Media Consumers for Entertainment Equality


Jim Sturgess is a Tool

September 11, 2012

Image: Verified twitter post from actor Jim Sturgess, who is white and appears in yellowface in the upcoming film Cloud Atlas. Sturgess writes: “Yellowface? Blackface? Pinkface? Pinkberry? Blackberry? Crackberry? Blueberry? Strawberry? Bananas? Frozen Yogurt? All the toppings?.Lovely!

After Phil Yu posted this, I spent a couple hours stewing in a pit of rage. I’m still angry. And I’m still sorting out my reaction.

After some thought, I came to the following conclusion: Jim Sturgess is a tool.

Shocking revelation, right?

But I mean it in a slightly different sense than you might initially think.

Jim could be a perfectly nice guy. He could be kind to his friends, he probably loves his family. He probably makes other jokes that people think are funny and don’t hurt anyone at all.

But he’s a tool in a direct sense, because through some combination of talent, hard work, and luck, he has become the go-to Hollywood guy to play Asian men. Before someone thinks to call John Cho, Dante Basco, Kunal Nayyar, or Archie Kao, Jim gets the first speed dial. Whether it’s replacing a real-life Asian American with a white guy or showing that Asian folks are really just reincarnated white dudes with awful prosthetic slant-eyes, Sturgess is your man.

He is the perfect tool for Hollywood to tell stories about fascinating, exotic Asian cultures without the inconvenience of having to actually cast an Asian man in any but the most demeaning of roles. He’s the perfect tool to cement the notion that American culture is perfectly complete sans anything resembling a real, flesh-and-blood Asian male.

The film industry will cast Asian women, if they stick to their place as romantic interests or exotic geishas or all-look-same submissive clones.

But if a role comes up for an Asian man that’s not a gutless eunuch or an abusive patriarch, then Jim cracks out the makeup kit. And we go back to the Hollywood of 1937.

For Jim, it’s a joke about froyo.

For me, it’s a reminder that no matter what I accomplish in my life, no matter if I become a world-class blackjack player or cure cancer, Jim will be there to tape his eyes back and tell my story. He’ll be there to show America what an “Asian” is. Or more accurately, he’ll be there to show America what a chink is. In a time when it’s unthinkable to teach our kids the word “chink” it’s still necessary to show them, to raise them on media that delineates the role of Asians in society, to film stories about Asianness that exclude or silence Asian bodies, faces, and voices.

So we can have an anatomy lesson on, a shared definition of, chink and gook without ever using the words. Because that would be offensive.

Image: Jim Sturgess in yellowface portraying a Korean character in Cloud Atlas(2012)
There are any number of excuses for the use of yellowface or whitewashing: “The reincarnation is crucial to the story” (even if it’s been vastly multiplied in transition from novel to film). “We are in an era where we can depict yellowface without hurting anyone” (even if yellowface has persisted for decades, unabated, while talented Asian American stars are reduced to playing delivery boys and faceless yakuza thugs). “We are past race” (convenient for maintaining a laughably lopsided status quo in film representation). “It’s okay because the director’s last name is Shyamalan” (as though M. Night’s Asian American identity gives him free license to marginalize and exclude).

It never surprises me how many reasons can be manufactured to support anachronistic, discriminatory practices. The Last Airbender was only the most recent example. The characters and story were Asian or First Nations in every integral sense, from the background, to the intention of the creators, to their names and food and written language and culture.

But the pile of evidence was not enough, because the question asked by many was “Why can’t they cast a white actor?”–as though the tides of history were stacked so against white actors that they needed defending, they needed the extra opportunity of playing outside their race. As though Asian actors were taking all the good roles, taking all the roles worth doing. As though roles practically screaming for an Asian actor come along everyday, and not just for Long Duk Dong or Charlie Chan or Mr. Chow.

“No,” they said, “these lead roles are clearly fine with white actors. Maybe you’ll get the next one.”

Maybe with Akira? Or We Heroes All? Or Oldboy? Or Firefly? Or any of the hundred-plus films that Warner Bros. managed to produce over the last decade without a single Asian American lead?

“No. But here’s Red Dawn. That’s cool, right?”

Cloud Atlas goes to wide release on October 26th. I’m not sure where exactly I’ll be. But I know it’ll be in front of a theater, or a studio. I won’t have a ticket, but I will have a sign. And I just hope I’m not alone out there.

Categories: Akira, All You Need is Kill, blog
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About the Author

Mike Le is the Media Liaison for Racebending. A native-born Californian, he objects to shoveling snow and is a strong proponent of pollo asado fries. Mike has been interviewed about media diversity by dozens of news organizations, including the Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe, BBC Radio, and Public Radio International.

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  • jimjimjim

    This article is bullshit, and you are most certainly jealous.

    • you’re ridiculous.
      jim sturgess is a tool for tweeting something like that.
      he’s making fun of the fact that he’s offending an entire race of people.

    • Mami

      No, YOU ARE (full of bullshit)! And jealous? Wow, like THAT argument helps in dissenting our concerns!

    • j.

      Hi, Jim.

    • Mike Le

      If by “jealous” you mean I fervently wish that Asian American performers had the same access to roles and representation as white performers… then you’re right.

