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Messages Across the Ages: Thoughts on “Cloud Atlas”

December 29, 2012

I can’t deny that I love the Wachowski Siblings. When I was a kid, I used to play The Matrix over and over again; as a teenager, I would reference the series as one of my favorite movie series. The Matrix was a groundbreaking film with its special effects and is hailed as one of the best science fiction films of all time. I especially enjoyed Speed Racer, in its neon-colored, campy glory–a film that still warms my heart to this day and makes my pulse race.

Cloud Atlas is no exception. It is a beautifully crafted film with beautiful colors and sounds, encompassing varied time periods–some in the future and in the past, and some in present day. But despite its beauty, many scenes in Cloud Atlas are filled with problematic layers that jolted me from the film and left me with a bad taste in my mouth as I left the theater.

Cloud Atlas is composed of six storylines, each set in different time periods, with the same actors being “reincarnated” into new roles. The film shows these different periods interchangeable, jumping from one storyline to the next. In the spirit of continuity, I will address each storyline discretely.

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The storyline furthest back in the past is the one concerning Adam Ewing (Jim Sturgess). Adam Ewing is a lawyer narrating his stay at Chatham Islands–a slave colony–and his return home to his wife. On his way home, a stowaway from the Islands wakes him and tells him that he’s an able seaman who can earn his passage. The stowaway, Autua, proves himself and eventually saves Ewing’s life from death. At the end of this storyline, Ewing changes his mind about notarizing the slave contract for the Chatham Islands and decides to go help the Abolitionists.

On the one hand, it’s an intriguing story about a black man who saves a White man and changes his mind about slavery. But on the other hand, Autua disappears from his storyline at the end, only there as a prop for Ewing’s moral turnabout, and thus doesn’t sit right with me: as one of the few people of color in the film, it feels like he should play a bigger role. While it does touch upon the issue of racism in a way that isn’t horribly offensive, it still perpetuates the idea that the only storylines worth telling about black people are the ones in which they are slaves who educate white people on how slavery is wrong, rather than expounding upon the triumphs and successes of black people. But in the other, it also illustrates the slave trade as a global trade system, rather than resorting to tried tropes of slavery in the south. But still, Autua is not as empowered in the story in a way that sits well with me. Autua can be so brazen and bold toward Ewing, begging Ewing to put in a good word for him, only because Autua has nowhere else to go. Ewing is the one with real, tangible power in the socially constructed society where White people have actual political clout.

It’s not that I don’t find these stories worth telling. They are worth telling–in sensitive, well-told fashions, ways that don’t run over old and offensive stereotypes of the physically aggressive black man.

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The second storyline illustrates the life of Robert Frobischer, the amanuensis to composer Vyvyan Ayrs. This sort of unremarkable storyline becomes much more intriguing when the film reveals that Frobischer is in love with Ayrs and confesses his love to him as he plays the Cloud Atlas Sextet. The film unfortunately derails what could have been a non-stereotypical storyline about queer love by turning Frobischer’s romance into a tragedy. Ayrs threatens to ruin Frobischer’s career by exposing his homosexuality and implying that he is a prostitute. At the end of the timeline, Frobischer commits suicide and his implied lover, Rufus Sixsmith, comes rushing in just as he hears the gunshot.

This storyline can be considered, once again, appropriate to the time period, but it also reinforces the idea that the only kind of queer love that exists is the tragic kind. Many other movies have been made about tragic queer love, in which one or both of the lovers commits suicide due to a ruined career or fear of ostracization. This isn’t to say that these stories aren’t important, or that they aren’t valuable to the queer community, but when they are the only stories that exist representing the queer community, it affects the ways in which queer and gay love are perceived in everyday life–that is: queer love can only end poorly, when in reality, there are many relationships that do end happily.

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The third storyline is the story of Luisa Rey, a black female journalist who is writing a story about a nuclear power plant. This story is rather unremarkable, in both its content and its character development. I found this story the least compelling out of all of them, although at one point Hugh Grant’s character does make a quip about “women’s lib”–a statement that goes, for the most part, unaddressed.

