……my condolences to those who are unable to see the wealth, cultural history and the beauty that is in the faces and bodies of all of the people in this world……

  • silverballs

    awesome

  • Shinygirl

    I LOVE these.

  • goodfellow_puck

    The husband is damn right, you definitely look fucking dangerous AND AMAZING in that headdress! All of your photos are stunning. I say without reservations that you absolutely killed this project! Really great stuff. 🙂

  • Reirei the trash

    You look absolutely stunning, thank you for making this project !!

  • RexS

    The “yellowface” portrayals of old Hollywood should never be “corrected”. And yes, I’m aware that this blog post isn’t actually trying to revise old Hollywood hits by inserting modern actresses into the roles via CGI or what have you. While a project like this indeed reminds us that North America was much less informed when it came to race and culture back in an era when the vast majority of the population was indeed caucasian, and contributes to the current dialogue in a constructive way, in no way would I ever want to see that aspect of cinema history, however unfair or unfortunate modern viewers may find it, revised to suit modern expectations, or “yellow-washed” in effect. It is what it is, and denying it is probably more offensive — and dangerous — than accepting it and learning from it. We should also accept that “yellowface” hasn’t been an issue in movies for decades now, and rightly so (which may explain why all of the author’s photos are from movies made before she was likely even born). Even the Emma Stone/Aloha debacle didn’t actually involve tinting the actress’ skin or taping back her eyes as it often did in the Hollywood of old. The last full-on “yellowface” portrayal I can personally recall was Peter Sellers in The Fiendish Plot of Dr. Fu Manchu way back in 1980, a role that no Asian actor in his right mind would have taken on anyway. Thus, while I agree with much of the uproar of the Asian-American community over “whitewashing” I don’t think they’ve really got a leg to stand on when it comes to “yellowface”. It was what it was, and it will always stand as a good example of how far we’ve come, while “whitewashing” shows us how far we’ve yet to go, and frankly, I don’t think that day is too far off.

    • joonscribble

      “We should also accept that “yellowface” hasn’t been an issue in movies for decades now,”

      Actually, the film “Cloud Atlas” (made in 2012) utilized yellowface. The film’s justification has largely been that they had many actors portraying characters not of their race but you couldn’t help but notice that it was white people playing Asians and one Asian woman playing a Latina.

      • RexS

        Cloud Atlas doesn’t count for just the reasons you listed. While the makeup made it a bit too obvious that certain characters were white actors made up to look Eurasian (not Asian, and thus not true “yellowface”) the film’s way-futuristic setting allowed the filmmakers a lot of creative leeway to create such characters in a respectable way. After all, who’s to say what ANY “ethnicity” will look like several centuries of not millennia from now? Even though I found the film ponderous, I commended the filmmakers for at least thinking about the subject in a thoughtful way. And you may recall virtually no one — even Asians or Asian lobby groups — raised their voices in protest the way they did, for example, when Mindy PARK (a name in no way exclusive to Koreans, and a character not explicitly defined as such in the book, apparently) was played by a white actress in The Martian or when Tilda Swinton showed up in the Doc Strange trailers, and she’s not even playing an Asian! She’s just an alternate iteration of a character that was Asian in the comics. Whitewashing? To a degree certainly (and really, why NOT cast Asians in those parts?), but in the case of Doc a strange, at least, Marvel owns the characters and have a history of changing them as they see fit on both page and screen, as when they recast Spider-Man in the comics as a Hispanic kid (or was it a black kid?) or when they reimagined Nick Fury as a black man who was drawn so much like Sam Jackson that it made perfect sense to cast him in the role on screen, or like they’ve done with many characters over the years.

        But getting back to the more egregious act of “yellowface” I’m just not seeing it anymore because I think it’s too widely accepted as a relic of decades past (much like all the Chinese and Japanese actors who played “blackface” roles in Hong Kong and Japanese films well into the mid-90’s, something Asian Americans either aren’t aware of or don’t consider on the same level of shamefulness, even though they should, because it still happens on very rare occasions). If there were particularly unpleasant examples of “yellowface” post-Fiendish Plot of Dr. Fu Manchu) I’ll duly acknowledge them.

        • Erik

          The white actors in cloud atlas didn’t look asian or eurasian. They look downright creepy. No human being has ever looked like Jim Sturgess or Hugo Weaving did in that movie. If that’s what the director thinks asian/eurasia people look like, I really don’t what to say.

