"Excuse me while I go giggle behind my delicate Asian hand."

So begins the blogger Michelle Villemaire as she describes her project to own a piece of Hollywood history by "correcting yellowface" in the cinema. Villemaire, who admits she is no photographer and hasn't a clue what an f-stop is, brought to life a one-woman project where she recreated famous Hollywood roles that had been "whitewashed" by non-Asian actors portraying Asians on the screen.

Picked up by popular social media sites such as "Upworthy" and "Buzzfeed," Villemaire's post has gone viral, being featured by national outlets, such as NBC news and international media, such as The Guardian.

Blogger Michelle Villemaire describes herself as half-Thai.

"To me, correcting yellowface means taking back and reminding others about our power, history, and stories," Villemaire told NBC News. "The responses that I have been getting in regards to the project have been so powerful and that just shows me how strong the Asian American community is."

Villemaire started off her project with a remake of "The Good Earth."

"This role should have gone to my girl Anna May Wong," wrote Villemaire. "But back then it was illegal for People of Color to play opposite white people as romantic leads. Since they had already cast a white actor to play the husband- the role of Olan was played by Luise Rainer- a white woman of German descent. The academy awarded her an Oscar for it."

Villemaire admitted she was intimidated at the thought of replacing Katharine Hepburn, but with a little coaching from her husband, she managed to make herself do it. 

She writes, "Katharine Hepburn. One of the greatest American actresses of all time. But hold up- what did they do to her face? Why I do believe they taped her eyes to make them appear more Chinese. This is yellowface with a capital yellow."

Villemaire recognizes the irony of her situation when she writes, "I considered calling this post Wictor Wictoria because it occurred to me that I was an Asian woman trying to be a white woman trying to be an Asian woman."

1940s actress Myrna Loy played whitewashed characters so many times, Villemaire had a hard time choosing just one photograph to recreate.

She writes: "Myrna Loy was one hot white- I mean Chinese girl! Shooting this one really started to mess with me and my ideas of beauty. That face! Those eyes! Those gorgeous BLUE eyes!"

Villemaire went back to her Thai roots in re-appropriating the character of Tuptim from "The King and I" (Yul Brenner version). While the film did use a minority actor to play the Thai concubine, Rita Moreno was Latina, not Asian.

The 2016 live-action production of popular Japanese manga series, "Ghost in the Shell" featured blonde-haired, blue-eyed Scarlett Johansson playing the beloved protagonist. Most of the criticism of the movie was leveled at the casting of a white woman as a Japanese cultural hero. At one point, it was even rumored that the director experimented with CGI that would put Asian facial features on Johansson's face.

Villemaire wrote: "Who doesn’t want to be a Japanese manga character!! You cannot blame Scarlett Johansson for wanting to play Motoko Kusanagi in Ghost in the Shell, but maybe she could’ve just done some cosplay at Comicon and stepped aside for someone like Karen Fukuhara or Rinko Kukuchi or Kiki Sukezane or [insert Asian actress] or ME to have a turn?"

Villemaire ends her photo essay with another very white actress, Emma Stone, who played a half-Asian character in "Aloha" directed by Cameron Crowe.

Stone herself responded to the widespread criticism with, "I’ve become the butt of many jokes,” she said, referring to her role in Aloha. “I’ve learned on a macro level about the insane history of whitewashing in Hollywood and how prevalent the problem truly is. It’s ignited a conversation that’s very important."

Hollywood has been casting white actors in Asian roles since the early days of the film industry. One of the earliest examples is Mary Pickford playing Cho-Cho San in 1915's "Madame Butterfly."

One of the most egregious examples is Andy Rooney's portrayal of Mr. Yunioshi in "Breakfast at Tiffany's." In the 1961 film, Rooney pulls out all the stereotypes of the bucktoothed Japanese man, sporting Hirohito round glasses and a caricatured Japanese accent.

in a 2008 interview with the Scaramento Bee, Rooney defended his portrayal of the charater, saying, "Blake Edwards, who directed the picture, wanted me to do it because he was a comedy director. They hired me to do this overboard, and we had fun doing it." Not everyone found it to be a good joke, however. Council of Asian Pacific Islanders Together for Advocacy and Leadership, an umbrella group for more than 90 local organizations, told the Sacramento City Council that Rooney's character perpetuated "offensive, derogatory and hateful racial stereotypes detrimental and destructive to our society."

In the 2008 Film “21” the story of real-life Asian American blackjack players was re-cast to feature white actors in every prominent role.

In 2009 we have "Dragonball Evolution" where another iconic Japanese character, Goku, was whitewashed with the casting of Justin Chatwin.

In The Last Airbender (2010) all of the leading Asian characters from the original animated series were played by white actors. Film critic Roger Ebert wrote, “After the miscalculation of making the movie as live action, there remained the challenge of casting it. Shyamalan has failed. His first inexplicable mistake was to change the races of the leading characters; on television Aang was clearly Asian, and so were Katara and Sokka, with perhaps Mongolian and Inuit genes. Here they’re all whites. This casting makes no sense.”

The year 2012 brought us "Cloud Atlas" whose protagonist is a Korean played by white British actor Jim Sturgess This didn't sit well with Guy Aoki, Media Action Network for Asian Americans president, who issued a statement saying, "It appears that to turn white and black actors into Asian characters, the make-up artists believed they only had to change their eyes, not their facial structure and complexion.”

Even in 2016 we have Tilda Swinton, in "Doctor Strange," playing a Tibetan MAN. It's been speculated that the references to Tibet were removed to make the film more palatable to the Chinese government, which censors films for the lucrative Chinese moviegoing audience. Swinton, looking very Asian in the film, defended the portrayal, saying, "Well, it’s not actually an Asian character — that’s what I need to tell you about it. I wasn’t asked to play an Asian character, you can be very well assured of that. You just have to wait and see, because it’s not an Asian character."

In an interview with NBC news, Villemaire said that even today, only women who have a certain skin color and eye shape are permitted in the film industry. "To this day white people are cast as Asians, deepening the message that Asians just aren't wanted," she said.

Villemaire ends her photo journal with a message to Asian actors everywhere. "Sometimes, when other people aren’t doing things right you just gotta Do IT Yourself. During this project there were moments of empowerment, sadness, frustration, satisfaction and glee," she wrote. "And it was so worth it . . . This photographic journey is a love letter to all my Asian brothers and sisters out there trying to break into a tough business. I feel your struggle. But please keep fighting the fight. You are talented. You are beautiful. And goddammit, we belong in the picture."

Credits: Aceshowbiz.com, Apa340.wordpress.com, Buzzfeed.com, Deseretnews.com, Dlisted.com, Funny-pictures.picphotos.net, Huffingtonpost.com, Girlsdofilm.com, Homemademimi.com, MaryPickford.org, NBCnews.com, Racebending.com, Stepuphollywood.com, TVTropes.com, Upworthy.com, Yellow-face.com, Youtube.com

Created By
Karyn Campbell

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