Negative portrayals of Asian Americans in films

Samantha Bee reminds of the complicity of Hollywood in creating anti-Asian prejudice in the way that for so long they cast white people to play Asian characters, often in stereotypical ways. I did not know that even John Wayne had once played Genghis Khan. Or to be more accurate, he played himself as usual, with different makeup.


  1. John Morales says

    I don’t think Genghis Khan was an Asian American. 🙂

    Regarding vintage films, I do know The King and I was banned in Thailand as they felt Yul Brynner’s portrayal of King Mongkut was very disrespectful.

    (There were no Thais in that film)

  2. Silentbob says

    Sometimes you’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

    I think the leftmost actor in the thumbnail is the Ancient One from the Marvel movies.

    In the comics (from the 60s) the Ancient One is very much an Asian stereotype -- the inscrutable Oriental sage. They didn’t want to do that in the movies. So they 1) gender flipped the character to make her a woman and 2) made her a Celtic sage instead of Asian to avoid the stereotype.

    So guess what? -- They were deluged with criticism for “whitewashing” and Asian character. *facepalm*

    They even called out stereotyping in the movie by having the hero make a fool of himself by assuming the Ancient One was an Asian man. But it didn’t save them.

    This anecdote is not to deny appalling stereotyping of Asian actors, or actual “whitewashing” of characters, which is very much a thing. I still cringe at Joseph Wiseman playing Dr No by slicking his hair back and wearing a high collared jacket. X-(

  3. sonofrojblake says

    The example of the Ancient One is a particularly annoying example of certain morons on the left playing into the hands of the rightwingnuts by being impossible-to-please snowflakes. Movie studios would be somewhat justified in looking at the kicking Marvel took for their decisions there and just thinking “fuck it”.

    David Carradine is surely the ur-example, though -- not just playing an Asian stereotype, but actually “stealing” (or rather, participating in the stealing of) the part from the person who created not just the role but the entire series concept that featured it, who was actually Asian.

  4. John Morales says


    That’s from 1929.

    “Warner Oland, an actor of Swedish descent, was so believable in the role of Fu Manchu that he embarked on a career of playing Asian types throughout the 1930s, portraying the famous Asian detective Charlie Chan, until his death in 1938.

    The Mysterious Dr. Fu Manchu incorporates several Yellow Peril stereotypes typical of that era in its portrayal of Fu Manchu, including his skillful use of poison, blow darts, and use of hypnosis to control a white woman throughout the film.”

  5. sonofrojblake says

    OK, “ur-example” was wrong, as it very obviously wasn’t the first by a long way. “Worst example”, probably.

  6. Rob Grigjanis says

    sonofrojblake @4:

    actually “stealing” (or rather, participating in the stealing of) the part from the person who created not just the role but the entire series concept that featured it, who was actually Asian.

    That seems to be a myth.

  7. Pierce R. Butler says

    … John Wayne had once played Genghis Khan.

    In a movie filmed in Utah, downwind from the site of recent A-bomb testing. Many speculate the cancer which finally killed him began then.

  8. birgerjohansson says

    Rob Grigjanis @ 8
    I did not know David Carradine was into drugs during that part of his career.
    It is sad that he did not manage to settle in a less turbulent personal life, as he might have lived longer. I have seen him in many B films, his professionalism was usually what made them enjoyable.
    I am glad Warner Oland managed to portray a less sinister Asian stereotype before he died.
    BTW Charlie Chan inspired film makers to create another Asian detective. With poor timing of 1930s geopolitics they invented the Japanese detective Mr. Moto.

  9. DrVanNostrand says

    This reminds me of the time I saw the movie Short Circuit on cable several years ago. I watched a few minutes because I remembered it from when I was a kid. In addition to finding it to be much worse than I remembered, I was horrified that the Indian character was a white dude in brownface, doing an accent like Apu from The Simpsons. What the hell were our parents showing us in the 80s???

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