          • Rex

            I can’t argue that the characters looked creepy, but I will argue that the filmmakers were ATTEMPTING to create some future-tense variation on Eurasian, several centuries removed from what we know it to be today. Thus, the directors weren’t thinking that that was what Eurasians look like NOW, but what they might look like millennia from now. It was a gamble, and as odd as the results may have been, the attempt was respectable, which is why protestations from Asian groups — if there even were any — never gained any traction. It certainly didn’t qualify as white-washing any more than it would be “yellow-washing” if they’d taken fully Asian or Asian-American actors and tried to similarly “evolve” them into futuristic Eurasians. I thought the effort would’ve been commendable either way, even though I thought the movie was a pretentious snore. 🙂

    • slothlorde

      The terminology is meant to imply that the choices old and modern Hollywood are literally incorrect. It was incorrect for Audrey Hepburn to be cast as an Asian woman plain and simple. This entire post was also dedicated to “remembering” yellow-face she’s not trying to “erase” it, she’s trying to correct it for the future. Hollywood more often than not bends over backwards to not hire people of Asian descent for literal Asian roles and stories and it kinda sounds like you’re making the same excuses now. Of course modern “yellow-face” isn’t gonna be as bad as in the past but it doesn’t mean Asian erasure still isn’t bad and shouldn’t be corrected.

      • brian miller

        Katherine Hepburn, not Audrey.

        Audrey was in Breakfast at Tiffany’s which has Mickey Rooney in an awful yellowface role.

        • bigyaz

          Katharine Hepburn, not Katherine. 🙂

      • RexS

        In no way was I defending the old yellowface portrayals (not sure where you got that from!) or making excuses for “bending over backwards not to hire people of Asian descent for Asian roles, but I DID ask anyone to show me a role in recent years that’s in ANY WAY comparable to what Hollywood did back in the 1930’s right through the 1960’s and early 70’s, which was to have caucasians play Asian far too often. From the mid-70’s onward, Asians played Asians, and still do. I WILL admit that the roles for Asians from that era onward often border on cliche (scientist, convenience store proprietor, doctor, etc), but I think you’d have a hard time finding a single movie where a white person plays a fully ethnically Asian person by way of garish makeup. As mentioned above, Cloud Atlas doesn’t count, and the minor outcry against it went nowhere because what they did was set so far in the future it didn’t matter. Likewise, Dr. Strange is a tricky situation. I sincerely wish they’d have left the Ancient One as a Tibetan man, but at least they didn’t attempt to pass Tilda Swinton off as an Asian by CGI-ing her face or what have you. She’s clearly playing a caucasian person. Yes, it’s whitewashing, which I’ve never claimed it wasn’t in any of my other posts, but it’s not anything like the yellowface being corrected in this blog post. Further to that, While I find the photos in this post to be beautiful and fascinating, I don’t think in the bigger scheme of things they’re contributing to any “correction” for the future because yellowface just doesn’t happen anymore. She’s picking soft targets here, basically: dead white people who did these things in eras where ignorance and misunderstanding of “other” cultures was much more widespread than it is today. So, while it’s a noble exercise to exorcise the demons of 40, 50, 70 years ago (what, the very existence of the films themselves across multiple platforms isn’t enough?), it serves at best as a remembrance, as you called it, a reminder that hey, this happened decades ago, even if it doesn’t happen now and probably won’t happen ever again. The west is too blended for that now.

        Whitewashing, on the other hand — that is, changing/replacing Asian characters with non-Asian ones — DOES still happen, but it’s not the widespread “let’s marginalize Asians” conspiracy that some would have us believe. It can be rectified much more easily, though Photoshopping John Cho’s face onto characters like James Bond is NOT the way to go about it.