  • i can’t even…. how hard is it to find an asian actor to play an asian character?!
    jim sturgess looks NOWHERE NEAR korean.
    racism isn’t dead in this country, nor will it be.

  • Mami

    Ugh, ugh UGH! Just seeing both his yellowfacing AND his opinion just makes me so infuriated.

  • Ichiro

    He posted another tweet: ”
    Tweet was misunderstood. Was responding to someone calling me yellowface. I LOVE ALL faces and ALL flavours…that was the point!”
    Which just makes me laugh because it’s so naive but oh well, he’s just an American actor. How could he know? I am personnally not too hurt about all of these things because I’m Japanese, not Asian American, but all of this Hollywood shenanigans are just another sign that America is still far far away from getting over the horrors it did to its own people. (1. The fact that Americans with Asian heritage can’t get good roles 2. The fact that people pretending to be other people seems to physically hurt some viewers) All of this is kind of sad, I guess.

    • bob

      He is English, not American

    • uh, sturgess isn’t American.

      • Ichiro

        Oh I’m sorry. That must be some kind of reverse “calling a Chinese guy a Japanese”, I saw he was white, spoke english and worked in a hollywood movie so I automatically assumed he was american!

        • Mike Le

          I think it’s telling that a British actor is more likely to be seen as American than an actor like John Cho or Kal Penn.

    • Ichiro – Thanks for the updated tweet from Sturgess. I actually wasn’t all that upset by the yellowface ASSUMING that I understand the context of the movie correctly. His seemingly callous response to the objections was more offensive. But now I can see that he was doing the usual white liberal thing of saying that all colors are “lovely” to him. A naive response, yes, but not callous. Also, I agree with your other observations. If we as Asian Americans did not face so many other expressions of racial bias in the U.S., then someone made up in yellowface would not be as hurtful.

    • Mike Le

      He has posted a “semi” retraction, but I think it’s telling that he chose to make a joke involving BOTH yellowface and blackface. It’s telling that he intuitively knows that the two are related.

      You’re right that this is just one symptom of many, many problems facing Asian Americans today. It wouldn’t be a problem at all without the accumulation of so many microaggressions, without our systematic exclusion from our shared popular culture.

      • Mike, if you look into the definition of genocide, you’ll see that these microaggressions and sytemic exclusion from shared popular culture are actually a form of genocide. Just something to think about đŸ™‚

        • Mycroft

          Did you guys really compare a guy dressing up and playing a Korean to genocide?! Are you seriously so wrapped up in your self proclaimed world of the “many problems facing Asian Americans” that you honestly believe that you are being oppressed at the level equal to the beginnings of a genocide?! Wow. I was reading this article because I thought it was silly that they had a white guy playing a Korean, but I didn’t seriously think I would see rantings comparing it to a step in the chain of genocide. Psssst….ask the Jews and Arrmenians and Rwandans if this is the same thing. You’ll look as stupid as Sturgess does.

          And btw… It’s just as exclusionary to refer to us all as “Asian” instead of what we each are. I’m sick of that all inclusive term. Might as well call me “oriental”.

    • Sturgess is not American, but British. The only reason I point this out is because a dialect coach was hired to train him to speak with an American accent in the movie 21. Why go to such great lengths to have Jim Sturgess speak like an American, when there are so many talented Asian-Americans who can speak American English perfectly.

  • k

    I don’t see what the big issue is with Sturgess. He only had one Asian role, but you make it seem like he’s done twenty. He might be a tool, but you’re blowing this out of proportion on the Sturgess part. I agree whitewashing is an issue, but not in Sturgess’ part.

    • Mike Le

      I use Sturgess as the example because he has now portrayed Asian characters in both “21” and “Cloud Atlas.” But I hope I made it clear that this was more about Hollywood than one particular actor. Executives CHOOSE Sturgess for Asian roles. Sturgess is an actor who does the work he gets.

  • True

    The hero of the film is an Asian woman played by an Asian woman.

    • Gauhar

      …Who doesn’t even speak.

      • asian american nonidiot

        not true at all… she gets tons of screen time and lines

        • ben

          Doona Bae plays the main protagonist in one of the timelines in the movie as a clone replicate who becomes revolutionary prophetess, and yes she speaks in fact her poltical-religious speech is worshiped as word of god(dess) in another timeline. She also plays as white women, wife of the main protagonist in another timeline, an old mexican women that provides the climax resolution in another timeline, etc, etc. Please watch the movie before judging it. Many actors and actressess of color performed in this movie as many different people, including in “whiteface” as roles that white people could have played. Yes most of the roles were done by white men, but compared to average hollywood tripe this movie is very progressive in casting and if only more hollywood movies would be like this one racially oppressive casting would be half way abolished.

          • happyappa

            Racially progressive does not mean casting a white men as asian. And why make the asian actress mexican, just hire an actual mexican actress. How hard is it?

            Okay, whiteface does not equal “color”face.

  • j

    I saw the movie at TIFF (never read the book) and it clearly implied that these guys were not quite human; whether gene-splicing or selective breeding or whatever. They looked different and occupied a different role than the ‘normal’ asians and people in neo-seoul.

    • Mike Le

      I think we could probably dedicate another article entirely about the problematic portrayal of an Asian future featuring all-look-same clone geishas and their male masters.

