As we look through the history of cinema created in Hollywood, there is a blatant lack of Asian representation. In three recent examples, movies such as Marvel’s Doctor Strange starring Benedict Cumberbatch has actress Tilda Swinton dressed in Asian-esque garb with a clean-shaven head to play the role of “The Ancient One” who, in the comics, is a male Tibetan mystic; Dreamworks and Paramount’s adaptation of the classic Japanese anime The Ghost in the Shell has a digitally modified Scarlett Johansson to create the appearance of Asian features; and Cameron Crowe’s Aloha casted Emma Stone to play the role of Allison Ng who is Chinese-Hawaiian even though Stone is clearly not of Asian descent. We could name example after example in which Hollywood willing chooses to engage in the act of yellow face by hiring white actors to play roles of Asian descent. As more white actors portray Asian characters, there is an alienation of Asian Culture from an accurate portrayal in American media. To understand the origins of this current issue, in my project, we will be looking back into the 1930s to the 1960s to discuss examples of yellow face by analyzing a comparison within the classic Hollywood narrative between the roles Asian played in American society and the roles meant to represent them and how it enforced a standard of misrepresentation and stereotyping Asian culture.
For my primary sources, I have included films from my area of focus that contain instances of yellow face such as The Good Earth (1937), Dragon Seed (1944) Teahouse of the August Moon (1956) and Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961), to name a few. By watching these films, I will be able to identify the types of physical and behavioral characteristics as well as the narratives white actors are given in attempts to “become Asian”.
For my secondary sources, I included scholarly articles as well as a few newspaper articles to help me create a general narrative of the industry as a whole and the role Asian culture played in it. In the two part series of article by author Richard Oehling, “Hollywood and the Image of the Oriental, 1910-1950, Part I and II” depicts the negative representation of Asians in cinema, how that progressed into the stereotypes existing in cinema. In extension to these articles, “Be The One That You Want: Asian Americans in Television Culture, Onscreen and Beyond.” by L. S. Kim from the University of California, Santa Cruz focuses on the lack of fair representation of Asians as a racial minority from 1960 to 2003. To tie everything together, I will be referencing the Vox’s article “Hollywood’s Best Asian Roles Still Go to White People.” which includes the video “Yellow face is a Bad Look, Hollywood” to create a general overview of yellow face in Hollywood. The tentative bibliography is located here.
The information gained from these sources will be presented in an Omeka archive containing examples of yellow face in the golden era of Hollywood, how these films portray Asians, and the relationship between Asians and American society during that period. We chose to use Omeka because the site caters to our organizational needs in an easy to use format. The hardest part will be deciding how to present what we have learned in a cohesive way that will accurately the struggle of Asians in these time periods in America. We hope that this project will help people realize how yellow face not a thing just of the past but also a relevant issue in today’s society that needs to be fixed.