        A better starting point might be Asians and Asian Americans throwing their support and money behind, and actually taking the time to watch, the movies ALREADY being made by Asian Americans with Asian American casts. Sure, they’re mostly smaller, independent shows and not billion-dollar franchise blockbusters, but they’re a pretty good indicator of the level of talent available among AA communities (which, like anywhere else, ranges from great to awful. Sometimes, though, when I see these films (like White On Rice, Saving Face, Yes We’re Open, The People I’ve Slept With, even cringe-inducing dreck like Everything Before Us) I can’t help but wonder if those outraged by the lack of opportunities afforded to people who look like them are even aware of all the films Asian-Americans have been making for years, and if they’ve shown some support by paying to rent or stream them, or see them when they play at festivals or get small runs in larger cities. I know I’m not the only one, but sometimes I wonder how small a minority I’m part of. There’s good stuff out there (and bad, too), but the focus is always squarely on whatever new high-visibility mega-blockbuster broke and unwritten rule. 🙁

        As an aside, it IS ironic, though, how virtually no white people are upset about the “blackwashing” of Baron Mordo in the new Doctor Strange movie. It is what it is, and they just go with it. The role went to a fine actor, and it’s cool. Mind you, white folks aren’t really allowed to complain about anything these days, so there’s that.

  • Selana LaVonne

    This was awesome! Please promote it more. We lose so much aesthetically when things are ALTERED for global consumption. Whitewashing has to GO. It starts with ideas/responses/revolts like this blog! So great!

  • Amy

    Thank you so much for this! I’m in my 60s, white, and grew up in San Francisco, where faces weren’t just Asian, they were Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Hawaiian, etc. White faces in East Asian roles have always ruined those movies for me. They add a layer of artifice that I can’t get past.

    Next project–maybe you could take on some of the male roles? Charlie Chan needs much improvement, and then there’s the Hungarian Peter Lorre as Mr. Moto…

    Best, Amy

    • Katie Trusko

      Totally agree! I’d add Justin Chatwin as Goku to this list.
      I’d love to see people from other cultures join this action too! For example the Gods of Egypt poster makes me cringe every time… really, Gérard Butler???

      • For some reason my parents rented *Gods of Egypt* last week; not the type of movie they would like. So I watched it by myself, more out of morbid curiosity than anything else. (*Stealing Cars* was a good movie though.)

        Not sure if *Gods of Egypt* would have been a good film even with appropriate casting, but no attempt was even made to tone down everyone’s distinct accents. Butler as the main protagonist was so off-putting on both the eyes and ears. I’m while I’m a fan of Geoffrey Rush, him as Ra was just as bad? Suspension of disbelief can be hard to pull off in a fantasy film in the film place.

        And even if someone – in an attempt to enjoy the film more than they should – tries to convince themselves that the gods can change their appearance to whatever they wish, that can’t explain the casting of Brenton Thwaites as the mortal hero of the film. While the young actor’s performance was a lot less ham-fisted than his older male co-stars, he looked so out of place among the more appropriate-looking extras.

        • sandre

          Have you seen Exodus: Gods and Kings? That was another truly bizarre piece of crap. The script itself was weak, but the casting. THE CASTING. It was mind boggling. Blue eyes and button noses running around Egypt trying to pass for ancient Egyptians and Hebrews. WHAT??

  • I loved this!

  • Philippina

    Awesome, someone posted this article on the Asian American forum noricenolife.com. loved the photos. You really look so much better then the original actresses!

  • Marcia Cloutier

    I know the article was about white actresses playing Asians but did you know Juanita Hall a Black actress played the aunt in the movie “Flower Drum Song”?

    • CParis

      And she played Bloody Mary, a Polynesian in South Pacific.
      Edit – the person Bloody Mary was based on was Tonkinese.

  • Melissa

    Inspired photos. Not only did you improve on every single photo, but you are sending such a strong and positive message. Absolutely love this project.

  • Katie E

    Love this SO much! Your beautiful pictures really showed how ridiculous the originals were. <3

  • David Borad

    This is my first time visiting your blog and I’m so glad I did!

    First, your pictures and observations are lovely. You bring these characters to life the way they should have been. Thank you.

    Second, I’m a costume designer at a junior college and we are doing “Anything Goes” this Fall and I’ve been really fretting and pondering about how to work through the issue of yellowface on a campus that is predominately white. May I share your blog as an example of A) the problem, and B) the only real, acceptable issue is casting Asian actors? (I’ve had to give up on the whole problematic script issue.)

  • Kandice

    I think this is my favorite post of yours. You look stunning, and effing dangerous, in all of them. Can you do more? This is incredible, smart, funny, courageous, all of this. Mad props to you, friend.

    Or perhaps start a competition on Insta, but not just yellow face. Any other kind of glaring issue that lends itself to this visual format. Just spewing some verbal diarrhea here.

    Any way, you rock. That is all.

