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Starring Tom Hanks, Tom Hanks, Tom Hanks, Tom Hanks and Tom Hanks.
September 3, 2012 6:12 PM   Subscribe

Andy agreed. “ ‘Cloud Atlas’ is our getting back to the spectacle of the sixties and seventies, the touchstone movies,” he said, rubbing his bald dome like a magic lantern. The model for their vision, they explained, was Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey,” which the Wachowskis had first seen when Lana, then Larry, was ten and Andy seven. (Previously and Previously)
posted by octothorpe (221 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
Starring Tom Hanks, Tom Hanks, Tom Hanks, Tom Hanks and Tom Hanks.

My God, it's full of star
posted by hal9k at 6:18 PM on September 3, 2012 [48 favorites]


It took me a minute to figure out who Lana Wachowski was. I am out of step.
posted by Nomyte at 6:22 PM on September 3, 2012 [4 favorites]


Just like sci-fi often is, it's also full of hardcore Scien...

Halp, who are these men and where are they taking me?
posted by jaduncan at 6:28 PM on September 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Just finished reading the book earlier today, and then followed that up by watching the trailer. I think I'm actually pretty excited for this movie.
posted by inigo2 at 6:34 PM on September 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


They're also getting back to yellowface.
posted by Sokka shot first at 6:41 PM on September 3, 2012 [22 favorites]


Maybe not so far out of step, Nomyte. Although I read about it a long time ago, I believe that Larry only publicly re-identified (Is that the right term?) as Lana in the past few months.
posted by KGMoney at 6:52 PM on September 3, 2012


The yellowface is worrying. There's a lot of talented Asian actors who could take those roles.
posted by arcticseal at 6:52 PM on September 3, 2012


Ugh. UGH.

I still cannot believe they thought it was a good idea to make up white actors to look like Koreans.

Well...I mean, I can. But I'm pretty disappointed.

Particularly since it's not even in the service of helping and same actor/actress play all six roles.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 6:52 PM on September 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


About the "yellowface" accusations - have the authors of that article read the book, or articles about how the book was adapted for the screen? The point was that the Wachhowskis are re-using actors across six completely different storylines that take place in six completely separate places at six completely different times in history, and they are re-using the same actors to emphasize "hey, this actor right here in storyline B is the reincarnation of the same character he was in storyline A."

So, yellowface is bad, yes, but that's not what they were trying to do here.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:54 PM on September 3, 2012 [31 favorites]


“This could be one of those movies that are better than the book!” Mitchell exclaimed at the end of the pitch.

Unfortunately, I do not share Mitchell's optimism. I want this movie to be good, but I can't see how it could do justice to the complexity of the novel in less than 18 hours. But, it will prompt me to read the book again, which is always good.

They once built an elevator shaft without any plans or previous experience, having projected unquestionable confidence to the people who’d hired them—not an unuseful talent in the film business.

I want to know where this building is, so I can NEVER TAKE ITS ELEVATOR.
posted by Saxon Kane at 6:54 PM on September 3, 2012 [11 favorites]


Wow. Hugo Weaving looks like a Star Trek:TOS Klingon or something. Why would they do this?
posted by Artw at 6:55 PM on September 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


The point was that the Wachhowskis are re-using actors across six completely different storylines that take place in six completely separate places at six completely different times in history,

Ah. I guess that answers that - So its like The Years of Rice and Salt? Still a bit of an iffy choice - especially with Bond in Japan level cosmetics.
posted by Artw at 7:00 PM on September 3, 2012


The trailer was sooooo long and corny. And obvious. Did you hear the movie is about reincarnation? BIRTH DEATH REBIRTH BEING BORN ALL OVER AGAIN.

Also why not hire Korean actors and then put them in whiteface, for once. God forbid Tom Hanks doesn't get an acting role. Because you know he has to really hustle for those.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:02 PM on September 3, 2012 [13 favorites]


About the "yellowface" accusations - have the authors of that article read the book, or articles about how the book was adapted for the screen? The point was that the Wachhowskis are re-using actors across six completely different storylines that take place in six completely separate places at six completely different times in history, and they are re-using the same actors to emphasize "hey, this actor right here in storyline B is the reincarnation of the same character he was in storyline A."

I have read the book, and I have also watched the trailer and looked at the casting.

The only characters who are implied to have been reincarnated in the book -- the POV characters with the "comet" birthmark -- are played by four different actors and actresses in the film. Some of those actors, like Tom Hanks, also play unrelated characters in the film. So...I mean, I get that in a very loose thematic sense, having recurring actors make sense. But in a literal "This character is being reincarnated" sense the casting -- and the yellowface -- doesn't make any sense at all.

And I wish they hadn't gone in that direction, because I loved the book and would like to be looking forward to this film in a less complicated, cringy way.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 7:02 PM on September 3, 2012 [19 favorites]


Honestly even though it's not yellowface in intent, it's still pretty uncomfortable, especially since then technically shouldn't Sonmi be playing parts in a bunch of different timelines too? And in the book, it's only Sonmi in that timeline who carries over into the others. I get that the movie will probably be switching up the plot a lot, but, yeah, it's not the worst yellowface ever, but it's still yellowface. Also in the books the "Korean" city is like the last remnant of civilization, so there's no reason a few white dudes can't be there!

(I really hope this movie is good, though, even though it's one of those books that seems unfilmable.)
posted by sonmi at 7:02 PM on September 3, 2012


but that's not what they were trying to do here.

Does 'intent' actually matter, or outcome? I haven't read Cloud Atlas yet, but my understanding is that the characters in the book aren't, like, all in the same body, or they don't particularly look the same - the reincarnation is symbolized in completely different ways than looks. Maybe I'm wrong, but it seems like either the Wachowskis think the audience is too stupid to follow the story without (perhaps unintentionally) racist shortcuts, or they made an intentionally racist artistic decision.
posted by muddgirl at 7:04 PM on September 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


Tom Hanks [...] and Tom Hanks.

My God, it's full of star.


Actually, it's got Halle Berry, Tom Hanks, Susan Sarandon, Hugo Weaving, Hugh Grant and a thousand other people. I'd guess those stars alone could cost $100,000,000. Good thing they've got $140 million!
posted by vhsiv at 7:05 PM on September 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think Cloud Atlas would be completely unworkable as a movie without the visual shortcut of same actors = reincarnation, so I wonder if they were kind of backed into the corner with the casting. Doesn't mean they had to go full-on yellowface though. I kind of wish they had gone the HBO miniseries route instead.
posted by sonmi at 7:09 PM on September 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Maybe I'm wrong, but it seems like either the Wachowskis think the audience is too stupid to follow the story without (perhaps unintentionally) racist shortcuts, or they made an intentionally racist artistic decision.

My money is on the former.

Good points about the book not having the reincarnated character looking the same (it was a while since I've read the book), but a) film does need to dumb some things down some, because audiences in theaters don't have the luxury of turning back a few pages because "wait, what was that again?", and b) whatever it was the Wachowskis intended, it wasn't "let's use Caucasian actors and just put them in yellow makeup because the white guys have better box office draw," which is what the old yellowface casting ACTUALLY was about.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:10 PM on September 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


The film isn't out, which means none of us has seen it, and we're making accusations of racism?
posted by eustacescrubb at 7:11 PM on September 3, 2012 [10 favorites]


Just finished the book last week, loved it, and don't for a minute understand why they'd need to have the character "look" the same in each timeline.

(also, uh, did I miss something in the book about anyone other than the main character being reincarnated/whatevs? cause the trailer sure plays up the Romance Across Tiiiimeee time time time angle, and I totally missed that in the book.)
posted by odinsdream at 7:11 PM on September 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think Cloud Atlas would be completely unworkable as a movie without the visual shortcut of same actors = reincarnation, so I wonder if they were kind of backed into the corner with the casting.

But if they really felt they had to take that shortcut, why use four different people to play the actually reincarnated character? The repeat casting just CONFUSES the reincarnation aspect of the story, if anything, unless they just decided to rewrite that part of the book and change which characters are part of the cycle.

If they really felt like they had to take that visual shortcut, they should have chosen one sufficiently androgynous actor or actress to play all six main characters.

Which...haha I mean, I still don't think that would have been a super great idea, but at least I would have understood the logic behind it?
posted by Narrative Priorities at 7:13 PM on September 3, 2012


But if they really felt they had to take that shortcut, why use four different people to play the actually reincarnated character? The repeat casting just CONFUSES the reincarnation aspect of the story, if anything, unless they just decided to rewrite that part of the book and change which characters are part of the cycle.


I think that's exactly what they did-- I read an interview with David Mitchell years ago about the movie where he said he was impressed with the script because they took the base elements of Cloud Atlas and rearranged them into something more workable in a visual medium. When I saw the trailer I guessed that's what he meant-- making the 'reincarnation' aspect a bigger part of the story. Tough to say without seeing the final product though.
posted by sonmi at 7:16 PM on September 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


“This could be one of those movies that are better than the book!” Mitchell exclaimed at the end of the pitch.

I'm trying and trying and finding myself unable to come up with a movie that came out better than the book upon which it was based. Closest I can think of would be The Shining, but there were no hedge animals g'dammit!
posted by mannequito at 7:17 PM on September 3, 2012


Fight Club, of course.
posted by LogicalDash at 7:21 PM on September 3, 2012 [9 favorites]


I'd say that's an instance where book and film are so similar if you've done one there's barely any need for the other.
posted by Artw at 7:24 PM on September 3, 2012


Princess Bride.
posted by Joe in Australia at 7:24 PM on September 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


If financial consideration didn't play into it, why is it only white actors in yellow face and not vice versa?
posted by Bookhouse at 7:25 PM on September 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm trying and trying and finding myself unable to come up with a movie that came out better than the book upon which it was based.

The Da Vinci Code? Cos, you know, you're implicitly making the mistake of thinking that the original book has to be good. I haven't read more than maybe 50-60 pages of DVC or seen the movie, but I get the impression that the scriptwriter would have had to repeatedly headbutt the keyboard to write anything worse.
posted by jaduncan at 7:26 PM on September 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


The Godfather.
posted by Bookhouse at 7:28 PM on September 3, 2012 [6 favorites]


I admit this might be controversial, but A Scanner Darkly is better than the book, though only by a small margin. Like Fight Club, a fairly light touch on the source material went a long way.
posted by ddbeck at 7:29 PM on September 3, 2012


Jaws the movie was infinitely better than the Benchley novel.
posted by vuron at 7:30 PM on September 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'd nominate 2001 as a movie that's much better than the book. Clarke over explains everything.
posted by octothorpe at 7:33 PM on September 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


Ddbeck - yes, that would be controversial.
posted by Artw at 7:33 PM on September 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


It's been a while since I watched the "featurette" thing in which they explain the weird sequence of events by which (purportedly) this film came about, but didn't they decide they wanted to do silly actor reuse gimmick stuff before they even chose this book?
posted by trackofalljades at 7:33 PM on September 3, 2012


The film isn't out, which means none of us has seen it, and we're making accusations of racism?


If you have white actors playing Asian characters, your film is racist, full stop. Make a note.
posted by Catchfire at 7:34 PM on September 3, 2012 [9 favorites]


I'm reading the script right now and I can see why they would choose to use the same actors for reincarnated characters. There's a lot of time jumping back and forth which makes it a bit confusing. I can see how on screen the same actors will weave the narrative between the years.
posted by cazoo at 7:34 PM on September 3, 2012


I'm gonna go with The Thing myself, Carpenter version.
posted by Artw at 7:34 PM on September 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


The film isn't out, which means none of us has seen it, and we're making accusations of racism?

