Tied to blackface and the portrayal of African Americans on the stage by whites in the nineteenth century, the term yellowface appears as early as the 1950s to describe the continuation in film of having white actors playing major Asian and Asian American roles and the grouping together of all makeup technologies used to make one look "Asian." Thanks to the power of film executives in casting, Asian and Asian Americans who had decades of theatrical experience in vaudeville were unable to find work or were relegated to stereotypical roles--laundrymen, prostitutes, or servants.
- Krystyn R. Moon
Yellowface: Creating the Chinese in American Popular Music and Performance, 1850-1920s (page 164)
My intention is not to contest the quality of the films or performances, or to discuss the gray area in any of the casting or films; history was what it was, complicated and reflected back in media in different ways with different motives. Rather, my intent is to...
( Allow the images--and the years--to do the talkingCollapse )
I know some people would disagree (I've spoken with them), but somehow I really don't think it makes me racist that I don't want to see any of this happen anymore.
Yellowface helps to ensure that top acting roles continue to fall into white hands. Asians and other minorities have become acceptable to see in small roles such as sidekicks, maids, war enemies, etc. It is rare enough that a good script is written that calls for an Asian in a leading role. When these scripts do arise, yellowface makes it acceptable for that role to go to a white person. Producers claimed that audiences didn’t want to look at an Asian lead for so long, or that there weren’t any qualified Asian actors.
- Peter Npstad
Western Visions: Fu Manchu and the Yellow Peril
Anyway, this is actually all going to go somewhere eventually, but it's a lengthy and multi-faceted point, and I thought it would be more palatable in small chunks like this.