  • Deb Mitchell

    omg—you looked better, wayyyy better in character than any of them including the divine Miss Katherine. You seriously did this all by yourself?? This was amazing–the shot of you as the manga compared to Johansson, there is no comparison–she looked forced and out of place and this was just a picture. Hepburn was a reflection of the times, but Johansson KNOWS better and my respect for her and for Tilda Swinton, cast as the Ancient One in Dr Strange, is at an all time low (yeah, sure, right Tilda is sposed to be Celtic in this upcoming film).
    Keep hitting Hollywood smack between their eyes–you go girl! They wonder why their modern films cast like this bomb. Hello, cast an Asian as an Asian, a Native American as a Native American, a Hispanic as a Hispanic and “Everyman” as “Anyman”. Talent knows no race, nor age, nor sex and the American movie going public knows this.

  • Raven Twinn

    I love it! You rock!
    Although I am totally white, you are an inspiration, standing up for what’s right.
    I hope we see real change soon.

  • Kat

    This is amazing, thanks for doing this. I am of Iranian descent and Middle Eastern characters in films are often played by anyone from white to Latinx to Indian actors. It’s nice to see actual cultural representation.

  • Mahasin

    You are ridiculously beautiful and make these look 1000000% better. Thank you for doing this, representation matters!

  • kirstizoe

    *BANGS FIST ON TABLE* more of this! You look 10000x better in these photos than the white women do. I want to show this to everyone I know and say “see? SEE? THIS IS WHAT WE’RE MISSING.”

    • RexS

      Or better yet, go back through Hollywood history and give credit to all the AA actors and actresses who were able to rise above stereotyping and whitewashing, instead of marginalizing their hard-earned work in favour of singling out the most egregious examples of ‘yellowface’ that even white people long ago accepted as misguided, ignorant and wrong. It’s weird how each new generation that discovers these old transgressions thinks they were the first to point them out to the dumb old gwailos (and I say that as someone who’s NOT white, btw)

      • Sersabio

        Why can’t both critiques and celebrations of a system exist? Why is it mutually exclusive? Why do you need to do both at the same time? Yellow facing continues so it will continue to be called out!– but I’m sure everyone celebrating this would also celebrate those actors and actresses able to get roles, this is just not the page.

  • Sonia Schabel

    I absolutely loved this project of yours. I am a white woman myself but believe strongly in diversity and nonprejudice. I personally love movies that portray history as authentically as possible and to me, and Asian woman playing an Asian role is as authentic as you can get! Kuddos to you!!

  • Mimi

    You look amazing!! Much better and more beautiful than the original actresses! 🙂

  • Megan Kuhar

    This is just amazing. You really rocked it. You do look fucking dangerous. #badasslady

  • Supervillain Corey

    Good stuff!

  • Smith Jones

    Hey why not do whiteface? Make yourself up to be Monroe in “Gentlemen Prefer Blonds or Andrews in The Sound of Music. It isn’t any more ridiculous that white actresses playing Asians.

    • disqus_RZdf6Pakat

      that could be deeply interesting.

      I really don’t have hang-ups about some parts, a white Othello or a black Hamlet – ehh I don’t care (this ‘controversy’ about a black Hermione in Harry Potter is just silly), but the idea of an Asian ‘Carrie’ (it doesn’t get any whiter than Sissy Spacek) or a bar-girl tranny Jane Fonda ‘Klute’ could be really a lot of fun.

    • Solange Courteau d’Escandón

      Fantastic photos! Great job.

      I think white face would be perfect. The thing is, the default skin colour in Hollywood is white (“when there is no explicit mention of race, must be a white person”). So most characters could really be any race at all, since it isn’t specified or even relevant to the character, especially if the character is a woman: women are often just love interests anyway, with no background, depth or context. 🙁 It wouldn’t be ridiculous at all for you to play a “White” character. Isn’t that what acting is *supposed* to be, anyway?

      • RexS

        Any thoughts on why so many Asian American actors play roles that don’t have traditionally ‘Asian’ names, and in fact have decidedly Caucasian names? That was something people predictably beefed about a few years back (“boo for calling that Asian person “Detective Jones” you’re implying all Asians are adopted!!” or some such silliness), and yet it showed very clearly that race wasn’t/isn’t specified and yet the roles went to Asians who were quite simply the best actors for the gigs! 🙂

  • Jupiter

    You slayed in every photo!!!! As long as we keep shining a light on the issue change will come.