There is no good reason for white actors to portray Asians on screen. I can only guess how the Korean Internet is going to respond.

Plus, after viewing the trailer, this movie looks unbelievably bad.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:34 PM on September 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


American Psycho the film is much, much better than the book.
posted by vibrotronica at 7:36 PM on September 3, 2012 [7 favorites]


The Korean internet is mostly excited about Bae Doona being in the movie.
posted by needled at 7:41 PM on September 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


Yeah I'd definitely agree with American Psycho being vastly superior to the source material. It's less obviously satirical but it's also less overwhelmingly graphic. But let's be honest the book and the novel are hardly stellar achievements.
posted by vuron at 7:41 PM on September 3, 2012


I admit this might be controversial, but A Scanner Darkly is better than the book

I can only assume that you read or recollect the wrong book. Alternatively you may have watched the wrong film.

Example: I assure you, as much as it deals with the same areas of drugs, memory, policing and corruption, The Hangover is not the film adaptation.
posted by jaduncan at 7:44 PM on September 3, 2012 [4 favorites]


The Da Vinci Code? Cos, you know, you're implicitly making the mistake of thinking that the original book has to be good. I haven't read more than maybe 50-60 pages of DVC or seen the movie, but I get the impression that the scriptwriter would have had to repeatedly headbutt the keyboard to write anything worse.

That's more of a which-is-worse? scenario.

Anyways, everything about this movie sounds appallingly terrible, but then I've never been a fan of either Tom Hanks or the Wachowskis (they all seem like very nice people though).

I, too, would have preferred if HBO had taken on Cloud Atlas, because I really really enjoyed reading it last summer. I guess I'll just keep wishing for a Terry Gilliam film based on number9dream.
posted by mannequito at 7:44 PM on September 3, 2012


You know it would be nice if we lived in a world where someone could say "Hey, guys, this idea of having white actors play Asian characters, there's a lot of unfortunate history there and people will think it's racist. Is there some better way we can do this?" Maybe they could have come up with something really cool instead of taking the easy and inappropriate way out.

Also, the rule of thumb is that good books turn into bad movies and bad books turn into good movies.
posted by bleep at 7:46 PM on September 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


If you have white actors playing Asian characters, your film is racist, full stop. Make a note.

And don't forget, if you ever swap genders in a movie (ie Shakespeare adaptions) you are sexist.
posted by blue_beetle at 7:48 PM on September 3, 2012 [7 favorites]


It's especially creepy because you have white men in yellowface romancing Asian women. wat. Somehow it's okay to have Asian women, but don't get an Asian man near the screen!
posted by sonic meat machine at 7:49 PM on September 3, 2012 [8 favorites]


I love the book. I just watched the extended trailer and got goosebumps. I watched it a second time with my fiancee and nearly came to tears. They might just make it work. Oh, I hope it works.
posted by ten pounds of inedita at 7:49 PM on September 3, 2012


Master and Commander made for a great movie, thou they smushed together a couple books there.
posted by From Bklyn at 7:49 PM on September 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


Recursion, you say?
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 7:49 PM on September 3, 2012


If financial consideration didn't play into it, why is it only white actors in yellow face and not vice versa?

According to the wiki page, Doona Bae (Sonmi~451) is also playing Tilda Ewing, whose ethnicity is never mentioned in the book but whom one would presume (based on her name, and the context -- 19th century California) to be white.

If you have white actors playing Asian characters, your film is racist, full stop. Make a note.

I'm not sure if you're being sarcastic, but I really don't get this. Not that people are automatically wrong to find the casting choices problematic, but it's at least an issue that deserves some discussion.

Is it automatically racist for Asian actors to play white characters? What about characters whose ethnicities aren't stated, but whose names would lead a typical Western reader to assume they're white (or, conversely, Asian)? Does it matter if the characters are living in a dystopian post-apocalyptic future where civilization has mostly crumbled, and Asia-the-region might not be so closely tied to Asian-the-collection-of-ethnic-groups? What about the fact that one of the characters played by Hugo Weaving is a woman -- is that sexist, full stop?

These are questions that you can't answer by just saying "my position is right and doesn't need to be justified."
posted by teraflop at 7:50 PM on September 3, 2012 [13 favorites]


Master and Commander made for a great movie, thou they smushed together a couple books there.

Yeah, but Master and Commander the movie, although pretty good, is nowhere near as good as the books. No movie could be.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:51 PM on September 3, 2012


As to the Cloud Atlas use of white actors for Asian roles I think it's not really a good idea and could've been avoided. If you absolutely need to use an actor from one of the previous time periods why not just assume that New Korea isn't as homogenous in terms of race as it was in the book. That way you kinda sidestep some of the yellowface issues. You'd still have questions over why they used white actors for an ostensibly Asian role but being a future society I think that could be explained away while still staying true to the core gimmick of using the same actors over and over.

I also question using Tom Hanks in the final storyline instead of a younger actor. It really changes the tenor to have a middle aged actor being used in what is essentially a coming of age story. Using the actor from the first storyline would be a better use of actors.
posted by vuron at 7:52 PM on September 3, 2012


If you have white actors playing Asian characters, your film is racist, full stop.

(and)

There is no good reason for white actors to portray Asians on screen.

In the general case, I agree with that. But I'm actually prepared to defend it in this instance, strictly on the premise of reincarnation and eternal recurrence that takes place in the story.

The narrative needs those people to be the same people on the inside, and that means not just the same height, body type, facial tics, casual gestures, motions, all of the things that telegraph that these two people are convincingly the same person despite their outward appearances.

This is, absolutely, a delicate question, but I don't think this is on a par with, say, Chun from "Remo Williams". From what I can tell, this is not done to explicitly or implicitly denigrate, demean or exclude, but for justifiable, advances-the-story-for-real reasons.
posted by mhoye at 7:53 PM on September 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


These are questions that you can't answer by just saying "my position is right and doesn't need to be justified."

There are a few reasons why white actors should not be given slanty little eyes and yellow skin in order to portray Asians.

1) Whites have a long history or parodying other races in cinema, notably blackface, but also Breakfast at Tiffanies.

2) In the context of a Hollywood blockbuster, "white culture" is the dominant culture, and determines what is normal and what is not. So what you're seeing is an interpretation of an "Asian", a facsimile.

3) There aren't a lot of Asians in cinema, especially men. And typically, Asians in cinema play Asians as opposed to regular characters that are not stereotypes.

But, fundamentally, as mentioned, putting "Chinky" eyes and yellow makeup on a white actor is just fucking ignorant.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:56 PM on September 3, 2012 [12 favorites]


I can think of at least two movies off the top of my head where one character has been played by multiple actors. There's better ways to do things than by offending people.

The reason you can't do this now is because when it was done in the past, it was done with the intent to have a big ol' laugh at those strange ferrnerrs, who we were also oppressing at the same time. This is why we can't have nice things. And dressing people up as other races isn't even that nice.
posted by bleep at 8:04 PM on September 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


The narrative needs those people to be the same people on the inside,

And white on the outside? I have heard that there are a few actors around who aren't white, and that they also accept roles.
posted by jeather at 8:10 PM on September 3, 2012 [6 favorites]


While I ought to read the book (yes, yes, I know!) or at least give the movie a chance, the idea that Asians are identical and sexually submissive (at least that's what I got from the trailer) is a pretty standard trope.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:11 PM on September 3, 2012


Well I believe that supposedly Doona Bae is also playing the wife of Adam Ewing in the 19th century part of the narrative. Granted it's not a major part but I think it's supposed to create this symmetry between using a white actor in an Asian role and using a Asian actress in a white role.
posted by vuron at 8:15 PM on September 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm trying and trying and finding myself unable to come up with a movie that came out better than the book upon which it was based.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (first one)
posted by ambient2 at 8:17 PM on September 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


If you have white actors playing Asian characters, your film is racist, full stop.

(and)

There is no good reason for white actors to portray Asians on screen.


I do sometimes wonder, exactly how racist are these commercials? Is this one racist for its time?
posted by hippybear at 8:21 PM on September 3, 2012


KokuRyu, I'd say definitely read the book before damning the entire section set in Korea (I don't know about what the movie will do with it). It certainly has elements of the typical 'sci fi Asia' tropes (I'd argue intentionally) but there's a whole lot more going on there than the fact that the main character is a clone.
posted by sonmi at 8:22 PM on September 3, 2012 [4 favorites]


I have heard that there are a few actors around who aren't white, and that they also accept roles.

Yeah, I get that. All I'm saying is that there's a whole dynamic in play here around body language, relationships between characters and the audience's ability to keep track of that in a visual context that isn't (necessarily) rooted in bigotry.

It's certainly possible that I'm wrong, and if the movie comes out it turns out that it falls back on a bunch of old racist tropes because hey that's what the audience expects, well, I'll have been wrong.
posted by mhoye at 8:23 PM on September 3, 2012


Here's a picture of Bae Doona in her 'white' role. Halle Berry also plays a white role, apparently.
posted by Huck500 at 8:24 PM on September 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


The "yellowface" is certainly a problematic choice, but I'm reserving judgement until I see the film. I suppose the safer choice would've been to have the same actors play multiple roles without all the makeup, to just have Hugo Weaving still look like Hugo Weaving but by context we know his character is supposed to be an Asian man or a woman or whatever. Maybe that would've worked better, but it wouldn't have been as audacious (or gimmicky) as covering the actors in prosthetics to play various ethnicities, genders and ages, and the Wachowskis are all about taking big, weird risks and surprising audiences.

I am loving watching Lana Wachowski come out. She seems like an awesome lady, and every time I see her now she just looks so happy.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 8:27 PM on September 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


A Scanner Darkly was never made into a movie so there's nothing controversial about saying it was better than the book because that'd just be crazytalk, the completely and totally insane babbling of a crazy person. Nope. No movie made. Absolutely not. Don't know what in fuck's name you're talking about. There might've been some silly mumblings about its adaptation a number of years ago, but those were nothing but the Rantings of an out of touch lunatic and not any sort of respected filmmaker.
posted by item at 8:27 PM on September 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


I do sometimes wonder, exactly how racist are these commercials ? Is this one racist for its time?

From the second link, it's interesting to note that Iron Eyes Cody was not a Native American, although from what I understand, nobody knew that when they asked him to perform in films and commercials.

However, white Americans have long portrayed Indians (or what they imagined Native Americans to be like), notably in the original Boston Tea Party, but at other times as well.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:28 PM on September 3, 2012


And white on the outside? I have heard that there are a few actors around who aren't white, and that they also accept roles.

The makeup goes on the outside of the actor.
posted by LogicalDash at 8:28 PM on September 3, 2012


Princess Bride.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:24 PM on September 3 [+] [!]


Princess Bride is actually a really good book.
posted by Sebmojo at 8:29 PM on September 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


a movie that came out better than the book upon which it was based.

