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by Nigel M Smith
October 25, 2012 4:20 PM
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'Cloud Atlas' Comes Under Fire For Not Casting an Asian Man In a Major Role

Who didn't see this coming? Back when the epic six-minute trailer for "Cloud Atlas" premiered in July, bloggers were quick to express their concern over the jarring makeup job done on lead Jim Sturgess, who featured prominently in the spot as an Asian male character in one of the film's many plotlines, this one set in a futuristic South Korea. With the film set to open wide on Friday, the Media Action Network for Asian Americans has publicly made their opinion known about the casting of multiple white male actors as Asians (Sturgess, Hugo Weaving, Hugh Grant and James D'Arcy), and it's not pretty.

"In the modern age of movie make up, it is disturbing to see poorly done Asian eye prosthetics to make Caucasian men look Asian," Guy Aoki, MANAA's founding president, said in a statement. "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."

READ MORE: Critical Consensus: B. Ruby Rich and Lisa Schwarzbaum on the Identity Politics of 'Cloud Atlas'

Lest you think that MANAA is just upset over what they believe to be a bad makeup job, Aoki stressed that the issue is deeper than that. Citing "Cloud Atlas" as a "missed great opportunity," Aoki lamented the filmmakers' decision to cast Sturgess as the lead in the 2014 storyline. "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."

And some more food for thought: In their statement, MANAA made reference to one plotline concerning black slaves and how each slave was played by a black actor, to backup their claim that double standards were used. "You have to ask yourself: Would the directors have used blackface on a white actor...? I don’t think so: That would have outraged African American viewers. But badly done yellowface is still OK."

What's your take on MANAA's harsh criticisms? Are they warranted? [Source: THR]

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17 Comments

  • guest | May 2, 2013 12:34 PMReply

    It's Hollywood people. According to their formula, Asian males aren't supposed to be heroes. Why didn't the directors have an Asian male play as a white guy? America metaphorically castrated Asians and want to keep it that way.

  • Jet | May 21, 2013 11:51 AM

    Well that's whites for you. Don't want anyone else to have anything ... just them! So very sad!

  • Chelsea | December 6, 2012 1:08 PMReply

    It's something to consider, I suppose, but in order for the film to work, the Asian man would of had to play a White role later. It's the same exact thing! I feel like they completely missed to concept of the movie. It was supposed to be the same people coming together at different points in time. Therefore, if there was a story that involved white people, those same white people would have to be played in order for the film to work. Otherwise it would be confusing as to who is supposed to be who. I thought it was artistic and a good idea. They had Halle Berry playing all sorts of races in that movie. Women playing men, men playing women. Yes all the slaves were Black but only one of them had a prominent role in the movie. there were still many Asians playing Asians in the movie, but the prominent roles had to be played by white people because they appear in other points in time. Like I said, that was the point of the movie!

  • jamie | November 5, 2012 2:24 AMReply

    who cares, I'm asian and don't find it offensive. it was a great movie

  • Lo | April 2, 2014 10:00 PM

    Asian women were cast, but not the men.

  • Seri | November 3, 2012 5:08 AMReply

    Most Asian-Americans that want careers in show biz are moving to South Korea, Hong Kong, or Taiwan. There, they are getting a chance to obtain real substantial roles that are not typecast, and get to play the leads. Good for them!!!

    So far, they don't have much of a chance in North America. Hollywood whitewashes so many roles, it's ridiculous... like 21. Also, they remake good Asian movies into really bad Hollywood movies (like Lakehouse, Uninvited). Why not just show the good Asian movies in the US? Hollywood even whitewashes the streets of LA and SF... I am shocked when they show street scenes without a single Asian person, when Asians are like ~40% of San Francisco!!!

  • Ree-darn-dunc-ulous | October 29, 2012 9:41 PMReply

    I totally agree with MANAA. I'm Black and was COMPLETELY OFFENDED by the fact that not one single Asian man had an even remotely leading role, and instead cast (obvious) white men in the roles. There was even a short scene with one Black actor madeup with eye prosthetics (not sure what that was supposed to be about). Not only that, Cloud Atlas was an astonishing case of blatant white male patriarchy, with only white men having all the lead positions, whether good or evil. The movie, although 3 hours long, moved, and wasn't boring, but was more than a turnoff due to their treatment of Asian men.