  • Chifuyu Orimura

    I love the pictures! Keep up the great work. It is unfortunate to see that in this day and age, Asian roles are not played by… well, Asians! You’d think we learned something after all these years.

    But, keep up the great work!

  • david.martin.d@gmail.com

    If you really wanted to extend yourself, you should have tried Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffanies. You didn’t have to look beautiful in every picture you know. Surely electrodes and buck teeth could have helped get the ‘look’

    • MzMaian

      I seriously thought of this movie when I began reading this article

  • Stephani Ann Chapman

    This is fantastic, and the Jumbo’s Clown Room shoutout made me giggle. 😀

  • disqus_RZdf6Pakat

    LOVE this! just love it!

    now I want to see some guy attempt the ultimate insult of Mickey Rooney in ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ or shovel another chunk of soil on Peter Sellers’ (talented) grave.

  • disqus_RZdf6Pakat

    I can only assume you are aware of (if not in contact with) Cindy Sherman, I’m not making comparisons, what you’ve done is quite different, but amusing in a parallel universe.

    http://www.moma.org/interactives/exhibitions/1997/sherman/

  • Ronald Morrison

    The first time I remember seeing an Asian woman playing the part of an Asian-well, Islander, I fell in love with France Nygen in South Pacific. It’s ridiculous that they don’t cast by ethnicity. I also got tired of seeing Mexican-Americans cast as Native Americans. BTW. I’m married to a wonderful Filipina. Wouldn’t have it any other way.

  • I love you for this.

  • I just want to say how amazingly awesome this is, thank you!

  • Nina

    Please do Tilda Swinton’s character from Doctor Strange!

  • cbuzz

    Slay! These are amazing. Ooh now you have me plotting to do one of my one African heritage. Just too bad i dont have the money but im still gonna think hars on it. You’re awesome

  • Gillian

    I love this SO MUCH. You are awesome (and I want all of your props).

  • Meli Gianelli

    You are awesome! Loved it

  • You look amazing in every single image! You did a great job of recreating the costuming and capturing the characters!

  • Eemia Aimee

    You’re fricking brilliant.

  • Pat Costello

    You are beautiful.

    Racism is also represented in the dialogue of those movies. I’m happy that TV finally has comedies showing normal, funny black families that are not thugs and commercials that have people of all colors and relationship status.

    I remember my family driving through Geogia in the sixties. We got stopped by a state trooper who wanted to take my Mom to jail for being in a car of whites. My Dad said she was his wife. They both could have been thrown in jail. The trooper was in a dilemma since there were four kids in the back crying that we were going to lose Mom and Dad. Then I saw my Dad pull his wallet out to give this guy money. The trooper said he could take us to the border, but, we were on our own after that.

    I try to be sensitive as to how I represent myself as a Hapa.

  • Corie Louie

    Thanks for doing this! Could you also correct The Martian where they played Mackenzie Davis as Mindy Park please???

    • RexS

      Park is not an exclusively Korean/Asian name, nor is the character explicitly stated as being Asian in the book, so while an opportunity for an Asian to be cast was indeed sorely overlooked, the end result cannot be deemed intentional whitewashing.

  • J.A. Arce

    You look amazing in all of the pictures. You definitely did a lot better than the originals! I hope the day will come when roles are given to the people they belong to, not to white people. Thank you for this project.

  • Pixelwitch

    Just wanted to take a moment to say how much I enjoyed this piece. I could see it being expanded into a coffee table book, with lots of awesome pictures and a discussion of yellowface in the history of Hollywood cinema. I know i’d buy a copy.

  • disqus_qZ005ScqrF

    Love the pictures Michelle..
    Thanks for letting me use your pics for my ESL blog:
    https://learningbytesblog.wordpress.com/2016/06/09/trending-woman-corrects-yellowface/ <3
    Keep being awesome!

  • Mienchise

    Rinko is definitely the perfect candidate for Motoko Kusanagi in GitS. I’m a big fan of Scarlett but even I don’t think she should be casted as the Major. The Major should be played by a Japanese woman because she IS Japanese.

    All these wannabe GitS fans don’t know anything about the Major and honestly I don’t think they’re fans at all but just random people looking a few headlines up and then assuming stuff.