Valley Of The Dolls.
posted by octobersurprise at 8:29 PM on September 3, 2012


Would having the regular actor look into a mirror and see the real face of the character ala Sam Beckett in Quantum Leap be too hackneyed and corny for a movie like this? Because I could see using the same actor in a variety of different roles across various time periods while implicitly showing that they are inhabiting different skins.
posted by vuron at 8:30 PM on September 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


At least no one's trying to adapt The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet. God forbid.

posting in this thread feels really meta
posted by sonmi at 8:31 PM on September 3, 2012 [9 favorites]


I'll allow Cloud Atlas' yellowface if the Wachowskis, and hell, everyone involved with this movie, were to make another movie with an Asian male starring as the lead. In a strong, dignified, sexualized role.
posted by Apocryphon at 8:31 PM on September 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


Yeah, I get that. All I'm saying is that there's a whole dynamic in play here around body language, relationships between characters and the audience's ability to keep track of that in a visual context that isn't (necessarily) rooted in bigotry.

I'd need to see the balance of screen time, in part -- if we have non-white actors playing white roles, are these minor roles, or low in screen time, or do they get as much as white actors? It is possible that they can pull this off well, but it's hard. And even if it wasn't done for overtly, consciously racist reasons . . . well, there's a history there.
posted by jeather at 8:32 PM on September 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Goldeneye is a case where the game is better than both the movie and the book.
posted by Apocryphon at 8:34 PM on September 3, 2012 [18 favorites]


I loved the book, am not the biggest Wachowski fan (the Matrix movies were a beautiful then ridiculous trainwreck) and am so so tired of Tom Hanks, who is just sweaty and twitchy and painful to watch. I would be much more interested in seeing this if he weren't in it.

But now, the yellowface thing...eh. After all the huge outcry among Avatar: The Last Airbender fans over the live-action movie (and I suspect there is a significant overlap of Avatar fans and people likely to see Cloud Atlas) there just isn't any excuse for this crap anymore.

It will probably be a beautiful trainwreck, though. Just not maybe one I'm excited to see.
posted by emjaybee at 8:37 PM on September 3, 2012


Iron Eyes Cody was not a Native American

Exactly. And Jonathan Goldsmith is a Jewish man from New York City.
posted by hippybear at 8:39 PM on September 3, 2012


Honestly I'm much more dubious about having Ben Kingsley play the Mandarin in Iron Man 3. Sure he's from a South Asian background but he's effectively playing one of the more racist Marvel characters (who is only slightly been redeemed as a character in the comics). It's also a movie that will probably be seen by a much larger audience than Cloud Atlas so the messaging in it will have more impact. I know Stark has a mediocre rogue's gallery but I honestly wouldn't touch Mandarin with a 10' pole and even if I did I certainly wouldn't be Ben Kingsley playing him.
posted by vuron at 8:39 PM on September 3, 2012


If you have white actors playing Asian characters, your film is racist, full stop. Make a note.

I have no doubt that some people will find the casting choices offensive. I'm not certain I agree with the casting choices. But in a film where actors of several ethnicities each place characters of some other ethnicity, some of them people of color playing white characters, which film I have not seen, I'm not ready to levy criticism about those casting choices. It could be that I'll see the film and end up agreeing that the casting choices come across as racist or ignorant or a bad idea. But I haven't seen the film.

If you haven't seen the film/read the book/heard the song, and deign to comment on its content, then your opinion is uninformed, full stop. Make a note.
posted by eustacescrubb at 8:40 PM on September 3, 2012 [12 favorites]


er, play, not place.

Still not used to my browser having autocorrect.
posted by eustacescrubb at 8:41 PM on September 3, 2012


If you haven't seen the film/read the book/heard the song, and deign to comment on its content, then your opinion is uninformed, full stop. Make a note.

Sorry, but it's really not that simple; you don't have to have seen this specific movie to be aware of a long history of films that cast white actors in non-white roles and how problematic (to say the least) that has been; that is to say, in many respects. A film that is about a story continuing on throughout history should perhaps be a little more aware of its own place in the larger narrative of cinema.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 8:45 PM on September 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


kittens for breakfast: Sorry, but it's really not that simple

I know; my overly-simple closing was meant as a joke, in reference to Catchfire's overly-simple reply to me above.
posted by eustacescrubb at 8:47 PM on September 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


If you haven't seen the film/read the book/heard the song, and deign to comment on its content, then your opinion is uninformed, full stop. Make a note.

So you're okay with prosthetic slanty eyes and yellowface? Good to know. I'll make a note of that.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:48 PM on September 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Princess Bride.

You must be thinking of the S. Morgenstern original that has 23 pages about hats. Yes, the movie's better than that book, but the abridged version by William Goldman is much better than the movie!
posted by painquale at 8:48 PM on September 3, 2012 [10 favorites]


KokuRyu: So you're okay with prosthetic slanty eyes and yellow face?

I don't remember writing anything remotely like that. Maybe my memory is really faulty. If only there were some record of what I actually wrote...
posted by eustacescrubb at 8:51 PM on September 3, 2012 [6 favorites]


I just finished reading Cloud Atlas a few hours ago - it's not actually that complex it's just a great big baggy monster that would benefit from streamlining on screen. Each of the seven stories repeat the same trope. Stranger comes into town, seeks and finds forbidden knowledge, is cast out and experiences danger before coming home. Adam and Eve. The other aspect of human rights and freedom would be easy to portray on screen. The film will probably miss the most interesting aspect of the novel, which is the nature of reality being the stories we tell about the past and future. The re-incarnation aspect is ridiculous to foreground, it was just meant to reinforce the idea that humans never change and we will always be dealing with the same problems, but under different circumstances. Maybe they will get that instead of turning it into a mystical/spiritual film.
posted by stbalbach at 8:53 PM on September 3, 2012 [8 favorites]


Honestly I'm much more dubious about having Ben Kingsley play the Mandarin in Iron Man 3. Sure he's from a South Asian background but he's effectively playing one of the more racist Marvel characters (who is only slightly been redeemed as a character in the comics).

I don't know if Ra's al Ghul was racist as a vaguely mad Arab Orientalist sorcerer villain, but he was successfully modernized for the movies. The Mandarin could work.
posted by Apocryphon at 8:56 PM on September 3, 2012


But, fundamentally, as mentioned, putting "Chinky" eyes and yellow makeup on a white actor is just fucking ignorant.

It's essentially this. Those of you "withholding judgment" until the movie comes out or pointing out that Bae Doona also plays a white role, you're missing the point of what's inherently offensive about making a white actor's face look "Asian" with prosthetics and make-up.

Also, those of you saying that it's to aid viewers identify the same "soul" as it were, then.. why change the appearance (give the actor slanty eyes)? That doesn't make sense to me.

On preview: I see KokuRyu's taken up the gauntlet.
posted by war wrath of wraith at 8:56 PM on September 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


(that's six stories, Sixsmith! and the number 6 repeating throughout..)
posted by stbalbach at 8:57 PM on September 3, 2012


I have no doubt that some people will find the casting choices offensive. I'm not certain I agree with the casting choices. But in a film where actors of several ethnicities each place characters of some other ethnicity, some of them people of color playing white characters, which film I have not seen, I'm not ready to levy criticism about those casting choices.

I'm not willing to give people a huge amount of benefit of the doubt about doing things that look like they are continuations of a long, racist history. Is it possible that they, alone among anyone, have figured out a way to have white actors play non-white characters in an entirely non-racist fashion? Sure, maybe. But it isn't likely. Of the thirteen actors listed on the Wikipedia page, seven of them are white men, two black men, two Asian women, one black woman and one white woman.
posted by jeather at 8:57 PM on September 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't remember writing anything remotely like that. Maybe my memory is really faulty. If only there were some record of what I actually wrote...

Did you look at the trailer? Or read this article? You're saying that people should read the book or watch the movie first before commenting, right? But, come on, Hugo Weaving in his Asian make-up is worth talking about!
posted by KokuRyu at 8:57 PM on September 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Part of what made yellowface so offensive were the stupid exaggerated accents, big teeth, etc. played to comedic effect. Hopefully, this movie will have none of that. And while I am a bit uncomfortable with anyone using make-up to change ethnicity, I love this book so much that I'm willing to give the filmmakers the benefit of the doubt. I like the idea of reusing actors across story lines and I really want it to work.

I can understand how people who haven't read the book are even more uncomfortable with the idea though. I just hope it inspires enough curiosity for them to give the book a chance, if not the movie.
posted by zerbinetta at 8:58 PM on September 3, 2012 [4 favorites]


This movie's got a genuine Asian as the male lead, and features reincarnation/parallel universes.
posted by victory_laser at 8:59 PM on September 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


KokuRyu: I did read the article, and I think raises some valid concerns, and I admit I'm a little wary given the little I know about the film, but I'm unwilling to move beyond that to full-blown criticism until I have more to work with. Like, for example, seeing the film.
posted by eustacescrubb at 9:03 PM on September 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'm pretty sure I read an interview where even Chuck Palahniuk admits that he thinks Fight Club was done so well as a movie, he doesn't see the need for people to read the book anymore. I'd agree; I think the movie was better than the book.
posted by bitterkitten at 9:10 PM on September 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


But, come on, Hugo Weaving in his Asian make-up is worth talking about!

Is there somewhere that actually has Hugo in Asian make-up? Because the picture in the racebending article is definitely photoshop.
posted by queen zixi at 9:20 PM on September 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't think that's 'shopped.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:26 PM on September 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm trying and trying and finding myself unable to come up with a movie that came out better than the book upon which it was based

Ooh ooh. I got this one, The Godfather. The book may be one of the worst books written. It has a subplot involving a woman with what the author considers to be an abnormally large vagina. It goes into detail.
posted by Ad hominem at 9:28 PM on September 3, 2012 [5 favorites]


Great article.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:30 PM on September 3, 2012


Here. Star Trek called, they want their makeup department back because apparently, Asians are secretly Vulcan.
posted by zennish at 9:30 PM on September 3, 2012


Movie better than the book: Goodfellas
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:32 PM on September 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


I don't think that's 'shopped.

Did I say the make-up thing made me feel uncomfortable? It actually makes me feel ill. Ick! Damn you, Wachowskis! The Sonmi story was my favorite in the book, and now you've gone and made it hard to watch in the movie!
posted by zerbinetta at 9:36 PM on September 3, 2012


Mm, yeah, they lost me at Tom Hanks. What a shame.
posted by looli at 9:43 PM on September 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Since Dos Equis was created by Wilhelm Hasse, a German-born brewer who emigrated to Mexico and started a brewery in Veracruz, I'm inclined to give Dos Equis a pass on the "Most Interesting Man in the World" commercials.
posted by The Hamms Bear at 9:47 PM on September 3, 2012


Princess Bride is actually a really good book.

Yes it is. It's that rare thing: an excellent book made into a superb movie. Of the two, though, I think the movie is better.
posted by Joe in Australia at 10:01 PM on September 3, 2012


Jesus hopheaded donkeyfucking christ, for a term that's supposed to be making with the antiracism, 'yellowface' is one hell of a racist-sounding word. [NOT FACIST]
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 10:48 PM on September 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


It's always amusing and absurd to see yellowface in this day and age. But I don't think anyone has hit on one very likely reason why this, or any movie may resort to the practice: the Wachowskis want to be able to make the movie. Which needs lots of money. That has to at least be recouped. Which means it will need to draw people into theaters. An easier task when popular, well known box office draw stars are cast. It's not too surprising that such a venture tends to be run rather conservatively.