  • TPinFL

    Asian-Americans have to take responsibility for movies being made this way. There are a lot of us that look at these problems and are unwilling to take a stand because it further alienates us from social groups (geeks and nerds included), or are color-washed to believe we aren’t actually of asian descent. I’ve been in situations where there was clear racism against me, and hiding in the back was another Asian with no opinion on the matter because he didn’t want to get in trouble. We aren’t Bruce Lee anymore, we are all Mr. Chow (a hermaphrodite). Get it?

    • Mike Le

      Asian Americans are not all quiet model minority stereotypes. If you had gone to the La Jolla Playhouse meeting on whitewashing a couple months ago, you would have witnessed a myriad of justifiably angry Asian American advocates. This is the norm in my life, not the exception.

      I’m sorry you haven’t had the same experience, but keep speaking up! You’re NOT alone.

      • DC79

        I saw a production of “A Streetcar Named Desire” with a Laotian playing Stanley, FWIW.

    • You are right. Asian Americans do have to take responsibility for movies being made this way. Not all of us have the resources to engage in the important activism that RaceBending is involved in, but there’s a lot that you and I can do.

      Money talks. So the first, and most important step is to take yourself out of the equation of mainstream media consumption. Cancel your cable/satellite bill. Stop going to the cinema, stop buying (legit) DVDs. It’s kind of like the media equivalent of being carbon-neutral. Stop being a part of the problem, and start becoming a part of the solution.

      If there’s something mainstream that you absolutely have to see, find “alternative” ways of doing it. If you happen to be with a group of people who want to see a mainstream film, and you don’t want to be antisocial, go ahead and see it. But when you get home, do the media consumption equivalent of buying carbon credits: Find a Kickstarter project that advances the image of Asians or Asian Americans, and contribute twice the amount of the money you spent on the mainstream film you just saw.

      And by “mainstream,” I mean any work that does nothing to advance the image of Asians or Asian Americans in popular culture. Because that’s pretty much what mainstream American media is.

      Be a responsible Asian-American. If every one of us did these things, Jim Sturgess would be waiting tables right now.

    • Morethanageisha

      You are so right! I too have been the only Asian in the room to speak out on racism. A lot of that has to do with brain washing and for those of you that don’t know it starts as soon as you come to the states. Some of the things my parents (immigrants that came over in 84) were told frm how to handle different races, who to stay away from and how to really contribute to society (white society that is) is unbelievable. A lot of Asians believe that they are the most tolerable race which makes them feel more compelled to keep quiet and just “go with it” as far as I am concerned being “tolerated” is like tolerating your neighbors dog barking at night. We are a beautiful culture with so much to offer the US as well as the entire world and being tolerated SHOULD NOT be tolerated!

    • Kate

      Victim-blaming I see. Accountability falls on the racist film studios run by old white men who do not care whether people of colour are represented in film or not.

  • happyappa

    He plays whitewashed roles and does yellowface. Well, maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised at this. He is acting like these race problems aren’t serious, like when people say, “I love all people, white, yellow, black, aliens, polkadotted people!” And like someone else said, making fun of people being offended.

    Nice non-apology. Wow, so he loves all “flavors” and “faces”. That’s interesting, because if some actor were to play him in a bio, they’d be doing buttface. Does he like that one too?

    • Ashe

      I just love the whole ‘green people! purple people! polka dotted people! striped people!’ that some use.

      It really cements that they view different skin colors as decorations or props, if they can be so naive about using examples of things that *don’t exist* and never have in debates about race.

      • Venom

        Here’s a good article on the subject: http://abagond.wordpress.com/2009/10/10/purple-people/

      • jsmith0552

        That view seems to only go in one direction. Race is not a prop when it’s white; hence we get an uproar when Idris Elba turns up in Thor, or tjhe role of Johnny Storm might end up going to a black actor. Then all the “best actor for the role” nonsense gets tossed out the window and replaced with “pandering to multiculturalism’, and my personal favorite, “what if a white guy were to portray MLK”, as if white people don’t already portray existing known figures who are not white. One of the most difficult things for people to see is obviously their own biases.

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  • Ashe

    Woah! Jim Sturgess is an ignorant toolbox! Who would’ve guessed Hollywood’s go-to guy for yellowfacing and whitewashing could be such a culturally detached piece of shit?

    I’m not surprised, but I am properly disgusted by these tweets. I wish nothing but written and spoken vitriol lobbed at this guy in the future. I’ve done my fair share of sighing at roles passing by people of color in favor of yet more white actors (Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss, Marion Cotillard as Talia Al Ghul and Tom Hardy as Bane come to mind), but having this douche so gleefully spit in the faces of all that are justifiably hurt? Especially with a line that’s as white and tired as, “I love all the flavors!”?

    That’s insult to injury.

    Go to hell, Sturgess! And take your career with you.

    • Kate

      Don’t worry his career will be gone soon.

  • A Canadian

    This is absurd. Cloud Atlas is a movie where all the main actors have at least half a dozen roles, sometimes playing different ethnicities and different sexes as well. It’s a re-incarnation motif. There are Asian actors in the movie who play caucasians. It’s also NOT a Hollywood film; as evidenced by their international investors (most of whom are from Asia and Germany). This article simply sounds misinformed and needlessly combative.

