There may be stormy weather ahead for popular book adaptation Cloud Atlas after it was today revealed to have used white actors in make-up to play Korean, Maori and South Pacific Islander characters. In a statement to Asian Week, Guy Aoki, president of the Media Action Network for Asian Americans, condemned the film as a missed opportunity to break racial stereotypes and get away from the usual Hollywood racial pecking-order.
Particularly unhappy about the Korean segment of the film, he noted "Every major male character... is played by non-Asian actors in really bad yellowface make-up," and described Hugo Weaving as looking like a Vulcan from Star Trek.
Cloud Atlas makes a deliberate effort to challenge expectations, casting Halle Berry as a white woman in one segment and having other actors play against gender. The concerns that have been expressed don't simply relate to this crossover approach, however, but to the fact that only white and Afro-American actors appear in prominent roles, squeezing out other racial groups altogether. This reflects wider concerns that Asian actors are significantly under-represented in the US film industry, and are frequently typecast. The problem is still more acute for minority racial groups, rarely seen on the big screen at all - as reflected on by George Lucas in his decision to cast Maori actor Temuera Morrison as the last member of a dying race in his Star Wars prequels.
Aoki notes that the filmmakers' decision to use eye prosthetics to make white actors look vaguely Korean is inherently no different from putting white actors in blackface, which has long been taboo.
Cloud Atlas opens in the US today.