I'm a minority that has seen my heritage portrayed by white folks all my life. Such depictions have to be egregiously offensive before I'll call them racist. After all, there is a reason they call it "acting". What bugs me far more often is when an effort is actually made for authentic ethnic role matching, but ends up being distracting because they get the regional accents all wrong, or some other minutiae.
posted by 2N2222 at 10:50 PM on September 3, 2012 [5 favorites]


These ass-clowns haven't made a good film since 1999.

Just sayin'.
posted by bardic at 10:56 PM on September 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


mannequito: "I'm trying and trying and finding myself unable to come up with a movie that came out better than the book upon which it was based."

Starship Troopers.

*ducks*
posted by brundlefly at 11:16 PM on September 3, 2012 [9 favorites]


*High five.*
posted by Artw at 11:18 PM on September 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm going to give the benefit of the doubt in this case considering that Lana Wachowski is part of the leadership of this project, at least from a tolerance standpoint.
posted by Drumhellz at 11:42 PM on September 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ask Metafilter on tv and films that are better than the book.
posted by sien at 11:58 PM on September 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


painquale: “You must be thinking of the S. Morgenstern original that has 23 pages about hats. Yes, the movie's better than that book, but the abridged version by William Goldman is much better than the movie!”

That sounds awesome. I want to read a book with 23 pages about hats.
posted by koeselitz at 11:59 PM on September 3, 2012


Starship Troopers. *ducks*
posted by brundlefly


I'll agree.

Starship Troopers, BTW, was done at Mass Illusions in the Catskills. The Matrix effects were initially developed there just afterwards, before moving to the Alemeda Naval Air-station.
posted by StickyCarpet at 12:09 AM on September 4, 2012


Am I the only one on the blue who feels 'meh' about Cloud Atlas the book?
posted by Megami at 12:36 AM on September 4, 2012 [4 favorites]


Yes, the movie's better than that book, but the abridged version by William Goldman is much better than the movie!

painquale wins the Internets for the day. I think we can close this thread now.
posted by the cydonian at 12:52 AM on September 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


The point was that the Wachhowskis are re-using actors across six completely different storylines that take place in six completely separate places at six completely different times in history, and they are re-using the same actors to emphasize "hey, this actor right here in storyline B is the reincarnation of the same character he was in storyline A."

And you can't do that with an Asian actor, because bless them, they couldn't handle the complexitiy of such a role.

Is it automatically racist for Asian actors to play white characters?

There's no tradition of white face as white male actors have never been excluded from starring roles, so just like in every other disucssion about racism, no, the reverse wouldn't be racist as the context is so different.

(Also, anybody making the argument that yellowface is bad, but in this case it's justified? You're excusing racism. Knock it off.)
posted by MartinWisse at 12:54 AM on September 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


I was sadly underwhelmed by Cloud Atlas because people go on about it so much I thought it would be complex and dense like (some parts) of Blindsight or other 'hard' science fiction. It was a good book and I enjoyed it but at the same time I thought the whole regenerated/re-incarnated shtick was just that. I never expected he would ever use anything as overt as a freaking comet-shaped birthmark I mean Come On! I was hoping (when I started it) that the different narratives would echo each other in some other way, perhaps structural or I dunno - at times how they each refer to the pre-ceeding narrative is nice but... but... but... I really went into it with expectations that were too high.
posted by From Bklyn at 1:02 AM on September 4, 2012


*crap*... that said, I imagine the movie could be really terrific because a lot of the ways the narrative slides around are really adaptable to film. Also I like the Wachowski's and Tom Tykwer -I can imagine it turning out better than not. Though at the same time, 'yellow face'? Really? That kind of bullshit don't fly anywhich way.
posted by From Bklyn at 1:05 AM on September 4, 2012


Benefit of the doubt goes like this:
So there's a character with multiple reincarnations.

They establish that they want the same actor to play all of the reincarnations.

75% of the time the character is white.
25% they're asian.

They cast someone who is white.

So you're saying: either they MUST cast multiple actors, or cast an asian, or they're racist? How do you know that casting multiple actors would have worked for the film?

Please don't jump on me and call me a racist. This is my optimistic reading of the situation. Thanks.
posted by victory_laser at 1:12 AM on September 4, 2012 [5 favorites]


I am really feeling dumb because I can't glean this from the conversation or the press materials (trying not to spoil myself because I'd like to read the book), but they have a white guy (at one point) playing an Asian guy-- and also Halle Berry playing a white woman, and a Korean actress playing a white woman?

By which I mean with makeup and prosthetics-- or are they just playing characters who in the book are white/are not of a specified race?
posted by stoneandstar at 1:21 AM on September 4, 2012


If only there were people who were professional imitators! Then you could use several of them (of varying ethnicities!) to play multiple reincarnations of the "same" character, and by using the same speaking style, posture, mannerisms and so on, they could convey to the audience what was going on without any racism at all!

Sadly, though, such a profession doesn't exist, so what are you gonna do? It's basically the same phenomenon as putting Bruce Willis in "youngface" to play a younger version of himself in that new time travel movie, rather than hiring an actual young person to play the role.
posted by No-sword at 2:13 AM on September 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


I don't know if Ra's al Ghul was racist as a vaguely mad Arab Orientalist sorcerer villain, but he was successfully modernized for the movies.

And played (mostly) by a white guy. Being a combination of two characters muddies this a bit, but still. (TIL, Ducard was created by Sam Hamm, screenwriter of Burton's first Batman movie. Amusing.)

But I don't think anyone has hit on one very likely reason why this, or any movie may resort to the practice: the Wachowskis want to be able to make the movie. Which needs lots of money. That has to at least be recouped. Which means it will need to draw people into theaters. An easier task when popular, well known box office draw stars are cast. It's not too surprising that such a venture tends to be run rather conservatively.

I think the idea that this ('yellowface') is a symptom of institutionalised racism is pretty well understood in this thread though.

If only there were people who were professional imitators! Then you could use several of them (of varying ethnicities!) to play multiple reincarnations of the "same" character, and by using the same speaking style, posture, mannerisms and so on, they could convey to the audience what was going on without any racism at all!

This really is one of my favourite things to see, an actor assuming another actor's style. See: Helena Bonham Carter as Emma Watson as Hermione Granger in Deathly Hallows Part whatever (2?)
posted by dumbland at 2:33 AM on September 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Wow. Hugo Weaving looks like a Star Trek:TOS Klingon or something. Why would they do this?

Romulan, you mean.

And you all agree that they should have had George Takei play that role. I know you all agree. Because he's awesome.
posted by Pyrogenesis at 2:50 AM on September 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


And you can't do that with an Asian actor, because bless them, they couldn't handle the complexitiy of such a role.

AFAIK, there is at least one Asian male and one Asian female actor doing this trans-race thing as well.
posted by the cydonian at 3:13 AM on September 4, 2012


I read Cloud Atlas for the second time recently, and only noticed for the first time the pretty heavily spelled out 'rapacious, selfish consumerism (or the desire to consume) will destroy the world, but innocence might save it' theme that overrides everything in the end. I wonder if that will be brought out in the film amongst all the 'romance across the ages' stuff.
posted by Summer at 3:20 AM on September 4, 2012


(I should add that I did find the picture of Hugo Weaving-as-Korean disturbing, but they seem to be doing this with actors of both sexes of Asian and Black descent as well. Whether that excuses it or not is quite a different question; I personally am not sure how I feel about the morality of it, leaning against it, but would like to finish reading the book, at the very least, before making up my mind)
posted by the cydonian at 3:21 AM on September 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


I see a lot of arguments in this thread to the effect that yellowface is inherently racist, but whiteface isn't, because of the tradition behind yellowface.

If yellowface is racist because of the tradition, that's not intrinsic to the makeup, is it? It's an extrinsic effect, provided by the tradition of excluding Asian actors from roles fit for them.
posted by LogicalDash at 3:42 AM on September 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


By which I mean with makeup and prosthetics-- or are they just playing characters who in the book are white/are not of a specified race?

There is one plotline in the book that is set in a sort of Korea-of-the-future. Any non-Korean actors are in makeup that attempts to make them "look" Korean (with varying degrees of success).

Other plotlines are set in the South Pacific in the 1800's, Germany in the 1930's, England and the US in vaguely contemporary settings, and a far future after a nuclear apocalypse where they're who-the-fuck-knows (Hawaii, maybe?). There's at least one character I can think of where it's not specified what race they are, and Halle Berry is playing her.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:18 AM on September 4, 2012


So, they looked at Robert Downey Jr. in Tropic Thunder, and said to themselves, "You know, I feel like really missing the point today. Let's go get a hundred and fifty million dollars and remake the Seven Faces of Dr. Lao! We're going to need lots of past-their-prime stars and the rights to a popular literary novel, oh, and a room full of computers."

Actually, when you stop and think about it for a bit... Speed Racer was a borderline case of whitewashing, too, so they've got a history of this crap.
posted by Slap*Happy at 4:27 AM on September 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


If yellowface is racist because of the tradition, that's not intrinsic to the makeup, is it?

See: Spike Lee's "Bamboozled." Also, Jack Black and Donald Glover handle this brilliantly in "Please Be Kind, Rewind."

The makeup itself is a problem, even in the age of mega-million dollar effects.
posted by Slap*Happy at 4:32 AM on September 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


If you are trying to get me to watch two movies before participating further in the conversation, that's a pretty effective way of getting me to leave. It's not much good if you're trying to defend your position. If you're familiar with arguments that refute mine, you could just describe them.
posted by LogicalDash at 4:48 AM on September 4, 2012


They establish that they want the same actor to play all of the reincarnations.

75% of the time the character is white.
25% they're asian.

They cast someone who is white


And they do this for half a dozen character/reincarnations (the men, at least -- based on the wikipedia page, the men who play multiple roles are all white, not the women).
posted by jeather at 4:52 AM on September 4, 2012


...they are re-using the same actors to emphasize "hey, this actor right here in storyline B is the reincarnation of the same character he was in storyline A."

You can clue an audience in to the character reincarnation with much more subtle methods...a unique facial blemish across all six characters, for instance. Or, a common clothing color. Yellowfacing, it seems to me, would be the last option on my list, were I planning the film. It's very racist, potentially embarrassing for the actor, and really does belie a real contempt for the audience.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:07 AM on September 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


I have to say that hugo weaving looks considerably less human as a korean than he ever did as a computer program or an elf
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 5:13 AM on September 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


Until we see the movie, I'm for holding off on the pitchforks, as others in this thread are.

It sounds like the intent isn't to use non-asian actors to replace asian actors in roles, but rather to alter actor's apperearances to suit the various meta-roles their characters inhabit during the span of 6 different timespans and places.

I'm really turned off by the term 'yellowface' as a description for prosthetic makeup potentially used responsibly and economically in the telling of a story. What an really ugly term in its own right. I'd never heard of it before this thread, and I wonder what baggage people using it are bringing to the discussion.

Was that (crap) Button movie with Brad Pitt ageist? What about Daniel Craig in that unnessessary Girl with the Dragon Tattoo pretending to be Scandinavian?

The US has a long history of adapting stories and using American actors to tell them, and is probably far from the most egrarious case of unintended racism (if it is at all).
posted by panaceanot at 5:17 AM on September 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Movie better than the book? Battlefield Earth.

No,wait, it was the other way round.
posted by blue_beetle at 5:31 AM on September 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


"You can clue an audience in to the character reincarnation with much more subtle methods...a unique facial blemish across all six characters, for instance."