  • j

    The same reason they had white characters played by both black and asian actors in whiteface. And black characters played by white actors in black face. A major theme of the movie was re-incarnation and the connectedness of people throughout time. There were 8 actors (5 white, 2 black and 1 asian) that played just about every substantial role in the film.

    I believe Jim’s flippant remark to be a response to those criticizing a film they haven’t seen based solely on uninformed gossip. He certainly should’ve chosen his words better.

  • Charlzm

    The point was to have the same actors in every story. Sturgess plays white in multiple stories but Asian in one. I suppose they could have changed the story to be about Europe and not Korea, thereby allowing Sturgess to play Caucasian. This would have cut out all the Asian stuff altogether, including roles for Doona Bae, who plays OTHER RACES besides Asian in the movie.

    There are gender switches among the characters as well. Shall we all get upset that a man is playing a role a woman could have played, or vice versa?

    Maybe we should only let people play themselves and then we will have all reality TV all the time. Whee.

    I agree that yellowface, blackface, etc… are usually a bad call, but in this particular case, I don’t have a problem with it.

  • j

    As a First Nations member, the media portrayal of my people is almost always:
    A. demonizing us as drunken savages ready to rape and murder
    B. mythologizing us as nature loving yoda impersonators
    There is a long history of complex roles going to white guys in bad wigs and face paint.

    And yea, I consider this criticism of the movie by people who have not seen it to be uniformed.

    US demographics are about 65% white, 15% black and 5% asian which somewhat matches the casting numbers.

  • Sicin

    As others have pointed out, Sturgess is Asian for 1 out of 5 of his reincarnations in this movie so the logical solution is to hire a white actor.

    Similarly Doona Bae is reincarnated as a white woman but her main role is as an Asian so they cast an Asian actress.

    Heck, Hugo Weaving and Ben Whishaw are reincarnated as women. And we all know there are strong roles for women are few & far between, But is that casting is making a statement on actresses? Of course not… all the actors & actresses were cast to suit the overall role, not just one incarnation.
    I’ve read the other article you point out to anyone who disagrees, but it makes the same assumptions you do here. I don’t doubt that there is a real issue, but by getting incensed over something that isn’t actually an issue only weakens how your valid arguments are viewed.

    • hana

      The logical solution is simply to not use yellowface at all. I mean this has got to be the most superficial, most juvenile way of conveying the idea of reincarnation.

      • Kate

        I agree. “We’ll just slant the eyes it’s ok you guys”.

    • fyi

      apparently Bae Doo Na’s role as Sonmi-450 was originally offered to Natalie Portman


    • crazy MMer

      by that train wreck of logic, then I’m offended they aren’t dressed up in drags

    • jay

      There’s no point in using logical arguments as to why they have done this, everyone on here seems too but hurt to listen to reason.

      • happyappa

        If you think Sicin is using logical arguments, then you don’t know what reason is.

  • I don’t get what Hollywood’s deal is. I’d rather watch a movie that prominently features Asian characters with actual Asians as those characters. It was the same thing with the white washing of Last Airbender.

    As for Jim Sturgess, I doubt race enters into it at all, but I bet opportunity does. So where does his interest align? With the studio’s. And the studio has proven again and again they ARE racist.

  • Venom

    Amazing. He’s even worse as a human being than he is as an actor.

  • crazy MMer

    it’s amazing how the establishment can co-opt a term that’s completely different than it’s intended meaning. I’m sticking with “whitewashing” rather than “racebending” from now. lol


    • happyappa

      It says that Racebending (on this site) means when “a media content creator (movie studio, publisher, etc.) has changed the race or ethnicity of a character.” So I guess it goes both ways.
      But yeah, it just goes to show that changing a poc to a white person happens so often, I’m so used to thinking of racebending as only negative. There’s an example on here of Cinderella being played by a black actress, which is racebending in a good way.

      Except, in that Yahoo article…
      “To make all the race-bending more fun, Jim Sturgess also transforms into an Asian character.”
      He makes all the racebending “MORE FUN”…

      • lee

        Except Cinderella was never written as “white.” Our society automatically assumes she is supposed to be white. That’s sad and frustrating for actors of color.

  • DC79

    You kind of lost me when you hinted at a connection because Sturgess was in 21 and Cloud Atlas. How many people really remember 21, and how many of those people know about or remember the controversy? “He played a white guy who was written as white really well who in real life is Asian- he’ll be perfect to slap weird makeup on to make him Faux Asian!”

    I see no evidence to it being anything other than a coincidence, which ironically I find to be an even bigger sign of a problem- one actor can end up in two parts in unrelated movies made by different people and released by different studios that a TO put it another way, if it was intentional, I think it would have happened before, because sad to say, the problem is widespread enough that there was ample opportunity for it to happen before.

    In any event, the more I learn about just how many and what kind of parts the various actors play, it sounds more and more ludicrous(Susan Sarandon and Halle Berry as men-so I’m guessing there is a very happy body tape manufacturer somewhere) and isn’t it funny that of all the types of characters in the movie, it seems that the only one not played by a real life counterpart is the Asian male?