    **Spoilers ahead!**

    In second season of Stand Alone Complex, which is the anime series, the Major’s past is revealed. She was in an accident and was the only survivor in her family. Kusanagi was later given a cyber body and as her mind aged, she was outfitted with older aged bodies. Whether her current body is “Japanese” or not, it doesn’t exclude the fact that she is a Japanese woman inhibiting a cyber body.

    Being Japanese is not just about physical features, it represents an identity, values, culture, etc. So regardless of what Kusanagi’s current body looks like, she is still a Japanese woman on the inside and thus should be portrayed by a Japanese woman because she IS Japanese.

    I read that in addition to make-up to make Scarlett look more “Asian,” they were gonna do some CGI or something. So is this what Asians are? White people who have some make-up and are CGIed? Clearly spells racism.

  • Alisa Crockett

    I love this!! As an Asian American woman myself I was always looking for strong females in media that looked like me–and I never found any!

    But what about Jennifer Jones in Love is a Many Splendid Thing? Or Yan, the Ancient One in the new Dr. Strange who they changed from an Asian man to a white woman?? I missed seeing a few more examples of Yellowface that I feel I stil have to explain to others who try to defend these acting decisions.

    • RexS

      Boy, Sandra Oh, Grace Park, Ming-Na Wen, Maggie Q, Michele Yeoh, Tamlyn Tomita, Maggie Cheung, Jenna Ushkowitz, Kristin Kreuk and Jamie Chung — among many others who’ve overcome stereotyping and whitewashing to play strong roles that incorporate and often transcend ethnicity — would be SO disappointed to hear that. 🙁

      And regarding Love is a Many Splendored Thing, which actually Eurasian actress of that era would you have preferred to see in the role? Keep in mind that a fully Asian actress would have been no more appropriate than Jennifer Jones (who at least wore no ‘yellowface’ makeup for the role).

      On Doctor Strange, you’re right, although it’s not a case of ‘yellowface’ at all, though it is whitewashing for sure, and that bit Marvel in the rear end. Well, at least until they announced the actor playing Spider-Man’s best friend in the upcoming movie today, then got bit all over again! 🙂

  • Bernadette Collison

    I didn’t realise that this actually happened still nowadays, I knew it happened in the forties and fifties but why are they still doing that, let’s face it most Asian women are gorgeous why would you not cast an Asian in a Asian roll. Just doesn’t make sense to me, Hollywood needs to get their act together. So stupid and shallow of directors not to see this. By the way you look 100 times better in every single shot. I actually read the book the good earth, when I was 13 and you are definitely how I pictured this character in my head, the other photo I’m sorry looks like a sick white woman. Weird Hollywood just weird.

  • Jackal

    Okay, so you look amazing in every photo, but holy shit, that Olan photo.

    A: You look like that with no makeup? :O
    B: Seriously, that photo makes me want to read the book, which I have never done. It has floated by for decades, but now I want to read it just to imagine you as Olan.
    C: This is a great project and I would love to have an enormous coffee table book of it.

  • Veldrin Minamoto

    It is sad. Hollywood can not accept all different ethnies are equal. At least Star Trek did it right. Takeo was japanese, then we had a german on board (both japanese and german were enemies in the past against americans), and uhura a black woman. that was progressive.

  • Chelsea Taylor

    The thing is… Emma stone wasn’t playing a half Asian… Her character in the movie stated she was “one quarter Hawaiian”, which is hardly “half-Asian”. People who are 1/4 anything hardly resemble that 1/4. But I understand the rest of your examples. Being half Mexican, I don’t exactly “look” Hispanic.

  • Chelsea Taylor

    Aloha character “Allison Ng” is based on a REAL, red headed half Chinese, one quarter Hawaiian girl. So, I don’t really see the need to cast an Asian for someone who doesn’t look Asian in real life…

  • RobertDobolinaEsq

    I just happened across this recently. It’s an amazing and inspirational project and the looks you put together are stunning, I hope you take this further if you have the opportunity. The persistence of whitewashing in this day and age is maddening and unjustifiable in every way.

  • Cameron Ward

    this was such a great project. It just shows how sad the state of Hollywood towards actors of race was and still is today.

    So glad that most films these days that TRY to pull off white washing get critically panned (also because they are bad movies), and flop. It’s a slow start, but hopefully, this means the entertainment industry will start changing its ways to be better

  • Cool post i relly enjoyed reading it 🙂

  • Thea

    I would love to see you add even more modern day examples to show that this is a current problem too. Like Mindy Park in The Martian, or Tilda Swinton in Dr. Strange, or almost anyone in Avatar: The Last Airbender.