I'm not sure what breaks me out of 'suspension of disbelief' mode faster... The young adult with *completely* wrong facial bone structure but a mole on their left cheek in a biopic where they put the mole on each progressively older actor to tell a life story, or the crap prosthetics they use to prematurely age an actor attempting to play all ages with the same underlying skull.

Neither work well.
posted by panaceanot at 5:33 AM on September 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


The US has a long history of adapting stories and using American actors to tell them...

I think the assumption that "American actor" defaults to "white dude" is exactly the problem here.
posted by griphus at 5:43 AM on September 4, 2012 [8 favorites]


How odd, how really odd that they didn't use CGI to change the actors' faces around to change their ethnicity. I wonder if they actually tried this, because they use CGI for everything else in movies these days. While I have negative feelings about the makeup thing, Bae Doona (Linda, Linda Linda; Someday; Take Care of My Cat) is wonderful!
posted by jabah at 5:45 AM on September 4, 2012


It sounds like the intent isn't to use non-asian actors to replace asian actors in roles [bolded for emphasis], but rather to alter actor's apperearances to suit the various meta-roles their characters inhabit during the span of 6 different timespans and places.

Except that's the essential effect, when you choose to have a white person play multiple characters who are both white and Asian. That's then yet another role that could be played by a person of color that won't. It's not unlike Hollywood's fondness for having young, svelte actresses put on weight to play "overweight" characters rather than cast actresses who are heavier to begin with.

White America doesn't have a monopoly on talent.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 5:48 AM on September 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


The 'whitewashing' complaint has already been addressed. There's a Korean actress in a major role, and she's also playing white characters. If that's not enough for you, explain why.

The only explanation I've heard so far is that there are more white actors than asian actors in the movie. Perhaps that would be a knock-down drag-out argument for some people. It seems weak to me.
posted by LogicalDash at 5:58 AM on September 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


See: Spike Lee's "Bamboozled."

Clarification question - are you saying that Spike Lee's "Bamboozled" was an example of how makeup is always problematic? Because it also seems to support the opposite argument - that sometimes an artist can use these unsavory techniques from the past in order to make a completely different meta-argument.

At any rate, I hope to God your point isn't "[color]face makeup is always problematic and so shouldn't ever be used, even in a movie like Bamboozled".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:58 AM on September 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yo, while we're at it: Avatar, the cartoon, had mostly white voice actors playing mostly non-white characters. It is apparently more tolerant than Cloud Atlas. Why?
posted by LogicalDash at 5:59 AM on September 4, 2012


Reading the article, it sounds like they signed Tom Hanks in order to get funding for the project. Ostensibly because he was an 'everyman'. Yeah that's shitty.

I think the beef should be with the movie financing process over the casting choices the writers made though.

And that's *really* spinning my comment PhoBWanKwnobi, with the 'White America doesn't have a monopoly on talent".

We could just as easily be arguing about Will Smith being the talent here instead. Big name hollywood actors draw crowds. News at 11.
posted by panaceanot at 6:01 AM on September 4, 2012


They're obviously not reusing actors for clarity purposes. Sonmi and Adam Ewing are the same soul, or whatever, but they cast Sonmi's actress as Ewing's wife? Seems like that's muddling everything up.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 6:04 AM on September 4, 2012


"Seems like that's muddling everything up."

The "soul'" can still be bouncing about in such a muddled arrangement. Just ask the rather unfortunate Charles II of Spain. That didn't end well.

Charles II's genome was actually more homozygous than that of an average child whose parents are siblings. He was born physically and mentally disabled, and disfigured. Possibly through affliction with mandibular prognathism, he was unable to chew. His tongue was so large that his speech could barely be understood, and he frequently drooled. It has been suggested that he suffered from the endocrine disease acromegaly, or his inbred lineage may have led to a combination of rare genetic disorders such as combined pituitary hormone deficiency and distal renal tubular acidosis.
posted by panaceanot at 6:21 AM on September 4, 2012


I'm really turned off by the term 'yellowface'

You're supposed to be. It's supposed to make you uncomfortable, a small taste of how some people feel when they see it.

I'm trying and trying and finding myself unable to come up with a movie that came out better than the book upon which it was based.


Duh. Twilight.
posted by straight at 6:22 AM on September 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


A person made up to look like a different ethnicity, telling a story about how this different ethnicity is ridiculous, grotesque, inferior.

A person made up to look like a different ethnicity, telling a story about how no matter how we look, the stories of our lives are similar, and our humanity is essentially the same.

Can you spot the difference?
posted by Tom-B at 6:28 AM on September 4, 2012 [9 favorites]


We could just as easily be arguing about Will Smith being the talent here instead.

No, we couldn't. Grotesque yellowface (like, to the level of minstrelsy) has been spotted in Hollywood blockbusters as late as Breakfast at Tiffany's, long after blackface was deemed unacceptable, at least in the USA. While still grossly underrepresented, black actors -- well, like five black actors -- can land a leading role that isn't defined by some stereotypical aspect of their blackness. Meanwhile, how many Hollywood films can you name that star (no co-star, not feature, but star the way Will Smith stars) an Asian-American actor and didn't in some way revolve around martial arts.
posted by griphus at 6:30 AM on September 4, 2012 [6 favorites]


You're supposed to be. It's supposed to make you uncomfortable.

Ugh. Well congratulations, I guess. As a "whiteface" who went to school with predominantly cantonese people (my classmates as I thought of them, but I suppose I need to be more specific when talking on the internet)... I'm feeling uncomfortable about the term alright.
posted by panaceanot at 6:31 AM on September 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


White America doesn't have a monopoly on talent.

Well, says you. I looked at the movie posters and all the actors getting the best roles seem to be white.

CHECKMATE, MINORITIES.

And yes, just to be absolutely clear, in no way is this more than pointing out the stupidity of this reasoning and the circularity of saying you need famous actors to yellowface.
posted by jaduncan at 6:31 AM on September 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


As a "whiteface" who went to school with predominantly cantonese people...

Unless you are of a non-white race and put on white skin-tone makeup every day and adopt offensively stereotypical white speech patterns and body language, I don't think you're totally grasping the concept of 'yellowface.'
posted by griphus at 6:34 AM on September 4, 2012


Halle Berry is in this movie. I think she's on a level with Will Smith?
posted by LogicalDash at 6:36 AM on September 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


At any rate, I hope to God your point isn't "[color]face makeup is always problematic and so shouldn't ever be used, even in a movie like Bamboozled".

Have you seen Bamboozled? The movie is in large part about how blackface erases personality and replaces it with an entertaining fiction that reinforces racism. It's made abundantly clear through the movie that the makeup itself is a problem, a herald of something profoundly wrong.

More to the point -

A white man in a role that belongs to someone of another race will always be about the minority being put in its place, and never about the character being played. We have close to a hundred and fifty years of tradition on stage and screen that says this is so. It's either woefully naieve or willfully racist to pretend that this time, that this role, that this actor will somehow be different.
posted by Slap*Happy at 6:36 AM on September 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


The 'whitewashing' complaint has already been addressed. There's a Korean actress in a major role, and she's also playing white characters. If that's not enough for you, explain why.

The Korean actress casting is interesting. But if you spend enough time hanging around boards like Angry Asian Man or check out the documentary The Slanted Screen, you'll hear a familiar complaint: In Hollywood it's Asian men who get the really bad deal. Why, they ask, don't they get their own Denzel, an actor who's allowed to play Everyman? With rare exceptions, male Asian-American actors in Hollywood find themselves typecast as 1) super-serious and efficient professionals, 2) emasculated Long Duck Dong-style wacky outsiders, and hardly ever as real, full-blooded men with their own love interests and strong dramatic conflicts.
posted by steinsaltz at 6:37 AM on September 4, 2012 [10 favorites]


It's made abundantly clear through the movie that the makeup itself is a problem, a herald of something profoundly wrong.

I think EC's point is that Bamboozled is, itself, a movie that uses blackface for a positive purpose. So that movie, that time, with those actors, was, in fact, different.
posted by griphus at 6:38 AM on September 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


(Er, the positive purpose being to make in impression on the audience of how blackface is a problem. Which is clearly did.)
posted by griphus at 6:40 AM on September 4, 2012


You're fucking right I'm not grasping the concept of 'yellowface' that so many are trying to make me uncomfortable by repeating!

"at least in the USA".

Not everyone who reads and contributes to Metafilter is in the US. Do you think it's approriate to use such terms, as an ascerbic way to breach barriers in discource with fellow Americans when this thread can be read by the whole internet?
posted by panaceanot at 6:43 AM on September 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think EC's point is that Bamboozled is, itself, a movie that uses blackface for a positive purpose. So that movie, that time, with those actors, was, in fact, different.

So, a movie was made that used blackface to explain how blackface was and is wrong, so now it's totally OK that Agent Smith gets to be CGI'd into a Korean. I can totally follow that line of reasoning.

OK. Let me clarify for the pedants out there - unless it's being used to illustrate how whitewashing is wrong, whitewashing is wrong. Happy?
posted by Slap*Happy at 6:46 AM on September 4, 2012


That "at least in the USA" was re: the fact that blackface was seen on television in the UK as late as the 1960s.
posted by griphus at 6:47 AM on September 4, 2012


I can totally follow that line of reasoning.

Made by whom, exactly?
posted by griphus at 6:48 AM on September 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Actually the worst thing about Hugo Weaving's makeup is the way that the prosthetics make the top half of his face look 20 years younger than the bottom half.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 6:53 AM on September 4, 2012


And that's *really* spinning my comment PhoBWanKwnobi, with the 'White America doesn't have a monopoly on talent".

It's not spin. I'm just pointing out that despite non-racist intent, these casting decisions have an impact in Hollywood--often the impact of narrowing the field of available roles for minorities.

Basically, there are times when it doesn't matter why, where the impact is more important.

Why, they ask, don't they get their own Denzel, an actor who's allowed to play Everyman? With rare exceptions, male Asian-American actors in Hollywood find themselves typecast as 1) super-serious and efficient professionals, 2) emasculated Long Duck Dong-style wacky outsiders, and hardly ever as real, full-blooded men with their own love interests and strong dramatic conflicts.

Word. I think John Cho would have been a natural fit in the Sturgess role.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:56 AM on September 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


Some perspective, I hope:

The Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer have each made one legitimately Great movie- The Matrix and Run Lola Run. They've also each made another good movie- Bound and The Princess and the Warrior. Aside from that, the Wachowskis movies have gone from meh to awful, and Tywker hasn't made another film that didn't bore me to tears.

What made The Matrix and Run Lola Run great was that they were highly successful takes on Style over Substance. Yes, The Matrix looked great, but let's be serious- have you ever looked at the script on its own? It's awful. The two of them went on to prove in the sequels that they read the first chapter of a bunch of philosophy books, but gave up because reading the rest just seemed to much of a bother. I wouldn't trust those two to write their way out of a paper bag, let alone adapt an "unfilmable book". I give Tykwer marginally more credit in that department, but I predict this film to be a pretty, pedantic bore.
posted by mkultra at 7:01 AM on September 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Here is a small part of why the casting decisions made for "Cloud Atlas" have made me very sad, and why I am disinclined to be generous with regards to the filmmakers' motives.

The "Sonmi" section of the story takes place in a futuristic Korea; the "Zachry" section takes place in post-apocalyptic Hawaii. The former is explicitly populated by Koreans; the latter one can reasonably assume would be populated by mixed-race people, given the current population of the islands and the likelihood that after generations of isolation for such a small group of people, any remaining racial devisions would have been broken down by intermarriage long ago.