    The Wachowskis seemed pretty open-minded, until now. I wonder if the problem is that despite blackface having a much more obvious stigma attached to it, many think it only counts as yellowface if it is a caricature- “Ah so” and buck teeth and all that nonsense. I can see Hollywood being that thick.

    Well, at least we have 47 Ronin to look forward to. If Keanu Reeves is all it takes to satisfy a studio’s hunger for at least one bankable name and to allow for the rest of the cast to be Asian, then I guess I can live with that.

  • NEMO

    The very fact that you want ONLY asian roles to be played BY ASIANS shows you ARE in fact racist. You are selfish and only interested in the elevation and preservation of your own similar DNA strand. Don’t worry, you have a LOT of company. It’s all over the world.

    Me, me, me…

    Mine, mine, mine, mine…

    • happyappa

      You, you, you…
      Yours, yours, yours, yours…

    • DC79

      Did anyone else have to re-read that a few times because you couldn’t believe what he said? “The very fact that you want ONLY asian roles to be played BY ASIANS shows you ARE in fact racist. ”


      • happyappa

        lol right, and NEMO is the same person who said it’s an injustice that fish characters are not played by real fish, but by computers. So it makes sense that he/she would say an illogical and nonsensical thing like that.

  • Marguerite Jones

    Oh dear. What a very angry essay. The original poster for this is being moronic though. The whole point of Cloud Atlas is that all the “characters” are played by the same person. The plot contains several different stories from different times and eras – but all the protagonists are essentially the “same person” with the same ‘soul’ – hence him planing [for one segment] and Asian man. It isn’t an “Asian role” as such. It would be like accusing Peter Sellers of being anti feminist and stealing women’s parts by appearing in Kind Hearts and Coronets.

    • happyappa

      Oh dear. Bringing up gender when this is about race/racism.

      A Korean character isn’t an Asian role? Why have a white guy tape his eyes back to pretend to be Asian? What a way to justify yellowface. You don’t do -face when you reincarnate.

    • yukamizu

      Marguerite have you READ the book? If so, you would know you are wrong. Only one character is “reincarnated.” The Wachowskis are extending this idea in that a whole cast of characters is being reincarnated– fine, but you don’t have to do that by painting white people black/yellow, and black people white, males into females and vice versa. It’s gimmicky and indicates that this movie must have some weak writing… and really UNcreative minds behind it.

  • Don’tBeABaby

    Here’s a thought – don’t be so god damn sensitive. It is a movie about reincarnation. Maybe you could take away from this the message that the soul is the important part of a person, not appearance.

    • happyappa

      Here’s a question – why are YOU so sensitive that you feel uncomfortable when people state they are outraged by the blatant racism in the movie?

      “It is a movie about reincarnation.”
      So? Yellowface?

      • Kate

        Yeah, “reincarnation” = slanted eyes. Leave it to someone who doesn’t care to decide what other people who DO care should be sensitive about.

  • Anon

    I saw this movie yesterday at the New Yorker Festival, and I was bothered by this throughout the movie (it also looks pretty fake). It’s unfortunate, because it really is a terrific movie. If they were so hard up about this idea, why couldn’t they just have an asian actor play whiteface for the roles that required it?

  • kt145

    I really don’t know why people are freaking out…this just looks like another reason to cry racism, seriously get over yourselves. Racism wouldn’t be an issue if we stopped freaking out and getting offended by every little thing and allowing our children to be influenced by this ridiculous chitter chatter about how everyones a damn minority because of their race. I get that it would make more sense to have an asian play and asian role but I don’t think it’s really worth getting offended over. Also why do movies seem to be such an issue where race is involved? e.g. the other day I saw someone complain about the hobbit having no black characters..uhm maybe because it was filmed in new zealand and it based on a book and english folklore written in the early 1900’s O_o its not a racism thing it’s a context thing.

    • happyappa

      “Also why do movies seem to be such an issue where race is involved? ”
      Maybe because they’re racist. Seriously, get over yourself.

      “I saw someone complain about the hobbit having no black characters..uhm
      maybe because it was filmed in new zealand and it based on a book and
      english folklore written in the early 1900’s O_o its not a racism thing
      it’s a context thing.”

      And there are HOBBITS and ELVES and WIZARDS and MAGIC. Which DO NOT EXIST. And you think there are no black people in New Zealand? They can’t even hire a freaking black person to play a character. Yeah it’s a context thing.

      • Baylor Bear

        I love how talking about yellow facing you bring up “black people” the fuck!? There not even part of this, someones a hidden racist who can’t denounce us Asians so they go after blacks to “try” and prove a point.

        • happyappa

          I was replying to the person who said someone was complaining there was no black characters in the hobbit.

          You are right that comparing yellowface to blackface (for example) to make a point about the racism against asians is ultimately perpetuating anti-black racism. I’m sure I’ve done this before and it’s wrong. I appreciate being called out on it.

  • BMO

    Have you ever thought about the fact that maybe just maybe no asian actors were good enough for the role? That may sound harsh but what if the pool of asian actors in hollywood right now weren’t up to snuff for cloud atlas? Maybe you have to give it 5-10 years for the new generation of kids to come up through the acting schools, theater programs, etc.

    Have it ever crossed your mind that these people making these movies choose art over race? choose their movie being well-acted over being politically correct? Is that the right thing to do? Maybe not but maybe we just don’t have that artist mindset.