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The fourth storyline is the story of Timothy Cavendish. Perhaps the most positive story of them all, it engages in the troubles of the elderly, who are often seen as child-like and puerile, constantly demeaned because of their perceived helplessness. Cavendish and a group of his friends eventually escapes the elderly home he is part of and learns to craft his own life independently without the interference of condescending nurses.

The fifth storyline, and perhaps the most troubling storyline, is the story of Somni-451, set in Neo-Seoul, the 22nd century.

I want to say this, first, before I begin: Neo-Seoul didn’t have to be so. It could have been anywhere else and it would have been the exact same story. As it is, Neo-Seoul draws up all the Asian stereotypes that have haunted Asian Americans in media since media has existed.

In Neo-Seoul, Papa Song serves up fast food and genetically engineered Korean woman to patrons. These Korean women are only slightly varied in appearance and features, being genetic clones of one another, easily manufactured and replaced. Not only does this reinforce the idea that all Asians are the same, but it also reinforces that stereotype of the beautiful lotus blossom, the beautiful Asian prostitute whose doll-like appearance allows her to be swapped for another person. The Asian women are stripped not only of their personal agency, but of their physical agency as well–they are predetermined from birth to look and act a certain way, to be used for the pleasure of men who view them as objects and consumer items. Somni-451 even says, “Honor thy consumer,” which sounds suspiciously like the Biblical saying, “Honor thy father” but also the Confucian ideal of honoring one’s family.

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The film’s depiction of Asian women is not one of its only faults. The major problem I had with this whole storyline is, of course, the yellowface in which Jim Sturgess, Hugo Weaving, and James D’arsy are depicted. Their eyes are made to look narrow and slimmer and their noses changed. Jim Sturgess plays Hae-Joo Chang, a revolutionary who frees Somni-451 from her daily routine of being a fast food server. While this is a typical storyline in a dystopic story, its meaning becomes eclipsed in Hae-Joo Chang’s uncanny resemblance to Adam Ewing and the other characters Jim Sturgess plays because, unlike the other characters Jim Sturgess plays, Hae-Joo Chang is Korean while Jim Sturgess is not.

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Make-up and 3D effects can improve film and television by leaps and bounds. What was previously impossible has become possible. That does not mean that filmmakers should throw all caution to the wind. Yellowface was offensive in The Good Earth, when White actors and actresses played Asian characters, and yellowface is still offensive now, when a perfectly good Korean actor could have played “Hae-Joo Chang.” It is even more insulting when one takes the other yellowfaced characters into consideration. The Archivist, the one interviewing Somni-451 as she recalls her life and involvement with Hae-Joo Chang, is played by James D’arsy. There is no reason why he couldn’t have been played by a Korean actor.

Hugo Weaving’s character, the Prescient, is even more troubling. His first appearance in Neo-Seoul is as a looming authority figure, robed in black. As a White man playing an Asian character, Hugo Weaving’s sinister role recalls Fu Manchu: tyrannical, menacing, and above all–evil.

In the film, Somni-451 says, “To know thyself is only possible through the eyes of the other.” She says this to unmask the truth of Neo-Seoul to its inhabitants, but it also unmasks the stereotypes of the film. Asian Americans watching the screen can only see themselves through the eyes of the White actor, which is to say–it is merely an illusion: a trick of the light, a brush of make-up here and there–and the movie has created an authentic Asian, with no actual Asian actors required.

Which only means–why Neo-Seoul at all? Neo-Seoul did not play a big role in the development of the story. Neo-Seoul could have been Neo-Manhattan or Neo-Los Angeles, and it wouldn’t have drawn up and reiterated the unfortunate Asian stereotypes that play out every day in other media. The only thing that Neo-Seoul added were the signs, written in Korean. Why then, couldn’t they set this part of the story in another city? That would have prevented the need for yellowface completely while still adding the same social commentary. The only reason that the movie seems to include Neo-Seoul is because of the way it presents an exotic world to the viewer, different and dark, complete with neon lights and signs in a different language. It evokes the desolate “East,” the Orientalism that painted Asia as a contrast to the Occident in the “West”–ironic because while we hope that these problems would be left behind, to the past, they come up again and again, in science fiction.