The filmmakers could have looked at those two sections of the film and thought, "Wow, this is great! This is a perfect way to create some fantastic, breakout roles for Asian American and mixed-race actors who never get to be in movies like this most of the time! It's a big film, and there are four other sections we can fill with the big name white actors the studio wants, so we can argue they should let us cast these sections appropriately! What a great opportunity!"

Instead, they decided to cast a single Korean woman and a single mixed-race American woman in lead roles; decided to cast a white actor as Zachry; and decided to put white actors into elaborate makeup to play the remaining lead Korean characters.

They then re-wrote the story of Cloud Atlas for their screenplay -- CHANGING the story to explain why they were swapping so many different actors around -- to help justify these casting decision.

I don't see how "They made a series of deliberate decisions which resulted in eliminating roles for non-white actors" leaves a whole lot of room for being generous.

(I can't say that I'm surprised, however. The Wachowskis' Hong Kong Cinema-influenced Matrix films featured a single asian character.)

It's a sad, sad mess that could have been something fantastic, and I'm sorry things are turning out this way.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 7:06 AM on September 4, 2012 [10 favorites]


Regardless of how insulting the casting is, it's just a dumb, ham-handed way to convey the reincarnation theme from the book, which was more of a small thread connecting the stories and less some big, ugly theme to bludgeon you with. All the reincarnations of the same character share a unique birthmark which is mentioned, usually once, and never dwelt upon again. There are any number of quick, subtle, cinematic effects that could convey the link between the characters. The casting gimmick probably speaks to the Wachowskis' limitations as filmmakers and some high-priced actors throwing their weight around, wanting a showcase for their talents.

The book Cloud Atlas is clever and thoughtful, but I wouldn't call it a super deep read. It requires no dumbing down.
posted by picea at 7:07 AM on September 4, 2012


Meanwhile, how many Hollywood films can you name that star (no co-star, not feature, but star the way Will Smith stars) an Asian-American actor and didn't in some way revolve around martial arts.

So true: Better Luck Tomorrow and the Harold and Kumar films are the only things I can come up with. And it's probably worth noting that the former was treated like an amazing exoticized novelty by the mainstream press, while 95% of the coverage of the latter seemed to be "OMG look at how crazy Neal Patrick Harris is being!".
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 7:23 AM on September 4, 2012


I think EC's point is that Bamboozled is, itself, a movie that uses blackface for a positive purpose. So that movie, that time, with those actors, was, in fact, different.

Thank you, yes - this was my point.

So, a movie was made that used blackface to explain how blackface was and is wrong, so now it's totally OK that Agent Smith gets to be CGI'd into a Korean. I can totally follow that line of reasoning.

Aaaaaaand this WASN'T my point.

The argument on the table is that [color]face makeup is always bad because of negative historical implications. And If you believe that blackface is ALWAYS bad no matter what, though, then logically you should also be arguing that Spike Lee shouldn't have been using blackface makeup in BAMBOOZLED because the negative history of blackface makeup trumps the message Spike Lee was trying to say, and thus, by using blackface makeup in BAMBOOZLED, Spike Lee was perpetuating the negative implications of blackface.

However, I doubt you would agree with that, because Spike Lee was using blackface in order to show us why it was bad. So the theory "it is always bad to use [color]face makeup is bad" is itself inaccurate. The use of the makeup does not in and of itself automatically across-the-board trump how an artist uses it - otherwise we need to shun Spike Lee's use of blackface in Bamboozled.

So it must be something other than "the use of makeup" that is at issue about [color]face. And if you look at most of the complaints about the historical use of [color]face casting, it's actually more so about two other issues rather than the color of makeup in and of itself:

a) [color]face acting takes roles away from actors of the given race, or
b) [color]face has historically used in stereotypes about the given race.

Now - the movie we are talking about, Cloud Atlas, does have Hugo Weaving play a Korean character at one point. But it also has Korean actress Bae Doon-na playing a Caucasian character at another point. And Halle Berry playing a role which could be of any race at another point. And another plot in which it's not clear who or what race anyone is or is supposed to be. So the point of putting Hugo Weaving in the scenes in Korea isn't "let's get someone with more box office cred in the Korean scenes", otherwise they wouldn't have cast Bae Doon-na at all. Bae Doon-na is also in the scenes with Hugo Weaving -- and also in scenes in all the other points in the film, changing in and out of different races herself. So, maybe -- just maybe - what the Wachowskis are doing with Cloud Atlas is different than the historic uses of [color]face makeup. And, as we have already illustrated with Spike Lee's use of blackface in Bamboozled, there are times when an artist may use this particular technique (the using of race-based makeup) in the service of an actual point as opposed to using it because "John Wayne is a bigger box office draw so let's cast him as Gunga Din" or "Mickey Rooney as the Japanese guy in BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S will be suitably silly".

Ergo: Hugo Weaving (his name isn't "Agent Smith", BTW) playing a Korean character in one plotline of a very complicated movie is a very different situation than that typically thought of as "yellowface," particularly since the film is also playing a lot of merry havoc with actors shifting in and out of roles across six different plots in six different story lines in six different regions of the world and six different time periods.

Arguably, six completely different racially-approved casts could have been assembled - one for each of the six different storylines in the film -- but such a move would have been cost-prohibitive, and the throughline of the story the Wachowskis were trying to tell, that of the six core characters continuing to run into each other over and over again throughout history, would have been lost. Much as Spike Lee's point about blackface would have been lost if he didn't use it in Bamboozled.

....I assume you can follow THAT line of reasoning?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:31 AM on September 4, 2012 [11 favorites]


On a different matter:

All the reincarnations of the same character share a unique birthmark which is mentioned, usually once, and never dwelt upon again. There are any number of quick, subtle, cinematic effects that could convey the link between the characters. The casting gimmick probably speaks to the Wachowskis' limitations as filmmakers and some high-priced actors throwing their weight around, wanting a showcase for their talents.

Actually, I wouldn't say this speaks to the Wachowski's limitation as filmmakers, but more about the audience's limitations as...viewers. I got it and you got it from the books, but consider: we had the luxury of going back and re-reading something if we didn't get it in the books, and an audience isn't going to be able to do that (you can't stand up in the theater and tell the projectionist "can you rewind that? I missed it.").

Also - I hate to say it, but subtlety is often lost on lots of moviegoers. I had no problem with the digressive nature of Terrence Malick's "Tree of Life," but did you see how many jokes were circulating about how obscure and difficult to follow it was? People were saying that it was a long shot for the Oscar because no one knew "what it was about", when it was pretty obvious to me what it was about.

It may look ham-handed to you. But to a lot of people, it'll be a moment of "ohhhhh, I get it, it's, like, the same guy reincarnated! Cool!"
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:37 AM on September 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


The best movie about reincarnations over multiple lives -- also featuring a lead actor in prosthetics that drastically alter his appearance -- is Running on Karma (2003), which features the always-dreamy Andy Lau in a muscle suit. As a bonus you get actual Asians playing Asian characters.

Also, Johnnie To and Wai Ka-Fai vs. the Wachowskis? No contest, the crown's been in Hong Kong for at least a decade.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 7:58 AM on September 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


However, I doubt you would agree with that, because Spike Lee was using blackface in order to show us why it was bad. So the theory...

Just. Stop.

How can anyone be that pedantic? How? It's amazing. Worse, the hairs split by this straw-man are used as a get-out-of-jail-free card for whitewashing.

Let me explain this again, with as much clarity as I can muster:

- There is a long and established history of using white actors to play non-white roles. The effect, if not purpose, is to demean and degrade the non-white ethnicity.
- There is also a long and established history of using stage makeup to make white people seem like they're not white as a tool for racists to propagate and perpetuate racism.
- This has been true for a century and a half. Ignoring it or wishing it away is either foolishly insensitive or outright racist.

UNLESS IT'S DIRECTLY ADDRESSING RACISM, exceptions cannot be made. We are not living in a post-racial society, and denying asians roles in this movie is not moving us in that direction.

You know what would? Casting a Korean actor with the acting chops to work collaboratively with Hugo Weaving to come up with a performance that is seamless between them. That would impress the hell out of me, and go a long way to move culture past minstrel shows.
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:12 AM on September 4, 2012 [6 favorites]


Just. Stop.

Alright, I will, because this clearly isn't going to go anywhere.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:14 AM on September 4, 2012 [8 favorites]


It's kind of like the N-word. There are lots of good uses for it but they are almost all on the part of black people.

I think the Wachowskis have overreached on this one. Movies are more like short stories than novels and they need simple plots in order to work right. Even the ones you'd think of as "epic" (2001, Lawrence of Arabia) are about getting the most mileage possible out of simple actions (astronauts encounter an alien artifact, a lost soul crosses the desert.) The Matrix was also a simple story, and better than the complicated prequels.
posted by steinsaltz at 8:24 AM on September 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


As a big fan of Mitchell and almost all of his books, the rollercoaster of emotions has been enough to make me not want to see the movie at all. The way the book is designed and the ordering and splitting of the chapters seems impossible to replicate in film. I thought what I saw of the trailer was interesting, but I don't want to end up supporting racebending either, especially when I'm on other forums already decrying every last Hollywood anime adaptation that gets announced.
posted by koucha at 8:45 AM on September 4, 2012


In Hollywood it's Asian men who get the really bad deal.

No doubt. In fact, it seems like Asian men and dark skinned black women are the two groups most likely to be ignored or held in contempt by Hollywood and Madison Avenue.

My reaction upon seeing the image of Weaving made up to look Asian was similar to that of Tracy Morgan in this clip.

Come on. Come the fuck on. That's ridiculous. This idea

Casting a Korean actor with the acting chops to work collaboratively with Hugo Weaving to come up with a performance that is seamless between them

would have been awesome. What the filmmakers did here is straight up bullshit -- it's a fuck you to both Asian actors and the audience. To the former it says, "You ain't good enough" to the latter it says "You ain't smart enough." No. No. Uh-uh. Hell no.
posted by lord_wolf at 9:06 AM on September 4, 2012 [7 favorites]


But it also has Korean actress Bae Doon-na playing a Caucasian character at another point.

This has already been addressed above.

And Narrative Priorities's comment is pretty much right on.

So true: Better Luck Tomorrow and the Harold and Kumar films are the only things I can come up with. And it's probably worth noting that the former was treated like an amazing exoticized novelty by the mainstream press, while 95% of the coverage of the latter seemed to be "OMG look at how crazy Neal Patrick Harris is being!".

Not to mention, I would hardly call Better Luck Tomorrow a Hollywood movie.

What an really ugly term in its own right. I'd never heard of it before this thread, and I wonder what baggage people using it are bringing to the discussion.

An ugly thing deserves an ugly term.
posted by kmz at 9:51 AM on September 4, 2012


Also, I don't see how anybody can look at this publicity shot and not just cringe. Ugh.
posted by kmz at 9:52 AM on September 4, 2012


No doubt. In fact, it seems like Asian men and dark skinned black women are the two groups most likely to be ignored or held in contempt by Hollywood and Madison Avenue.

That's true too.
posted by steinsaltz at 10:17 AM on September 4, 2012


Also, I don't see how anybody can look at this publicity shot and not just cringe. Ugh.