    Maybe asian actors aren’t given the chance to audition, well in that case more power to you, maybe the studios and filmmakers chose greed over political correctness, more power to you. Maybe in the current system of TV and movies asian people aren’t given the right circumstances to really spread their wings acting wise, more power to you.

    Or maybe current asian actors right now are just better suited as character actors, maybe they need to spend a few years in the theaters to hone their craft, maybe there is a cultural divide in what americans see as “good” acting and what chinese, korean, japanese see as “good” acting. Acting as a craft has changed so much since the 40s 50s to now, we as a culture weren’t present for that or very few of us were. Look at it in context of what actors has to go through historically to reach this age of naturalistic acting.

    Don’t get me wrong we need people like you to point these things out, but yelling from the extreme left or right won’t do anyone any good. Yeah maybe those extremes will ripple into the middle and take hold amongst the moderate but there is an easier way. You need to step outside yourself and look at your place in all this, are you going to be the angry guy yelling? Or are you the one who is willing to swallow some of your pride and see what the other side is really thinking? What is the root of the problem is? Ask some questions, delve deeper. Yes Jim Stergus sounds like a dick here, but why does he think that way?

    All I’m trying to say is that you guys can be better than this back and forth vitriolic bullshit. Real journalism is above this. Thinking about both sides of the argument and putting things into historical context/timeframe will be better for us a minority and better for us as human beings in the long run than just having some asian person as lead actor

    • happyappa

      Uh so there are no Asians in this whole wide world that are good enough for this part? Seriously, so a white guy can be a better asian than an asian guy?

      “Are you going to be the angry guy yelling?”
      Stop tone policing and stop derailing by saying people are too angry to be rational

      “Yes Jim Stergus sounds like a dick here, but why does he think that way? ”
      Because he is one?

      • Kate

        “Because he is one?” made me laugh hard. So true.

      • BMO

        Yeah ok he’s a dick but that is not the point I wanted to get across.
        He’s been put and put himself into bad choices and have been criticized for them constantly and is being defensive. I don’t think he is a bigot just ignorant

        Is telling people to look at things in CONTEXT tone policing? I’m sure there are good asian actors but you have to admit most of them aren’t in hollywood right now. (read the rest of my post idiot)

        They weren’t what the directors were looking for.
        It was their plan to have people in prosthetics. Was it aesthetically pleasing or tastefully done? No absolutely not.

        The movie does suffer from this but it is not inherently racist.

        • happyappa

          Well Asian actors don’t have to be in hollywood right now to be hired, and this isn’t even a hollywood movie. Why do people have to justify casting white people as asians? Oh hi yeah I read the rest of your post before. Right now you are basically justifying the choices of the moviemakers and that the directors wanted white people to play asians, which goes A LOT farther than “not tastefully done”. So calling someone an idiot and coming up with excuses like that as to why asian actors aren’t chosen for the part doesn’t really give that word meaning.

  • Pingback: Cloud Atlas Tries To Get Away With Putting White Actors In Yellowface()

  • kate

    Btw, Cloud Atlas is definitely NOT a low-budget indie- it’s a $100M make by Warner Bros- surprise!

    • BMO


      “Cloud Atlas was independently financed, with Warners picking up domestic distribution rights”

      • Anonymous

        It was independently financed to the tune of $100 Million. NOT a low-budget indie film. Independent does not automatically mean low budget. It just means made without a major studio.

  • so.. if asian countrys remake movies they use asian actors.. is this racist?

    • happyappa

      What remake are you talking about? This is yellowface, so it’s racist.

  • Anonymous

    Caveat: I saw the film this afternoon. Moving on…

    Whitewashing is a huge problem, and in that context this film is clearly a serious offender.

    If whitewashing were NOT a problem (and I don’t know what our world would look like in that situation, but bear with me), this particular storytelling technique (where the same actors are made up as different characters across gender and race, in order to visually communicate the concept of reincarnation) would simply be a clunky thing that runs up against the edges of current tech, instead of being patently offensive to lots of people.

    But we don’t live in a world where whitewashing isn’t a problem, and I don’t think we will so long as these sorts of techniques are used. Besides, CLUNKY! The comet birthmark was much more effective, and could have opened the film up to talented actors and actresses from dozens of racial and cultural backgrounds.

    • They had actors from all sorts of cultural and racial backgrounds. The decision to use the same actors play different characters of different races and genders was to follow the process of reincarnation. The comet shaped birthmark didn’t show reincarnation on the film, but it showed the turn of the soul-character to play an important part in his or her life, that would be communicated to the other person in a different time through music, letters, diary, a movie, or the preachings of a deity, to inspire them to do the right thing, in a chain reaction of events, that would save the last humans and the continuity of humanity in another earth. Moreover, Jim plays an Asian from the 22nd century, where things have changed, and he may as well be just like the others a mixed race, a hybrid. All of the characters in fact were not pure Asians, they were hybrids. Make-up artists could have done a better job in disguising them as Chinese, or Korean, or Japanese, because they did a great job in disguising the Asian characters as Hispanic, white, or the african american actors as white, asian or jewish. They chose instead to create this hybrid race of the future, to let us know that something has happned to humanity, and a sort of dictatorship, and invasion has occurred that has created a different sort of human Hybrid, governed by a political and philosophical dictatorship called Unanimity, that doesn’t allow for other languages or other beliefs and ideals to be used. I don’t get why the first place you would jump too is racism. Give people a little bit more credit, before jumping on the high moral ground.