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As for the last storyline, with Tom Hanks and Halle Berry in the Hawaiian Islands: there isn’t much I’m able to say. That is, I’m not sure if I can say anything. I’m concerned about the parallel between Tom Hanks’s tribe and Polynesian culture, but I’m not well-versed enough to speak on it. In some ways, I can see how the section reverses the gaze: Halle Berry’s civilization is more technologically advanced and in a way, superior. At the same time, it makes me uncomfortable that whenever two civilizations meet, there is always an inferior and a superior group, and that this message is often communicated by appearance/skin color.

Like I said before, I’m 100% sure that there are intellectual and academic approaches to looking at Cloud Atlas. It is one of those films you can study and analyze in a class setting, picking apart the theories that may have played into it. I’m interested in that field, too.

There’s no denying that Cloud Atlas is a beautiful film. It’s well-crafted and well-done. Still, beautiful films don’t exist in vacuums. There are still social implications that follow when actors are in yellowface, and this film tries to ignore that–but I can’t ignore yellowface. It doesn’t work that way, and to ask that of me and Asian Americans–to pretend that a White actor can play a Korean man more accurately than someone who is actually Korean–is an insult.

Categories: blog, History and Concepts
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About the Author

Tony Le is a contributing writer for Racebending.com. He lives in Southern California.

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  • crazy MMer

    @Tony: while you can wax philosophical about the racial implications of “yellow face” at the end of the day you still paid something like $12-$15 for this media depiction of Asians, and therefore the studio bean counters considered it a success since an Asian person bought ticket to see yellowface.

    put your money where your mouth is and refuse to pay for racist media depictions. only then will you have any credibility to speak out against racist media depictions.

    • http://www.racebending.com Marissa Lee

      FYI, Racebending.com was able to see this film at a press screening. Mr. Le did not pay money to see Cloud Atlas.

  • Antonio

    Nice article but it raises several questions on my part. Considering that the cast members of color portray characters of different races throughout the movie should: a) Polynesians be offended that actors of African descent are portraying Pacific Islanders? b) Hispanics, that an Asian plays one in brownface? c) Euro-Americans and Caucasians, that actors of color play characters in whiteface? The criticisms of this movie seem to ignore this aspect, which raises questions as to whether context and artistic choice were taken into account or ignored.

    • Jo

      I have to say, that as a person of Polynesian descent, I was quite
      annoyed that they chose a cast only composed of actors of African descent to play all the Polynesian people (at least that i could see). Would it really have been that hard to cast extras of this ethnicity? At least a few reasonably well known Polynesian actors exist in Hollywood at the moment so it couldn’t be that hard (Cliff Curtis, John Tui, Jay Laga’aia and The Rock). They could have at least demonstrated some acknowledgement that not all brown people look the same by using costume makeup or something along those lines (I personally don’t have a problem with ‘yellow face’ given that they used a fairly multi-cultural cast and I can understand the use of the same actors from a consistency standpoint)? At the very least, the directors cast a Korean actress to portray a Korean woman in the Neo-Seoul storyline. I find it odd that the author of this article doesn’t seem to acknowledge other racial criticisms of the movie.

  • Anonymous

    “Which only means–why Neo-Seoul at all? Neo-Seoul did not play a big role
    in the development of the story. Neo-Seoul could have been
    Neo-Manhattan or Neo-Los Angeles, and it wouldn’t have drawn up and
    reiterated the unfortunate Asian stereotypes that play out every day in
    other media. The only thing that Neo-Seoul added were the signs, written
    in Korean. Why then, couldn’t they set this part of the story in
    another city? That would have prevented the need for yellowface
    completely while still adding the same social commentary.”

