Cloud Atlas gets heat for ‘Yellow Face’ makeup and lack of Asian actors

The Wachowski Brothers…Uhhh…I mean the Wachowski Siblings are on the verge of releasing their new epic post-apocalyptic adventure film, Cloud Atlas. Not since Speed Racer have the two ventured behind the camera and directed a film. Some are calling it the most ambitious film ever made and it has already earned the title of the Most Expensive Independent Film of All-Time with a hundred million dollar budget. The film is receiving reviews, garnering a 65% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, but recently the film has come under fire from the Media Action Network for Asian Americans.

In Cloud Atlas multiple stories are told in different times, but are all connected by similar themes and plots in the film. Throughout the film, many of the main actors play more than one character. They change race and even gender.

In one of the stories, the film takes place in the year 2144 in South Korea. In this portion of the film, multiple white actors are given prosthetic makeup in order to appear Asian.

Cloud Atlas missed a great opportunity. The Korea story’s protagonist is an Asian man–an action hero who defies the odds and holds off armies of attackers. He’s the one who liberates [a clone played by actress] Doona Bae from her repressive life and encourages her to join the resistance against the government. It would have been a great, stereotype-busting role for an Asian American actor to play, as Asian American men aren’t allowed to be dynamic or heroic very often. But instead, they cast Jim Sturgess in yellow face.”

“Every major male character in the Korea story is played by non-Asian actors in really bad yellow face makeup. When you first see Hugo Weaving as a Korean executioner, there’s this big close-up of him in this totally unconvincing Asian makeup. The Asian-Americans at the pre-screening burst out laughing because he looked terrible — like a Vulcan on Star Trek.”

“It appears that to turn white and black actors into Asian characters (black actor Keith David was also Asian in the 2144 story), the make-up artists believed they only had to change their eyes, not their facial structure and complexion. The message the movie sends is, it takes a lot of work to get Asians to look Caucasian, but you can easily turn Caucasians into Asians by just changing the shape of their eyes.”

The MANAA’s founding president, Guy Aoki, also calls Cloud Atlas out for having double standards because in a portion of the film there are slaves and each of the slave is played by a black actor.

“You have to ask yourself: Would the directors have used black face on a white actor to play Gyasi’s[a slave in the film]? I don’t think so: That would have outraged African American viewers. But badly done yellow face is still OK.”

Prior to Guy Aoki’s attack on the film, Cloud Atlas was already receiving some negative attention for casting white actors to play Asian characters. Both The Wachowski’s talked with The Huffington Post to elaborate on their reasons behind that.

Andy Wachowski: Well, that’s good that people are casting a critical eye. We need to cast critical eyes toward these things. What are the motivations behind directors and casting? I totally support it. But our intention is the antithesis of that idea. The intention is to talk about things that are beyond race. The character of this film is humanity, so if you look at our past work and consider what our intention might be, we ask that those people give us a chance and at least see the movie before they start casting judgement.

Lana Wachowski: Their suggestion is that our tribes have to always remain separate. That the things that makes us different are essential elements to our representation and our identity. Why we were attracted to the book is that the book has a bigger perspective. The book suggests that there is a humanity that is beyond our tribe, our ethnic features. A humanity that is beyond our gender. A humanity that unites all of us and transcends our tribal differences. As long as we continue to build these intractable and insurmountable walls between us to make these distinctions, we will continue to have intellectual apparatus that allows us to make wars and that allows to dominate, exploit and destroy others. Because we don’t think of them like we think about our own kind, our own tribe.

The main plot behind Cloud Atlas is how one soul is shaped from a killer into a hero and how a single act of kindness ripples across centuries to inspire a revolution in the distant future. One of the main themes in the book that has transferred into the movie is how a soul can be reincarnated.

In a recent interview, Hugo Weaving talked little bit more about how that will play out in the film.

“[The movie explores] the idea of being reborn and souls being reborn through time. What’s fascinating about the adaptation of the book was that sense that you get in the book about souls being reborn, a particular soul, and then they thought, ‘What if we bring back actors to multiple roles in these stories?’ So to take that idea and run with it actually kind of became one of the key propellers for the project.”

Makes sense, no?

I can see Guy Aoki’s point of view and understand why he’s outraged, but I also understand the thought behind The Wachowski’s decisions.

What do you think about the Wachowski’s choice? Is this M. Night Shyamalan’s Last Airbender all over again or is this purely just a plot device to help narrate the story? Let us know in the comments below.

Also, checkout an awesome picture of Vulcan Hugo Weaving below.

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