  • sandre

    I truly don’t understand the need to cast non-asian actresses/actors as asian characters!!! It is SO weird and bizarre. I’m sorry you felt physically inadequate due to this. 🙁 I think you are beautiful, and I personally think asain features are very beautiful, so I don’t even understand from a shallow/aethestic standpoint why they miscast.

  • Renee Anne

    I’m as pasty white as you can get (Scandinavian, Germanic, Scottish, and Irish genetics here)….and, honestly, this yellow face bullshit Hollywood has been doing since the dawn of moving pictures…..it drives me batshit crazy. I’m sorry, Emma Stone, but you are not Asian and you have no business attempting to do so. Same with Scarlett Johansson, same with everyone in this list (and more, because we all know there are more!).

    Being a….oh, let’s just say it, I’m fat, especially by Hollywood standards. Being a fat mid-30s woman, it also drives me nuts when women over a size 8 are only put in the “fat friend” category, never as the leading lady (unless we’re talking about something like My Big Fat Greek Wedding, and even then…)……..and since when the hell is a size 8 considered “fat” in reality?

    Hollywood makes me cringe in big, bad ways sometimes. Don’t get me wrong: there are some fabulous things they’ve done, as well (Sean Penn’s portrayal of Harvey Milk was spot on, for example, even though he’s not gay) but so much of what happens in Hollywood is backwards and wrong. And of course, we’re just the peons that go to the movies and nothing ever changes.

    Sorry, I’m ranty right now. I’m out of fucks to give when it comes to Hollywood bullshit.

  • Andrew

    It’s quite a statement to think that the most diverse film industry in Hollywood is porn. I love this! As a white American I vow to do my part and boycott movies that are not cast correctly. Thank you for opening my eyes, to just how bad Accross the board Hollywoods racial diversity is.
    Andrew

  • Jillian McLaughlin Tilley

    Agree with Sue Rock! Your rendition embodies the cultural beauty these characters deserve.

  • JoDel Flores

    You look great in every image , let me tell you as a Mexican American it makes me proud to see people who stand up for their heritage.. Asian Americans, Mexican Americans, Native Americans African Americans..We’ve all been downplayed, stereo typed and miscast in this “world of perfection” they want the actors and actresses to look a certain way and act a certain way but wit blatant disregard for the fact that accuracy is spot on and much better when you are actually , culturally accurate .. the only way to achieve that is to cast the RIGHT person not the best WHITE/or other culturally “unqualified” person (like in the case of Rita Moreno playing a Burmese slave. We should hold actors accountable as well and hope that in the future they turn decline parts that do not suit them culturally. If I’m a Mexican maybe I shouldn’t play an Italian , if I’m white maybe I shouldn’t play someone Asian or Latino..Makes sense …

  • Kelly Reed

    I love 90% of this and support what you’re doing. That said, the casting of Ghost in the Shell was not whitewashing. *SPOILER ALERT* The plot of the film is partially about whitewashing. Asian people were kidnapped and given white bodies on purpose as their original memories were taken from them, to hide the nefarious deeds of the Evil Tech Corporation that functions as the antagonist in the film.
    So everybody needs to just back up off Ghost in the Shell. The casting was very intentional, and the people who did it believe what you believe, as do I.

  • Margo Angermiller

    You are amazing!!

  • Emily M Walsh

    Thank you for doing this! I may be a pale white women with green eyes but I always appreciate the authenticity of casting roles to people of that race. TV and movies are getting better with diversity but they still have a ways to go! Keep fighting!

  • Teleri

    😀 I do have to say that for Ghost in the Shell the character was kind of non-racial in the manga… BUT OMG Hollywood needs to get a clue!!!! I’ve a list (ok, mostly hot Asian guys LOL). I’m so fond of Into the Badlands right now, cause Daniel Wu….
    I love these pics so much. I really am so sad that Anna May Wong didn’t star in ALL those old films set in Asia – just so jarring to see 🙁 There are so many great Asian American actors who have to work in their countries of origin (oh, like Wu, Daniel Henney, George Hu ~le sigh~, etc) cause Hollywood is stupid & hates casting male Asian leads 🙁

  • Amy Blue

    I love this so, so, so much!! Bravo for doing this! You look spectacular in every one! I want to see THOSE movies!

  • Jimson

    Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.