    I feel this is counter-intuitive and goes against our seemingly unified stance on the white-washing and location transplanting of Akira.

    “The only
    reason that the movie seems to include Neo-Seoul is because of the way
    it presents an exotic world to the viewer, different and dark, complete
    with neon lights and signs in a different language. It evokes the
    desolate “East,” the Orientalism that painted Asia as a contrast to the
    Occident in the “West”–ironic because while we hope that these problems
    would be left behind, to the past, they come up again and again, in
    science fiction.”

    I can see your points about the Orientalist aspect being troubling. Don’t be so dismissive on the mere reason being to present an exotic world though. One of the main reasons we go to the movies is to be dazzled with sights we have not seen experience events that are extraordinary.

  • jay_mack

    I was reading an article on this website that was very well thought out, about the lack of asian representation in Firefly.

    I immediately thought to myself “hm, I wonder what they said about Cloud Atlas.” I had no doubt your website’s general feeling would be ‘not that bad, actually’ But I seem to have been wrong. While you say the movie was very good, you claim that yellowface is a problem in the film, and I couldn’t help but thoroughly disagree.

    This movie, in my opinion, handles race in acting better than any movie I’ve seen this decade. You seem to have completely forgotten that nearly every actor in the entire movie has at least one race swap or gender swap throughout the story. Sure, Hugo Weaving is an asian guy. But Doona Bae also plays a white woman. So does Xun Zhou. Doona Bae also is a (pretty badly done) mexican woman at one point.

    The stance “yes, but there should have been more asians cast in the first place” has little traction, but only because of the nature of THIS particular movie. The WHOLE point of the story is that our souls wear many masks in their eternal recurrences, and that we play different parts to match them. It’s an integral part of the film.

    The book sort of causes this race-bending to be necessary, when it set this section in neo-seoul. It is set there in the book because the book gradually travels across the world. It starts in hawaii, travels east, eventually gets to england, doubles back to america, then england again, then korea, then hawaii once more.

    The directors were GOING for the idea that certain souls are stuck in roles because of karma and whatnot. Therefore, Hugo weaving plays a role in every one of his lifetimes, of somebody who preys on the weak. Tom Hanks is consistently a selfish character, who by the end, learns to be selfless. Doona Bae’s role is one of being inspired (through love of their ‘soul mate’) to defy the conformity set upon her by the established order.

    ___

    Ultimately, the idea is that race truly doesn’t matter. All colors of skin, and all genders are of the same whole. The problem occurs from context. The idea is that it doesn’t matter what you look like, or who you are — in every generation, there will be strong people who try to prey on the weak.

    In this point in real-life history, white people tend to have an advantage, and historically, white people have used the arbitrary differences between them and other races to justify subjugating them. But that’s wrong. And that’s what the film is trying to say.

    It would make no sense for all the main actors to be asian in the korean part, since the film relies on our ability to recognize a face in multiple roles. It is a common experience while watching a movie to see a familiar face and think (or in my case, shout outloud) “HEY! I know that guy! He was also in the other movie!”. It’s great in a lot of cases — it helps us connect with the character because we almost feel like it’s a friend of ours up there on the screen. It’s an element that is exclusive to film. No other medium can replicate that experience, and in this film the Wachowskis exploit that uniqueness as a means to underline the primary idea that we are all the same — just wearing masks of different color and gender.

    These masks we wear are merely a means to distract us from the truth of life – that we are all the exact same. Placing these definitions on ourselves can be a useful way to learn from others, but it can also be used as a way to differentiate. To divide. To subjugate.

    ______

    Saying “they should have set this part in neo-manhatten” cheapens the argument against story appropriation that is rampant in Hollywood (for example – the calamity of what’s occurring with Akira, if it ever gets made) And it’s really only being used as a supplemental argument in this case, not to mention being an even worse solution than the one they provided.

