Yesterday, in fact, a friend asked me on Facebook what I thought of the film. Someone else — a mutual “friend,” someone I was once close to, and have since drifted away from for reasons that may seem obvious after you read the following — popped in to give her two cents before I replied.
For the sake of this post, taken from Facebook with only the tiniest of editing for brevity, I will call her Gladys. My decision to change the name of someone who posted under her legal moniker to Facebook is merely a courtesy because we were once friends. As a rule, I think people should be held accountable for their words on the Internet. But this morning I’m feeling like a nice guy.
Gladys has not seen Cloud Atlas. But being a solid liberal** who enjoys becoming instantly incensed about things like white privilege (which is a HUGELY sexy I’m-furious-on-the-Internet topic among science fiction/fantasy readers these days) as soon as she read that someone of color, somewhere, was a offended by something she knew that she’s offended by it, too. Even though, you know, she hasn’t seen it.
For the record: Believe me, I know that white privilege exists. I also know that Hollywood does a piss-poor job of telling stories with minority actors, and they love to cast “bankable” (white) stars in ethnic roles that could well be played by actors of that race. This is, indeed, a shitty deal.
But that’s not what’s going on with Cloud Atlas. Quite the opposite, in fact — actors play multiple roles in service to a larger theme, that of personalities/souls existing in a continuum that transcends race or gender. No one seems to have a problem with Asians playing white, or a black actor playing Asian, or women playing men, or men playing women. Or, for that matter, Halle Berry playing a German Caucasian, seen here. To call just one character in the film — the one played by Jim Sturgess in one of the six simultaneous storylines — “yellowface” is miss the entire point of the film. Which is easy to do when you haven’t seen it.
Below is my opinion of Cloud Atlas, and the irritating Facebook exchange. Enjoy.
Gladys Personally I’m not going to bother. I can’t deal with the decision to put white actors in yellowface rather than use Asian actors. Just can’t. It’s fucking 2012.
Dawn Taylor I loved it. It’s huge, and epic, and beautiful to look at, all about the experience of humanity that’s common to all people, no matter when or how they exist — love, evil, betrayal, how the choices we make affect those around us, about choosing to act for others and not just yourself. It has multiple storylines in different time periods, with actors playing analogs of their characters in the other stories. As for the race issue: the main actors play multiple characters, and the Korean actress — who has one of the largest roles — also plays Caucasian in another story. Men are sometimes women, women play men … there’s an overarching theme of “humanness” encompassing more than race or gender that’s explored by having the actors do this.
Gladys I prefer to take my cue from actual Asian people, who are offended by this. http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/cloud-atlas-asian-actors-yellow-face-MANAA-383070 21 hours ago · Like
Dawn Taylor You can take your cue from whoever you like. J asked for my opinion, since I’ve seen the film. You haven’t. The author of that piece on racebending.com hasn’t, and had a knee-jerk reaction to the film’s trailer. There’s no indication that members of the advocacy group quoted in the Hollywood Reporter piece had seen it, either. The Wachowskis have said that they considered casting Asian actors, but as they’re playing versions/reincarnations/analogs of the same people from story to story, they felt it would be confusing to cast different actors in each segment — the audience would have trouble grasping that they were the same people in each storyline.
Dawn Taylor It’s actually kind of sad that this is being made an issue of, when the very point of the film is about the absolute opposite of this kind of divisive crap. But please, feel free to take your cues from a special interest group that has an outraged reaction to something that they haven’t seen yet. In the case of something like “The Last Airbender,” the casting of a Caucasian was, indeed, deeply stupid and offensive. In this case, it’s actually part-and-parcel of the entire point of the film. One could also be offended that Hugo Weaving plays a female in one story, when actual female actresses could use the work. It misses the point entirely.
Gladys An Asian man had a knee-jerk reaction to seeing white people in yellowface. Go figure. But whitesplaining that it’s Art makes it OK. And Asians are a special interest group. Just like blacks and women I guess. Voting for Romney this year are we?
Dawn Taylor Oh, jesus christ. “Whitesplaining?” Fuck off.
** DISCLOSURE: I consider myself a liberal, as well!