Yeah, I mean, he doesn't look like an Asian person, he looks deformed.
posted by steinsaltz at 10:18 AM on September 4, 2012


There's a good discussion to be had here, I think, but it's disappointing how much of one side of this conversation boils down to "STOP THINKING ABOUT THIS!"

I understand the ugly and (fairly) recent history of "yellowface" to demean Asians or deny good roles to Asian actors. And I agree that there is a case to be made that it was awful enough and bad enough to continue to ruin any instance of a white actor playing an Asian character for generations to come. That's not a weak argument.

But I think we should also consider that there is a hypothetical set of circumstances where a movie understandably and justifiably uses actors to portray characters of other races. And, in Cloud Atlas, it seems like the portrayals 1) are not mocking stereotypes, 2) cross not just race just age and gender lines, 3) contain whites portraying minority characters as well as minority actors portraying white characters, and 4) was done for the clear purpose of showing that the same "spirits" were reincarnated across various times and places. Yes, the producers could have signaled that another way, but the way they chose is a pretty obvious and understandable one. And I don't think it's instantly stupid or prejudicial to say that "while white actors playing Asian characters does have a long and very problematic history, this particular movie where every major actor plays someone of another race at some point, for reasons that serve the story and not demeaning agenda MIGHT BE an exception that makes this particular make-up use understandable or even acceptable." That's not a weak or bad-faith argument, either.

I would really enjoy a good discussion about this, but it's hard to have in the face of "NO. STOP. RACISM. NO EXCEPTIONS." Maybe you are right (and I really am open to that possibility), but asking people to stop thinking so damn much isn't going to persuade anyone.
posted by Alexander Hatchell at 10:52 AM on September 4, 2012 [11 favorites]


I personally don't care about yellowface. The book is not really about Korea, just a Korean-theme park ride. I doubt they use real Hawaiians, real Scots (maybe), real Dutch (maybe) and so on, it doesn't matter because the book is not really about those places, just set in them as background.

More interesting to discuss the ideas of the book, and how film is about spectacle, and books are about ideas, and how film sometimes gets ideas from books correct, despite being dedicated to spectacle.
posted by stbalbach at 10:55 AM on September 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


More interesting to discuss the ideas of the book

Given that one of the main themes of the book is the ugliness of -- and damage caused by -- casual racism, I'm pretty okay with it being a big part of what we're talking about here.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 11:22 AM on September 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


I personally don't care about yellowface.

Good for you!
posted by kmz at 11:29 AM on September 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


he doesn't look like an Asian person, he looks deformed.

It looks like a bad picture of a Vulcan or Romulan from the Original Series. What's up with those brows?
posted by octobersurprise at 11:32 AM on September 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


Yellowface/Blackface. Racism. Volital stuff. Once again we are reminded that we don't get to tell someone else what's supposed to piss them off.

I'm struck by the irony of all the eagerly expressed aspects of controversy over "yellowface," and the dearth of outrage over a plotline using the device of a trans-racial soul.

Like stbalbach upthread, I'm aware of the way movies often underplay ideas in favor of spectacle. I hate it when I have to drop back and punt: Ah, the book was better. I don't mind it if the movie takes a book's story and runs with the idea, using cinematography to enhance the author's vision, but this is rare, and I'll have to think for a while to come up with a good example.
posted by mule98J at 11:53 AM on September 4, 2012


asking people to stop thinking so damn much isn't going to persuade anyone.

Wow, another strawman.

The problem isn't that they're thinking too much, but that they're not thinking enough.

- They're not acknowledging the history and intent of whitewashing and blackface(which encompasses using makeup or technology to avoid casting a minority actor.)

- They're not acknowledging the real and lasting harm it does.

- They have completely failed to realize that putting minority characters in white roles does not erase the history and intent of all other instances of whitewashing and blackface. It does not earn the filmmakers a "pass."

- They're not recognizing the Wachowskis as white film makers who have a blind spot when it comes to the appropriation of Asian culture without the benefit of real and meaningful roles for asians in their work. Not just asians, either - Morpheus and the Oracle are very stereotypical - they exist only as a wise and guiding "Other," there to serve and sacrifice for the white protagonist.

Until these elephants in the room are adressed, no meaningful discussion on the topic can really happen.

I'm struck by the irony of all the eagerly expressed aspects of controversy over "yellowface," and the dearth of outrage over a plotline using the device of a trans-racial soul.

Why? Souls are not roles. Souls can be trans-racial. In this place, at this time, roles cannot be trans-racial if it means a white actor takes a minority actor's job.
posted by Slap*Happy at 12:01 PM on September 4, 2012


Honestly I'm much more dubious about having Ben Kingsley play the Mandarin in Iron Man 3.

Heh. Now that makes the whole thing complicated, doesn't it.

Let's grant that it's always racist for a white actor to play an Asian character. How about a British actor (a member of the Order of the British Empire, in fact) who is of mixed ethnicity (one of those ethnicities originating in Asia, but not China, and not with facial features that would commonly be recognized as Chinese) playing a Chinese character? Is that racist? Would it be racist if both of Kingsley's parents had been Indian, instead of just one? If one of them were Chinese instead of Indian while the other was white? If one were Chinese and the other were Indian? What if he had grown up in China? Where do you draw this particular "always racist" line?
posted by mr_roboto at 12:09 PM on September 4, 2012


Not to mention, I would hardly call Better Luck Tomorrow a Hollywood movie.

You're right: I was thinking it was a bigger release than it was, but IMDB says the budget was only $250K and the gross was $3.8 mil. Which is a respectable return rate, but definitely makes it a tiny indie.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 12:38 PM on September 4, 2012


I wouldn't argue it back in 2002, but is MTV Films still considered an indie production company?
posted by griphus at 12:45 PM on September 4, 2012


Morpheus and the Oracle are very stereotypical - they exist only as a wise and guiding "Other," there to serve and sacrifice for the white protagonist.

That's actually a great point, although I was going to praise the Wachowskis for giving the Zion Underground in the second movie an interestingly heavily-black character. On the other hand, the way they swapped out Tank for Oz's Harold Perrineau in that movie reminds me of the "interchangeable black guy" problem from Iron Man's Terence Howard-to-Don Cheadle switcheroo.

The mystical, Bagger Vance-style ethnic Other is always a problem though.

And yeah, Better Luck Tomorrow was really low budget.

Another example of Asian male invisibility that The Slanted Screen brings up is in that movie Romeo Must Die. Even though the movie was supposed to be a remake of the Romeo and Juliet story with Asian and black ledes, the big kiss scene was removed when test audiences supposedly hated the idea of watching Jet Li kiss someone instead of beat them up. It's actually kind of shocking how much of this stuff there is.
posted by steinsaltz at 12:50 PM on September 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


drumhellz: I'm going to give the benefit of the doubt in this case considering that Lana Wachowski is part of the leadership of this project, at least from a tolerance standpoint.

That's an interesting point. But before I get to that point let me explain where I'm coming from.

I read the New Yorker article yesterday, and got rather hopeful and excited about the prospect of the film version of Cloud Atlas. I really loved the book when I read it and it instantly evokes a very particular and happy time in my life. I also really like the Wachowskis as filmmakers. That said, when I head about the movie adaptation, my instinctual reaction to the idea of the Wachowskis filming Cloud Atlas was that it was going to be terrible. But that New Yorker article had me getting excited. Giddily excited.

Then, this morning, I click I open this thread, see Sokka Shot First's comment linking to the racebending article and see the image of Hugo Weaving in make-up.

All my excitement and hope crashed. I quite literally went back to bed and lay in the fetal position for a while. I'd probably still be there if I hadn't already started the coffee brewing and thus had a reason to get up. I still can't believe that anyone thought this was a good idea. As the day wore on my reaction went from despair to anger. How could they? Why did no one stop them? Yellowface, really?

However, drumhellz' comment made me think about this rather differently. From the perspective of Lana Wachowsky, a transgendered person who, to quote her directly, "chose to change my exteriority to bring it closer into alignment with my interiority," this is a rather different kind of thing. I still think it's a terrible, terrible choice, made by someone with blind spots when it comes to white privilege, but I can see how the intent is to privilege the interiority of a person to the exteriority (which I understand to be not just physical appearance but also the kinds of social signifiers that other people read into the appearance). I think the reading intended by casting these actors playing people of a different race is that the interior soul is more important than the exterior appearance, however, it'll take a greater extent of willing suspension of disbelief than I think I'm capable of not to look at Hugo Weaving and the others in that awful, horrible makeup and not have a voice inside my head scream: "How could they?! Why did no one stop them?! Yellowface, really?!"
posted by Kattullus at 1:35 PM on September 4, 2012 [6 favorites]


I personally don't care about yellowface.

Good for you!
posted by kmz


Well my quote of context certainly makes me look like an asshole. Maybe even in context too. Anyway, it's not something I've really ever thought about much, but I suppose it would be a hot button topic for some people. In the context of this thread, is really my point, the entire thread feels like it got hijacked by this issue and I'd hate to see the movie also become some sort of culture war battleground and miss the point of the novel.

mule98J's reply is well said.
posted by stbalbach at 2:26 PM on September 4, 2012


KokuRyu: "In the context of a Hollywood blockbuster, "white culture" is the dominant culture, and determines what is normal and what is not. So what you're seeing is an interpretation of an "Asian", a facsimile."

This is an interesting comment to me: even if the actors were racially accurate, do you question the work even before it becomes a movie because David Mitchell is English and Caucasian?
posted by boo_radley at 2:36 PM on September 4, 2012


This is an interesting comment to me: even if the actors were racially accurate, do you question the work even before it becomes a movie because David Mitchell is English and Caucasian?

I don't think so, if only because Mitchell is a writer, and as such is reaching a much more limited audience. In any case, there are lots of stories to write about, and lots of people writing about what it means to be "Asian" as Mitchell has done in the past. If you don't like it, you can always read a different book (or write one of your own!)

Hollywood movies, though, are more of a cultural force than literary novels, and are much more powerful for defining cultural identity, what is normal and what is not normal, or what is exotic and what is not.
posted by KokuRyu at 3:06 PM on September 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


So you're okay with prosthetic slanty eyes and yellowface? Good to know. I'll make a note of that.
posted by KokuRyu at 5:48 PM on September 3 [1 favorite +] [!]


Social justice purity tests make me want to poo.
posted by Sebmojo at 3:43 PM on September 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


Only metafilter can derail a thread so thoroughly that it lands on ANOTHER RAIL, fooling anyone idly looking at it that the train was meant to be on that rail the whole time.
posted by jscott at 5:07 PM on September 4, 2012 [6 favorites]


It's been a while, but is it really reincarnation in the novel? I took the birthmark as more of a playfully metatextual device, because the whole Luisa Rey story is *fiction* within the Cavendish story, isn't it? And doesn't Cavendish himself scoff at the whole comet birthmark idea? The idea that this is all one continuty, like it's some dumb comic book, instead of an interesting collision of texts, seems kind of deflating. And if remember right, there are comet birthmarks and the Cloud Atlas sextet in Ghostwritten--is Ghostwritten part of the continuity too?

As with V for Vendetta, it feels like the Wachowski's have taken something kind of subtle and... literary, and turned it into something ploddingly literal. I suppose we should look forward to their version of If On A Winter's Night A Traveler... as star-studded seventies disaster movie.
posted by rodii at 5:09 PM on September 4, 2012


These ass-clowns haven't made a good film since 1999.