    I guess what I’m saying is that I completely understand your point of view. It’s just that of all directors, the Wachowski’s really aren’t your primary concern, and this movie, in my (and many other’s) opinion, has a bit of a “get out of jail free” card.

    • Daniel

      The book differentiated the reincarnations with visual cues such as birthmarks. Other movies have had different actors play the same character convincingly (most commonly in the “body swap” trope). These are not good reasons to use yellowface. Also, the book does not specify Neo-Seoul, that was the studio’s own invention.

      Yes, they have PoC play white characters, but there is no shortage of roles for white actors in Hollywood. There is no shortage of representation. This is not a balanced comparison and is not a good reason to use yellowface.

      There is never a good reason to use yellowface, because you cannot decontexualize it from its history of oppression and racism.

      • Anonymous

        “Also, the book does not specify Neo-Seoul, that was the studio’s own invention.”

        The book does not specify Neo-Seoul? Anybody with eyes and a brain who read it would know that it’s Korea, specifically a futuristic unified Korea.

        In fact both Sonmi and Meronym flat out state that the “Nea So Copros” (Not Neo-Seoul, but Nea So as spelling has changed in the near future) was once called Korea and even detail much of the past and unification including North Korean domination, the “il Jung doctrine,” “Juce” and democracy being considered blasphemous.

        • Daniel

          This still does not excuse the use of yellowface.

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/Robert-Homig/766667960 Robert Homig

            “There is never a good reason to use yellowface, because you cannot decontexualize it from its history of oppression and racism.”

            By that line of reasoning…anyone who has ever been oppressed in history or a victim of racism can use this argument. Blacks, Asians, Islanders, Whites, etc all have a history of oppression somewhere in their past. This is the idealistic rambling of a high-school student or college student that just took a sociology or history class.

            We are not talking about the goofy use of yellowface ala John Wayne as Ghengis Khan here. The problem is that the writers at racebending have gotten out of control lately. Airbender made sense to be upset with…Cloud Atlas does not. 1. They crossed all races and genders with all races and genders as other people commenting have pointed out. 2. The people crossing the races are minorities themselves who are races that have a “history of oppression and racism”. 3. An Asian is used in a role as an Asian and Bonus! – also gets to play another race.

            At some point it garners more respect to just admit that you might have been off about one or two of your articles.

          • SnapIntoASlimJim

            “By that line of reasoning…anyone who has ever been oppressed in history or a victim of racism can use this argument. Blacks, Asians, Islanders, Whites, etc all have a history of oppression somewhere in their past. ”

            Whites have no history of being oppressed like nonwhites. None. This is a white supremacist society the world over. At no point in history has one “race” dominated the world’s culture so much that they have effectively programmed the world to think that white is the standard of everything correct. That is mental enslavement and whites have experienced no such thing in history.

            “We are not talking about the goofy use of yellowface ala John Wayne as Ghengis Khan here.”

            Yes, we are.

            “Airbender made sense to be upset with…Cloud Atlas does not.”

            It actually does make perfect sense to be upset about this movie.

            Keep up now:

            1) Asians, particularly Asian men, are not given lead roles in Hollywood movies unless it is a stereotype (i.e. martial arts).

            2) Jim Sturgess, a white man, had previously played what was really an Asian person in real life thus aiding in robbing an opportunity from an Asian actor to be a lead in a major movie and rise up the ranks in Hollywood.

            3) Yellowface, blackface, brownface, etc… has been used to keep nonwhites down and also to demonize nonwhites. There is no such history of whites being disenfranchised by “whiteface”.

            4) Cloud Atlas features NO Asian males as leads, shamelessly hires Jim Sturgess to play an Asian as he did previously and uses yellowface to “make” Sturgess “Asian”.

            There is every reason to get angry at this movie and others like it. Hollywood is more willing to try its best to make yellowface, blackface and brownface fashionable again rather than giving nonwhites the same opportunities as white actors.