      • happyappa

        Newsflash, Sturgess isn’t Korean or mixed race. It’s hilarious that you’re using that to defend the racism. What about casting an actual person who is mixed race, if that is your argument? Oh wait, “They had actors from all sorts of cultural and racial backgrounds”, and you think white people “disguising” themselves as pocs is the same as a poc doing whiteface. It has been said why these are not equal many times before, so you probably didn’t read the other comments.

        Your defense is basically the same if they had used actual Koreans to play the Korean characters.. Humanity, dictatorship, reincarnation, blah blah blah. It doesn’t justify the yellowface.

        In your other comment, you said that people should watch the movie first. When someone has explicitly stated they did, you dismiss it, so really it has nothing to do with whether they’ve seen the movie or not.

  • Asian American and Non-Idiot

    Mike: You need to learn the facts about Jim and Cloud Atlas before you go crazy with all these hateful things to say. Go see the movie and you will understand why a caucasian person would play those parts.
    I have officially lost all respect for you, Mike. As far as I am concerned, taking a stand on something you know next to nothing about and blasting it on the internet where it will stay forever makes you lose all credibility. I am officially no longer reading your stuff.

  • Pingback: I Sat Through Two Hours and Fifty Minutes of ‘Cloud Atlas’ And All I Got Were Racist Movie Tropes | reads and watches;()

  • Kelly

    The amount of people getting angry over this is RIDICULOUS. Do white people to get this mad when an Doona was made up to look white? NO.
    It fit with the storyline, and if you would just watch the goddamn movie, you would understand that they didn’t make him asian for funsies, they did it because it was probably one of the most important storylines in the whole film, and so WHAT if he had to be asian for a few scenes?
    You people are so consumed with everyone being racist that you can’t even see that he’s an ACTOR. It’s not HIS fault it was required for the script, and it’s also not YOUR movie to mess with. Because if he had just been white throughout those scenes, he would’ve looked INCREDIBLY out of place.
    You all are the precise REASON that racism still exists! Because rather than taking it as “creative freedom” or even just “hey, the makeup effects are pretty cool” (he wasn’t SUPPOSED to look like a modern-day Korean btw. He was supposed to be a futuristic Korean. Particular looks of races CAN change over time.) you guys sit here and whine about how he’s a racist actor, and how they should’ve just hired an asian actor.
    OH. So none of you would be offended if an asian had to be made up to look white for the majority of the movie? No? No one? Really?
    The use of ONE actor for numerous roles was there to make the storyline cohesive. So stop complaining as to how this movie is SOOOOO racist, and focus on the ACTUAL MOVIE MESSAGE, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD.

    • happyappa

      [You all are the precise REASON that racism still exists! Because rather than taking it as “creative freedom” … you guys sit here and whine about how he’s a racist actor]

      Oh jeez you guys talking about racism totally makes it continue so we should stop talking about it. Since when does ignoring a problem make it go away? And how is this “whining”? You need to stop whining and comparing white people and whiteface to yellowface.

      [he wasn’t SUPPOSED to look like a modern-day Korean btw. He was supposed to be a futuristic Korean]

      Lol, hey futuristic Koreans are white people with taped eyes! Who woulda thunk it.

      [You people are so consumed with everyone being racist that you can’t even see that he’s an ACTOR. It’s not HIS fault it was required for the script]

      Oh no, derailing about how people are too angry to be rational. And I guess actors get to do whatever they want. I mean, they’re actors, they can probably get away with murder too.

      [if he had just been white throughout those scenes, he would’ve looked INCREDIBLY out of place.]
      And yellowface doesn’t look out of place to you? Well now I see where you’re coming from.

      • codec

        Hugo Weaving played a woman; your argument is invalid.

        Is the feminist community making a case about him playing female? I think not.

        Doona played a Mexican and white woman. Are those races upset? no.

        In fact, go to the wiki page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cloud_Atlas_(film)

        and see how all the actors and actresses played different people, genders and races all across the board. That was the point. That beyond races, genders, and eras, we are human. It is the human connection.

        • Anonymous

          You are ignoring the specific context of where this argument comes from. This is why your argument is invalid.

          It doesn’t matter what the point of the film was. A film’s point doesn’t cancel out insensitive methods in which to drive those points. Weaving dressing as a women or having actors of color dress up as white
          people doesn’t make those right either because actors of color dressing up as white people or whites in drag do not have the history that whites dressing up as people of color do have in Hollywood.There were a number of ways this story could’ve been told that did not require what it is in the movie to get at those points because Hollywood is still a racist industry.

  • Straw man

    Curious to know – if it was meant to “transcend race” as the filmmakers seem to imply, what if they had set it in neo-Canada and had te same character played by sturgess? Or simply avoided an Asian country connection? Would this have had the same connotations?

