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Nope, Still Not OK: Absolutely Fabulous’ Yellowface Casting


British comedy film Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie, based on the BBC sitcom is coming under fire for using yellowface. Scottish actor Janette Tough will be playing “male Japanese fashion designer” Huki Muki (who some sources say is meant to resemble artist Yayoi Kusama). Critique of this casting decision began with Margaret Cho calling out AbFab on Twitter.

The AbFab producers have not yet commented on the casting decision, but plenty of articles and comments have appeared on the subject, with more than one defending the casting.

The most frustrating thing about AbFab‘s use of yellowface coming out is that it feels like we’re having the same conversation over and over, with lots of apologists defending the decision as simply “acting,” a “joke,” or accusing those who criticized the casting as racist downers who want to censor comedy with their political correctness.

This isn’t a new thing. Yellowface wasn’t ok when Mickey Rooney did it in 1961 (Breakfast at Tiffany’s), it wasn’t cool when Charles B. Middleton did it as Ming the Merciless (Flash Gordon) in the 1930s, and it was racist when Warner Oland played Fu Manchu in 1929. And guess what? It’s still racist now. Even when the character isn’t played as a stereotypical racist caricature, it is still absolutely offensive. It was racist in Cloud Atlas when they pinned back Jim Sturgess’ eyes to make him look more Asian and in Aloha when Emma Stone was cast as an Asian-American woman. Wanna go even further back in time? It was racist in Sullivan and Gilbert’s opera The Mikado in the 1885, yet companies still insist on performing it with yellowface casts.

Also, I don’t know the details of Tough’s role, but “weird Asian artist” is another really annoying trope that lots of Asian artists have to deal with constantly, and I don’t need this movie enforcing it. A lot of Asian artists have to deal with having their work belittled, other-ed, or ridiculed simply because of orientalist sentiments, so this is more than just “Hollywood.” (Note: I also asked a Japanese-speaking friend whether “Huki Muki” is a name a Japanese person would ever have to which she replied “no LOL.”)

Being racist in the name of art or in the name of comedy is, or should be, just as unacceptable as being racist in “regular” life. Yes, actors are supposed to act. No, they don’t have to be exactly the character they play. But when you’re representing characters from marginalized communities, there’s a lot of responsibility that goes along with that, and hiring a white woman to play a Japanese character is a huge slap in the face (also, please don’t try to equate this to casting actors of color in traditionally white roles). Like Cho says, Asian actors have enough difficulty finding roles, so why would you give this role to a white actor?

(via Telegraph)

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