Just sayin'.
posted by bardic at 1:56 AM on September 4


It's the Shyamalan Club! I hear that Eric Bana and Jodie Foster are members.
posted by vhsiv at 5:19 PM on September 4, 2012


Here's a good AV Club discussion making my point for me, only much better.
posted by rodii at 5:29 PM on September 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


jscott: "Only metafilter can derail a thread so thoroughly that it lands on ANOTHER RAIL, fooling anyone idly looking at it that the train was meant to be on that rail the whole time."

Yea, this thread didn't go anywhere I expected it to but such is Metafilter.
posted by octothorpe at 6:20 PM on September 4, 2012


the "interchangeable black guy" problem from Iron Man's Terence Howard-to-Don Cheadle switcheroo.
Nah, Terence Howard was just bad for the role. Too soft, too submissive. Don Cheadle played a much harder-edged Rhodes, he was plausible standing up against Tony Stark. Good call, based on their acting skills and styles.
posted by Tom-B at 6:29 PM on September 4, 2012


I am a fan of the trailer and the book, and don't really want to get into this racism debate before the movie comes out, but from my perspective down here in the south seas I notice that: although there has been much debate about the white actors playing the male asian characters, there has been absolutely no mention of the the black actors playing all the polynesian characters. Is that meta-racism?
posted by Canard de Vasco at 7:02 PM on September 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


I was looking forward to this movie, because everyone wants me to read Cloud Atlas but I've got too much else to read already. But between the Wachowskis making it and that picture of Hugo Weaving, there's no way I'm touching it with a ten foot pole.

The Wachowskis have big ambitions for the philosophy of their films, which is admirable, but they're so terribly bad at acheiving any kind of depth, in a Dunning-Kruger kind of way. I take the point above about Lana Wachowski maybe finding it interesting or meaningful because it's about looking at someone's soul instead of their exterior appearance (we can't know for sure, but it seems a reasonable guess); but that's no guarantee the issue will be handled in a way that's respectful to minorities. Given their track record, I don't see any reason for optimism. And that picture of Weaving proves it. It looks awful, I flashed back to Breakfast at Tiffany's. What was he thinking?

I'm not very knowledgeable about race issues, I usually lurk in threads about it and keep my mouth shut. But this one isn't very difficult to understand. If reviews come out saying that the movie is suprisingly better on race issues than the casting and promo pictures would imply, I'll give it another chance. I won't hold my breath though.
posted by harriet vane at 9:14 PM on September 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Would it be inappropriate for white actors to be made up to play black characters? Even for a perhaps well-meaning plot device I think it would be totally unacceptable to find a Hollywood movie doing this without a specific interest on the topic of blackface (e.g., Bamboozled). That it's OK do something similar (with prosethetics or CG or otherwise) with a different culture is interesting to me. This sort of variation in standards reminds me of some of the media coverage of Jeremy Lin (ESPN's "A chink in the armor").

I don't mean to belittle gains made in the acceptance of African American culture into the mainstream America, just to point out that other minorities are perhaps further behind.
posted by acrunchysignal at 9:19 PM on September 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


(fairly) recent history of "yellowface" to demean Asians or deny good roles to Asian actors.

Fairly recent history?

How about the entire history of Hollywood.
posted by eye of newt at 10:46 PM on September 4, 2012


I keep on reading that the Wachowskis originally intended the role of Neo to go to Will Smith, which makes me think of the race relations in the alternate world where [i]that[/i] Matrix trilogy was created. As for Harold Perrineau in the second movie, he's meant to be a different character, Link. The reason why Tank disappeared was because his actor threw a stink or something and didn't make it to the sequel. As swapping Terence Howard for Don Cheadle seems as similar and as innocuous as Mark Ruffalo Bruce Banner and Maggie Gyllenhaal Rachel Dawes.
posted by Apocryphon at 12:04 AM on September 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Now - the movie we are talking about, Cloud Atlas, does have Hugo Weaving play a Korean character at one point. But it also has Korean actress Bae Doon-na playing a Caucasian character at another point.

These things are not equal. These things are never equal. Why do we have to pretend in every racism debate that these things are equal?

There isn't a century and half old tradition of whiteface, of Korean actors playing white folk for laughs, using offensive stereotypes to show how stupid or dangerous those white folk be, like there is with black and yellowface. There isn't the expectation that the audience for this excludes white folk, like there is with blackface and yellowface. There isn't a tradition of discrimination against white folk, like the ones blackface and yellowface are rooted in, let alone that there were antiwhite pogroms or that these were egged on and exploited by politicians and businessmen, like what happened to actually existing Black people or Chinese and Japanese in living memory.

If we'd actually live in a race neutral society without the centuries of bagage we still lug along even if a racial utopia were to be established tomorrow, then it might have been possible for a white actor to play a Black or Asian character without dragging in all this history, but we don't so we can't.
posted by MartinWisse at 12:44 AM on September 5, 2012 [4 favorites]


So the theory "it is always bad to use [color]face makeup is bad" is itself inaccurate.

A handy flowchart for when it is acceptable to use blackface.
posted by MartinWisse at 1:46 AM on September 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


I don't mean to defend the makeup choices in this movie, but I can't help but wonder if the promo shot of Hugo Weaving with "Asian" eyes is jarring and makes him look like a weird alien *not only* because of the racism, or the quality of the makeup, but because Weaving already looks like a weird alien?
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 9:33 AM on September 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


New Cloud Atlas trailer shows off our terrible, horrible future worlds
posted by homunculus at 12:09 PM on September 6, 2012


I'm sorry about this race issue. I found the article about the people involved in this fascinating, and I admire their investment in it. It's the next book I'm reading.

Tom Hanks as an Everyman character isn't very original, but I understand the need to have him in to get the project off the ground.
posted by angrycat at 12:25 PM on September 7, 2012


It just screened at Toronto, and reviews... vary:

I can’t wait to see it again. Until I do I’ll hold on to the feeling this movie gave me, an incredible sense of hope for the future of cinema. And the future of humanity. How many movies give you that?


As with some of contemporary cinema's other colossal, infamous failures (The Phantom Menace, say, or Andrew Stanton's sometimes strangely similar John Carter), its badness is not merely a matter of minor or even major problems that, had they been solved or excised, would have allowed the truly great film at the core to flourish. This badness is fundamental, an essential aspect of the concept and its execution that I suspect is impossible to remedy or rectify.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 5:58 PM on September 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


http://www.empireonline.com/features/guide-to-cloud-atlas/p2 has a matrix of actors vs timelines and triples (at least) the number of pictures to get offended at.
posted by dfan at 7:44 PM on September 9, 2012


vulture has some shots of the actors playing other races/characters
posted by ninjew at 2:24 PM on September 10, 2012


oh man the review Horace Rumpole posted is scathing. it makes me feel badly for the Wachowskis, given their level of investment.
posted by angrycat at 3:49 PM on September 10, 2012


Wow, this thread is ridiculous. Rather then an interesting discussion of the film or the book or whatever, we've got a bunch of people whining about how it's totally racist to have Halle Berry play a white woman, or whatever.
Seriously, you people certainly know how to take the fun out of everything. If they had an all-white cast, you could make an argument they were being racist, but that's not what's happening.
UNLESS IT'S DIRECTLY ADDRESSING RACISM, exceptions cannot be made. We are not living in a post-racial society, and denying asians roles in this movie is not moving us in that direction.
No one is forcing you to see the movie. Throwing a temper tantrum over some bizarre, academic definition of 'racism' that no one gets isn't going to convince anyone of anything. You don't get to decide whether or not exceptions are made, and no one cares what you happen to think about any particular issue.

And who is saying the move isn't addressing racism? The book, which you obviously haven't read, was fairly anti-racist.

Also, this idea that you could have had an Asian and a white actor for the various roles and somehow gotten the voice/facial tics down so well that it would have been totally obvious to the viewer that they were the same person is absurd. Most people just wouldn't pick up on that, and also I think they wanted to have the appearance/accents/etc actually be different , with just the face the same (and actually, the faces are so different with makeup you can't really even tell even then without having it pointed out to you)
It's been a while, but is it really reincarnation in the novel? I took the birthmark as more of a playfully metatextual device, because the whole Luisa Rey story is *fiction* within the Cavendish story, isn't it? And doesn't Cavendish himself scoff at the whole comet birthmark idea?
I actually just read the book, and I'm not sure where this comes from Luisa Rey was fictional for Cavendish, but Cavendish was fictional for Sonmi. But Rey, Frobisher and Ewing all inhabit the same universe. In fact, Rey and Frobasher are both friends with Sixsmith. I had thought, when reading the book that Cavendish actually did exist in a 'separate' reality from the rest of the plot, but it did seem that Sonmi did inhabit the same world as Ewing.
posted by delmoi at 12:06 AM on September 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


Delmoi, it's been a while, but my memory is that Cavendish gets the Luisa Rey novel as manuscript, written by "Hilary V. Hush," which looks like it might mean something, but...

TVTropes:
Mind Screw: Each story initially appears to be set in the same universe as its predecessor. This is toyed with when Frobisher questions the veracity of Ewing's journal, then completely undermined when Cavendish receives Rey's story as a the manuscript for a fictional novel. Yet connections between the characters seem to bridge this fiction-reality divide, such as the shared birthmark of Frobisher, Rey, Sonmi, and Meronym.

Similarly, the reader is led to believe that all of the protagonists are one reincarnated soul, marked by a distinctive birthmark. This is, however, explicitly rejected by Cavendish, who lacks such a birthmark. Nonetheless, the birthmark is seen again in the fifth and sixth stories. Fridge Logic also reveals that the lifespans of Luisa Rey and Timothy Cavendish would overlap, though her being a fictional character in his universe might be a more significant barrier.

Katy Forbes from Ghostwritten, who has a one night stand with someone who works for Cavendish, also has this birthmark.
Regardless of the details, there's clearly a dimension to the novel that is lost in the translation to the realistic, moralistic vision of the Wachowskis. Whether this is a good thing, YMMV.
posted by rodii at 8:39 AM on September 27, 2012


25 Days To Read "Cloud Atlas" Before Tom Hanks Ruins It Forever
posted by homunculus at 1:10 AM on October 3, 2012


I wasn't sure anyone out there hated Forrest Gump more than I did, but that guy


And then Forrest Gump happened, and everybody started talking in that horribly annoying mentally-disabled way he did in that movie, and I saw the movie, and I'm so sorry I did, because it makes you want to puke in your shoes and wash your eyes out with lye, but it won't work. You can never unsee something like that. And then I remember seeing a full-spread two-page ad in the Times one day which showed him in that dumb white suit, and they'd made a huge American flag out of all the stars that different reviewers at different newspapers and magazines had given the movie. And it said something to the effect of, "AMERICA AGREES: FORREST GUMP IS THE MOVIE OF THE SUMMER! GO SEE IT AGAIN BECAUSE EVERYONE ELSE IS GOING TO SEE IT OVER AND OVER AND AGAIN."

I remember seeing the ad and feeling more like I was living in a fascist, totalitarian state than I'd ever felt before. Fair to the man himself or not, I swore that day that I would never watch another Tom Hanks movie, ever.

really hates Forrest Gump.

Great article though.
posted by mannequito at 1:51 AM on October 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


(Forrest Gump hater +2)
posted by vhsiv at 5:20 AM on October 3, 2012


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