  • codec

    After reading all these reviews, comments and such….I have to say, if we break it down, we’re all human. No matter what skintone, facial shape, whatever, right? We’re all human. And even though there are different races…genetic variations essentially, right…calling someone black, or asain, white, jewish ect…..those are labels. It’s like when you see a dog right? You first instinct is that it is a dog; not, oh its a shih tsu mixed with chiwawa or something. I think humanity puts so much emphasis on labeling each other as black, white, hispanic, mixed….and we miss the point that we’re all just human….and once we start puting labels on things you just start to create boundaries and walls…..Cloud Atlas transcended race, time, society….all to prove that no matter what era we are in; humanity will always be stronger together and the human connection is a precious one.

    I know they’ll be people are like “you don’t know what its like in my shoes I’m a minority”, and to be fair, I am as well, and yeah I’ve dealt with my share in life, but hey, it’s your responsibility to make a change, and treat everyone you meet with respect and diginity. People can say that, but can you really act on it? Once you do, and you figure out yourself spiritually(if you are) or internally…..and realize how all the comments people have made to you, and how you can turn that negative energy in to a positive one…..people forget that we are all on this planet together, and we are responsible for not only ourselves but to help one another and care for each other. Like if you’re drinking and driving, then you’re just being rude/irresponsible and putting other people’s lives at risk and not taking into concern about others around you….same goes for any situation, like speeding or what not…….

    so for all of you putting all your energy and anger on jim sturgess’s character; take a second to really understand the film’s point, as mentioned in my first paragraph. Yeah you can do a comparison of his previous flms but honestly, that was those films; cloud atlas is a different scope. It’s all about breaking boundaries. And I’m sure it’s not a shock to the creatives who planned the film out. They expect your reactions to be angry and upset. They know. Because humanity labels themselves. And this film was all about breaking those labels.

    cheers. i’m out.

    • Anonymous

      Your argument is nothing that hasn’t been heard before. It’s the same thing folks who want to defend bad judgements Hollywood makes in regards to race by arguing that people needing to look past color that is almost always brought up in these situations. Enough with the rhetoric. Injustice is injustice and trying to cover it with contrived notions of how we are all the same is nothing but a distraction.

      How dare you tell groups such as this that they need to treat everyone with dignity and respect? Why don’t you tell Hollywood that? Telling us how this film was about breaking labels is a joke. If the creators wanted to do that why don’t they actually create projects in Hollywood where nonwhites are the main characters for once without a need for a white savior or another main character that is white to tell a nonwhite story?

      You completely missed the point of this article because you refuse to take the blinders off that you choose to look out from. It doesn’t matter what the point of the film was. A film’s point doesn’t justify anyway it chooses to tell its story. This is something you and people like you are not wanting to accept. How about you take a second and understand that?

  • Have you even seen the film? It’s about the future, and he’s not playing an Asian character, it’s a mixed race of the future, in a society governed by something called Unanimity. Is Doona Bae racist for playing a Hispanic woman, or Halle Berry racist for playing a jewish woman? Is it racist because her nose is slightly longer as a Jewish woman. Just watch the damn film before you put yourself on a high moral ground.

  • The sad part about Western society is the only time an Asian man has sex with an Asain woman on screen is when the guy is played by a White man in yellow face. I say Asian people out there need to voice their opinion and stop being a timid and weak. It’s ok to be loud and object. Harmony is overrated.

    • rebecasunao

      They’ll listen to you when you stop stereotyping them.

  • Punkie

    I think Jim Sturgess did an incredible job in Cloud Atlas, as did all of the other actors cast in the film. Putting him in “yellowface” has nothing to do with Hollywood having an objection to casting actual Asian actors or actresses since many Asians were in the film. Have you even seen the film since you wrote this article?! The story would have made no sense if Asian characters were cast in those roles. It was simply about the same people being cast in those variations of roles to tell the story properly. Doona Bae played a white woman in part of the story, and so did Halle Berry. Is that because Hollywood did not want to cast white actresses for those roles? It would be absurd to assume that. You have no idea what you’re talking about and just making ridiculous claims that don’t even make any sense.

    • g g

      I think you missed the whole point. If you look at majority of American films, very rarely do you see minorities as heroes (asians are not even represented most of the time). Whenever you do see stories with asian cultures and people, usually a non asian person are cast first, sometimes asian women are cast as a love interest, and asian men are either excluded or replaced by a non asian such as this film, or for comedic relief (because asians you know…are non-threatening). Haven’t you noticed asian influenced movies like Dragonball Evo, 21, Avatar The Last Airbender, The King of Fighters, Extraordinary Measures, and the upcoming Bay’s TMNT all have been replaced by non asian for the leads?? But really, I guess with you’re reasoning, people like me, like with site, we don’t know what we’re talking about. Right??

  • Michael Garfield

    I wonder how many of of you got on your high horse about Jamie Foxx announcing his enjoyment of being in Django Unchained because he got to ‘kill loads of white guys’? Nah, didn’t think you did.

    • g g

      Oh come on now, are you serious?? He was talking about a movie with racist characters, he wasn’t talking about killing just any white person lmao.

  • Bronn

    Great article. Jim’s just another one of your average whitey who has never seen any hardship in his life, no wonder he handwaves any issue to just “frozen yogurt” Alas many of his fanboys are too simpleminded they couldn’t help but defend him no matter what. Such a shame.