            Most of the people defending this piece of cinematic garbage are whites and that is because their privilege is blinding them.

      • q____q

        Birthmarks, exactly. I always felt that it’s a lame excuse to say “The yellowface is cool here, because people need to see that it’s always the same soul” (and “our bodies are just masks” or some shit) because if you’d thought for a minute you could come up with something that would get this point across WITHOUT being racist (especially in a visual medium like film). Make one character have a liking for, say, yellow dresses. Another one for a particular haircut, whatever. Hats. It can’t be that hard.

    • q____q

      I totally do not get this “Having four actresses/actors play all roles in every movie because it’s easy to recognize and connect with them” thing. I actually really hate it, because most of the time there should be no connection between movies and if it’s always the same three faces (often down to the same haircut) it makes it very hard not to see the actress/actor but the character they are depicting (I know this is kind of a flawed argument because then person could only play one role in one movie ever, but still …).

  • C Beale

    I think the problem is the author of the article. I’m assuming that Tony Le maybe Asian of somewhat, however, I may not be right in my assumption.

    I thought the film was great and I too also noticed the portrayal of the Asain American however rust because they used American or Western actors does not make it offensive. I think saying “they could’ve used a korean actor” doesn’t really ‘do it’ for me. Actors are not the same and all have different ways of working and some most definitely better than others. Getting a Korean actor doesn’t make it a better role, it juts either makes it PC (politically correct) or fair.

    I think using different actors to portray a different race shouldn’t be viewed as rude or annoying. It just makes the performance better if a great actor is used, even if the actor is asked to play the role of a character of another race.

    • happyappa

      “I too also noticed the portrayal of the Asain American however rust
      because they used American or Western actors does not make it offensive.”

      So Asians can’t be American or Western? Yet, you just said Asian-American…

      “Actors are not the same and all have different ways of working and some
      most definitely better than others. Getting a Korean actor doesn’t make
      it a better role, it juts either makes it PC (politically correct) or
      fair.”

      Uh, you say “fair” like it’s a bad thing?

      So a White guy was the best for the role of the Korean man. Because there ~~just happened to be~~ nobody good enough for the role except some White Brit in yellowface. Let me ask you, if you thought a White person was more “skilled” to play MLK Jr. than a Black person, would you cast a White guy? How is this different?

      Getting a Korean actor to play the role of a KOREAN character isn’t “politically correct”. It’s showing respect to Asian people by giving them a chance and not having a White guy do racist yellowface. IT’S -COMMON SENSE-

    • SnapIntoASlimJim

      Your wording is troubling.

      Apparently getting a Korean actor makes it “PC (politically correct)”. That phrase is constantly used by white supremacists and the word is used as a repellant.

      “I think using different actors to portray a different race shouldn’t be viewed as rude or annoying.”

      Yes, it is. You have no idea what you are talking about. You have no idea of the history of yellowface, blackface, brownface, etc… and why such things are disgusting. You are not taking that history into account and the fact that Hollywood is more willing in this day and age to whitewash roles and hire whites to play nonwhites even if that includes yellowface, blackface, brownface, etc… than actually breaking down the system of white supremacy and allowing nonwhites to have the same opportunities as whites.

      Cloud Atlas is nothing but white liberalism hypocrisy. Privileged white people (that’s who the writers and directors were) making a statement about supposed racial harmony from their limited, stubborn perspective where at the end of the day, whites still have privilege and nonwhites get the short end of the stick.

      No, thank you.

  • C Beale

    They used some of the worlds greatest actors to play the roles, if that offends you, you obviously need to grow up. That’s like saying its rude and disrespectful for an American actor to play the role of a British character. No, it’s not rude or disrespectful, it just means that the directors or casting directors feel that this actor is right for the job. Tom Hanks was chosen to play however many roles based on the fact that he is a great actor and will portray any character he is given to the way of his abilities. You are being absolutely ridiculous, stupid and unreasonable.