  • David | October 27, 2012 9:16 PMReply

    I agree, the makeup was badly done, it was jarring to watch, and it stopped me from really believing in the character. But I can't really fault them for using Jim Sturgess in the role; it was the point they were artistically trying to make, that of the same spirit reappearing in similar roles throughout history. It fit with the vision the movie was trying to present. Were it done better, it would've been more effective.

  • Kurskij | October 27, 2012 9:29 AMReply

    "Would the directors have used blackface on a white actor...?"

    Gee, I don't know, Guy. Ask Ben Stiller.

  • ReelSchool | October 27, 2012 1:28 AMReply

    I actually thought, because it was 100 years in the future, that it was a comment on the amalgam of societies, cultures and races. That's why English was also spoken. Since, in all likelihood, North American culture, and Asian culture are going to be the two super powers... I thought that was the point? That's why with Keith David's character, they didn't change his skin colour. It was as if over generations, this is what people in Neo Seoul would look like, a combination of a lot of races. Someone also brought up a good point, Doona Bae played a red-headed Caucasian. No one's complaining about that. Just appreciate the film for what it is - a celebration of love and humanity, instead of trying to tear it down because you don't understand the themes. These are the same people who said Inception was 'dumb' (not MANAA specifically) ... It's just too smart for you.

  • John Oursler | October 26, 2012 11:35 AMReply

    Unwarranted. Who's to say what the racial spectrum of Korea looks like them. Maybe he's mixed?

  • c | October 29, 2012 1:24 PM

    really... Korea is pretty much entirely asian country go check it out on wikipedia. The problem with hollywood and white america which pretty much runs s#%t is that they feel the need to dictate the conversation of racial identity as if they know more about another race than the race itself. Who is hollywood or anyone for that matter to say that a white man can play an asian character in a film. Its disgusting however I understand the politics of money thats at play however I do not agree with it at all. Dancing with wolves Kevin Costner is an indian. The last Samauri Tom Cruz goes back to feudal japan to teach the people the way of the sword...really really. Unwarranted and pretty much disrespectful.

  • dudeabides | October 25, 2012 5:48 PMReply

    Once again you guys have proven to lack a single journalistic bone...in Cloud Atlas black actors play whites, white actors play blacks, asian actors play whites/mexicans. The film is intended to look at the human race free of any racial preconceptions. Get it right!

  • Ree-darn-dunc-ulous | October 29, 2012 9:56 PM

    yes, but not one single asian man plays any substantial role - asian men were only in the movie as background extras. it was obvious and in poor taste. not only that, but the "mexican" (called a wetback in the movie) was such a stereotype it was ridiculous. very sad that a movie that supposedly wanted to show the interconnected-ness of everyone in the world would stoop to such racist and divisive lows.

    even if exception was made for jim sturgess to be madeup to look asian since he would return later in the movie as the white abolitionist, there was no justification for having the other asian males of prominence really white men in yellow face . i mean they even made the elderly asian doctor a white man in asian face! it was ridiculous.

  • MDL | October 25, 2012 5:44 PMReply

    A white actor should not be cast as a Korean. But Hollywood [if we can call this a Hollywood movie] continues to cast like it's the 1940's. Forget the make-up. Just start casting the right kind of actors for the right roles. What next, Johnny Depp as a Native American indian? Wait....

  • Sean | October 25, 2012 5:26 PMReply

    I agree that this attempt would be pretty suspect, but the Wachowski's were bound to a conceit that required the same actors to play multiple characters over different time periods (and locations spanning the glove -- thus, the different races). I imagine they were concerned about the representation, but committed to idea.

  • Myra | October 25, 2012 5:01 PMReply

    Let's not forget that Jim Sturgess was also the lead in 21, the whitewashed version of the book Bringing Down the House. In the real MIT Blackjack Team, part of the requirement for joining it was being Asian because the organizer thought Asians were less likely to be suspected of cheating (and he was right). Is Sturgess the new Myrna Loy?