Cloud Atlas is an adaptation of David Mitchell’s novel of the same name. Of his book, Mitchell said, “literally all of the main characters, except one, are reincarnations of the same soul in different bodies throughout the novel identified by a birthmark…that’s just a symbol really of the universality of human nature.”
The Wachowskis try to be progressive by using the same cast members across six storylines in different eras of human existence. However, their anti-male bias is loud and clear. They have some male characters play females and vice versa. They also have ethnic actors play white characters and white actors play ethnic characters. Absent is black-face to not offend the vocal Black community . However, yellowface is used liberally against Asian male characters. Furthermore, as in the most other western media, gendered racism rears its ugly head by casting Asian female actress along side white male lovers and casting Asian male…well, off screen, so they won’t get in the way of the alien-like stereotypes/yellowface. White male actors play Asian male characters while no Asian male actors play major characters.
James D’Arcy, Hugo Weaving, and Jim Sturgess play Asian Archivist, Boardman Mephi, Hae-Joo Chang – white men stealing Asian male roles.
Guy Aoki of MANAA who attended a pre-screening of the film said, “When you first see Hugo Weaving as a Korean executioner, there’s this big close-up of him in this totally unconvincing Asian make-up. The Asian Americans at the pre-screening burst out laughing because he looked terrible–like a Vulcan on Star Trek”. It looks as if the only feature altered was the eyes and the make-up artists did a terrible job of it at that. The Wachowskis thought that such superficial changes to make a stereotypical look was acceptable. They didn’t even try to change the structure of the nose or lips to reflect how east-Asian men might actually look. They even kept the same hair white man’s hairstyle, or in the case of James D’Arcy’s character, gave him a bald cap. The problem here is the same problem that women had hundreds of years ago – men played the roles of women because it was unacceptable to have a women on stage. White directors would rather fumble with makeup, even if they botch it, to try to shoehorn a white actor into a role clearly created for Asians rather than allow Asians to represent themselves.
The topic of blackface naturally comes to mind in situations like this. Throughout the film, all of the black characters are played by black actors. Blackface is absent throughout the film. Yet, yellowface occurs for all of the major Asian male characters. Unfortunately, this practice is still accepted in western society. The Wachowskis are cunning in this way – they know that the backlash of blackfacing the major black characters Autua (played by David Gyasi) and Joe Napier (played by Keith David) would create outrage. Yet yellowface is deemed perfectly fine, and the Wachowskis do so despite not needing to do so to preserve the integrity of the source work. White directors with bigoted tendencies must have an outlet to express it and if one avenue is blocked, they will find another way.
The Wachowskis say their movie is colorblind in that it is supposed to show that ethnicity does not matter and that all human beings experience suffering and redemption. They excuse themselves by having ethnic actors play white roles and roles of other ethnicities. Let’s take a look at their justifcation for racism.
Scenes #2 & 3:
Doona Bae as two white women and a Mexican woman.
Halle Berry as white woman Jocasta and Asian “grandpa” Ovid. Ovid’s appearance is rather telling especially when compared side by side with the rest of the Asians. The gendered racism against Asians becomes crystal clear.
Asian female without yellowface?
You say “but but but…that’s just one. You’re cherry picking! You’re being over-sensitive”…How about Asian female triplets without yellowface?
You say “but bu but but…that’s not fair. that’s just random luck.”… How about an platoon of Asian females without yellowface?
And finally, I present you, the “Asian men” of Cloud Atlas – all in glorious yellowface. They would make Fu Manchu proud!
This Western hatred against Asian men is scary but you won’t notice it until it is spelt out because you’ve been accustomed to it, just like fish in water.
You can tell the Asian female is visibly shaken by all this. It does not matter how much Scotch™ tape Sturgess wears, his Asian fetishizing creepiness floods the screen.
The directors and make-up artists clearly focused more on making these women of color look white than they did on making white men look Asian. And it looks like they did a terrible job of this as well. Doona Bae in white-face looks like an Asian woman with an identity crisis – the make-up artists dyed her hair and gave her colored contacts in an attempt to make her white. However, her facial and nose structures still look Asian. Halle Berry as a white woman isn’t convincing – she still looks ethnic. What is up with Doona Bae as Mexican woman and Halle Berry as Ovid? These two roles were shown so briefly, that viewers could not have known these were the same actors.
The Wachowskis justify their use of yellowface by saying that the movie is supposed to transcend race. If that’s the case, then why were all of the roles of white men given to white men? Why weren’t Asian men casted for the white men roles that Jim Sturgess, James D’Arcy and Hugo Weaving played? Clearly, the Wachowskis have bias, explicit or implicit, against Asian men. Cloud Atlas, Sense 8 and Jupiter Ascending are examples of this. Not only do they yellowface Asian male characters, they also exclude Asian male actors from playing any positive roles.