    • happyappa

      “They used some of the worlds greatest actors to play the roles, if that offends you, you obviously need to grow up.”

      What is wrong is using WHITE people to play ASIAN characters.

      “That’s like saying its rude and disrespectful for an American actor to play the role of a British character.”

      No, you are confusing race and nationality, again.

      “it just means that the directors or casting directors feel that this actor is right for the job.”

      You never answered my question about a “skilled” White actor being cast to play Martin Luther King Jr.

      “You are being absolutely ridiculous, stupid and unreasonable.”

      That gave me a laugh, thanks.

  • Blake

    I respect your opinions and all, but I think the writer missed the point about the yellowface aspects. These characters are supposed to be reincarnations of characters from other stories and this goes beyond ‘white man plays asian’. Did they miss that the asian girl was white in the slavery story? Didnt the black kid play a white kid? This goes with genders too, as men occasionally play women and vice versa.

    My real issue was that the make-up looked bad. The yellowface especially was creepy, because more time was dedicated to it.

    Still, interesting article as always.

  • Mae

    Seeing as the whole point of the racebending make ups was to make sure people grasped the reincarnated soul aspect, there was a reason Hae-Joo and Hugo Weaving’s character needed to be played by jim sturgess and Hugo Weaving. Doona Bae’s characters was the soulmate to Jim Sturgess’s. They were together in pretty much every storyline they came in contact with each other. Sometimes, like Hugo Weaving, they represent not the same soul but the same idea. Hugo Weaving’s characters ALL represented the corruption in society and true evil, hugh grant always represented the opportunist who takes advantage of injustice to further himself, etc. These themes and characters would have been hard to follow without the visual aspect of them being played by the same actors. There was also the fact that Unanimity, the government put in place, encouraged “face scraping” to try to create one unified race, hence why . It was better explained in the book but it was shown briefly in the film. The WHOLE point of the reincarnation was to show that we’re all the same no matter what gender, race or even sexuality. There’s a quote from the book and film, about how a cloud may change shape and color, break up and reform but it’s always the same cloud, and such is the human soul. And just as we can’t know where a cloud came from, we never know where a soul will be tomorrow. Yes, they are using race-bending make up, but it is for a distinct purpose that is, if anything, the opposite of racism. I am Korean-American myself, and I was thrilled to see Doona Bae, who is not well known. As for the stories themselves, you’ll have to take it up with the book but I loved each and every one. Yes, the lovestory between with robert and sixsmith was tragic, but at that time period, being gay and out and happy was so rare, it would be almost unbelievable for them to have a happy ending and since it was meant to demonstrate the trueness of their love for each other, tragedy is a way to demonstrate that. Autua never came off as aggressive to me but in fact came across as educated, well spoken and kind the entire time. Yes, he asked for help, he needed it. But how can you say he had no agency? He freed himself from slavery, earned his place on the ship by being incredibly skilled, and then saved the life of the main character in that segment of the story. He was the hero but he was not the main character of it. As for why it’s Neo-Seoul instead of Neo-LA, I have no idea. Ask the author of the book, as he was the one who used that setting, but honestly? It allowed Doona Bae to play the most underestimated but strongest, most life changing character in the film. Ewing (white) wrote a journal which effected Robert (white) who wrote music and letters experienced by Luisa Rey (black) who inspired a book read by cavendish (white) who made a movie about his life seen by Sonmi who, accidentally, started a FRICKIN RELIGION!! Ewing helped 1 man, Robert helped… no one, Luisa helped a large group that would have been killed, Cavendish helped a small group of people, Sonmi started a revolution! Kind of a big step up compared to everything else going on. I also enjoyed it seeing as each story is supposed to be set in many different places, 1850s – Chatham Islands/Pacific Ocean. 1930s – UK (although in the book it’s Austria), 1970s – USA, 2012 – UK (as the only repeat), 2100s – Korea, and post fall of civilization – Hawaii. Really, I am just sad there wasn’t anything in South Asia or Africa.