10:24 am - 07/24/2014

Yellowface in Woody Allen's Magic in the Moonlight


BY Andrew Linde

Woody Allen films tend to vary from subject to subject. Last year’s Blue Jasmine was a drama about a woman dealing with the loss of her husband and her high society lifestyle. But we’re used to seeing him do comedy, and that is what his new film is.

Magic in the Moonlight is about Stanley, played by Colin Firth, who is asked to debunk supposed spirit medium Sophie, played by Emma Stone, fooling a family in France. Stanley is also a magician and goes by the stage name of Wei Ling Soo. Considering Colin Firth is an Englishman, this stage name shouldn’t fool anyone. That is why he wears make-up, a bald cap, and a fake mustache. In fact, one might describe his on stage disguise as looking like an Asian sterotype. And that person would be right!

So, how did this happen? Did we just forget about Jim Sturgess in Cloud Atlas and how people reacted to that? I haven’t seen Magic in the Moonlight, but I have a theory. The film takes place in the 1920s in France. Given the time period and location, this instance of yellowface is meant to show how the world used to be. A magician could sell more tickets by pretending to be from Asia. It will simply be a passing detail. Most of the trailer shows Colin Firth as himself.

In fact, Firth’s character seems to be inspired by real life magician William Ellsworth Robinson who performed as Chung Ling Soo until his death onstage in 1918.

I also don’t think the use of yellowface will be a punchline. In the trailer, to show off Sophie’s psychic abilities when she first meets Stanley she says, “I’m getting a mental impression. Are you from the Orient? Far East?” This is a jab at Stanley’s alter ego, Wei Ling Soo, not a joke about Asians or Asian culture. The film seems more focused on romance between the leads and how Sophie could actually have magical mind-reading powers.

Also, given the controversy Woody Allen just went through regarding his daughter, shouldn’t he stay away from such touchy subjects? At this point, removing the yellowface would be nothing more than censorship based on audience/advertising pressure.

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mikochin Too early for this shit24th-Jul-2014 05:47 pm (UTC)
metyouwho Re: Too early for this shit24th-Jul-2014 06:09 pm (UTC)
yasss loved her!
morgan90 24th-Jul-2014 05:48 pm (UTC)
Can't wait for the SJWs of ONTD to pretend they care about Asians

Then when an actual Asian person comes in and says they don't care they'll get accused of ~false consciousness~
mikochin 24th-Jul-2014 05:53 pm (UTC)
I hope he does a stereotypical accent as well. That would make this post amazing tbh!
morgan90 24th-Jul-2014 05:55 pm (UTC)
My fav ONTD Asian racism comment was when someone said it was okay for them to hate Asians because they're black and therefore Asians don't have privilege over them
gagglefuck 24th-Jul-2014 06:10 pm (UTC)
He probably will have one in the film.
maynardsong 24th-Jul-2014 05:54 pm (UTC)
Woody Allen is already sucky for the whole child molesting thing, so presenting yellowface is just the icing on a shit sundae. I'll say fair enough to an East Asian (I /am/ South Asian, which IS Asian last time I checked) who doesn't care but I just loathe Woody Allen so
infidelkast 24th-Jul-2014 06:01 pm (UTC)
I mean.......of all comments to make in a post about Woody Allen doing something explicitly racist......
leperheart 24th-Jul-2014 06:01 pm (UTC)
Or a certain Rihanna stan will come in and tell them to get over it
chilli_cheese 24th-Jul-2014 06:23 pm (UTC)
don't front as if self-hating Asians/minorities who will excuse racism against them to be ~cool~ or ~fit in~ isn't a very real thing.

I agree though about ONTD not caring abt Asians.
rhapsodeeinblue 24th-Jul-2014 08:19 pm (UTC)
k but there are lots of Asians on ONTD (such as myself) who do care so don't pretend we're all white SJWs or something
mimblexwimble 24th-Jul-2014 10:10 pm (UTC)
because none of the "sjws of ontd" are asian...
telepathic 25th-Jul-2014 09:43 pm (UTC)
lol go fuck yourself. this comment isn't nearly as witty as you think
turkish_popstar 24th-Jul-2014 05:48 pm (UTC)
jw did ontd get messy when Roger Sterling wore black face on Mad Men?
bellwetherr 24th-Jul-2014 05:56 pm (UTC)
lol yeah actually.
turkish_popstar 24th-Jul-2014 06:08 pm (UTC)
thank you glasses steve
gagglefuck 24th-Jul-2014 06:15 pm (UTC)

Figured I'd google image this Roger Sterling since I've never seen Mad Men and yikes...
calcified 24th-Jul-2014 06:25 pm (UTC)
but like........ that was meant to be showing him as a huge racist. which the show has done numerous times? it's social commentary
ljubavirakija 24th-Jul-2014 05:50 pm (UTC)
Why am I not surprised?
hateistoodark 24th-Jul-2014 05:51 pm (UTC)
Ugh Colin WHY
lianri 24th-Jul-2014 05:57 pm (UTC)
literally came here to write that
bellwetherr 24th-Jul-2014 05:57 pm (UTC)
somnus_angel 24th-Jul-2014 06:04 pm (UTC)
Ugh same, another 2014 victim *sigh*.
hateistoodark 24th-Jul-2014 06:05 pm (UTC)
I still haven't recovered from Gary Oldman
Remind me to never trust older white men
tebtosca 24th-Jul-2014 06:31 pm (UTC)
well, he's already working on a Woody Allen movie, so the bar is starting low
arielazul_22 24th-Jul-2014 11:57 pm (UTC)
yeah, this is beyond disappointing...
robintheshrew 26th-Jul-2014 03:51 am (UTC)
I mean, he agreed to make a Woody Allen movie, he's already a shitstain
ellesmereisland 24th-Jul-2014 06:02 pm (UTC)
So the article is offering up this: "Given the time period and location, this instance of yellowface is meant to show how the world used to be," as an explanation for the yellowface (conspicuously, there is little mention of how this is treated within the movie (just the author's speculation), as if merely presenting historic racism without critical insight is good enough, when it's not).

But, even if you accepted that as a reasonable excuse, I still don't get how someone could bring themselves to dress up in this racist caricature costume today? Esp. in a situation where Colin Firth is presumably not so hard up for work that he's worried about loss of income etc from not cooperating? Why would you just go along with something like this, for a movie?
la_petite_singe 24th-Jul-2014 06:07 pm (UTC)
The author hasn't seen the movie yet, so I guess that's why they're just speculating from the trailer and not talking in detail about how it's used/portrayed in the movie.
ellesmereisland 24th-Jul-2014 06:17 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I got that, so in this instance, wouldn't it have been better to not write an article defending something they haven't seen yet? It's a bit premature to put this all down to "historical accuracy" or similar, when it's entirely possible (more than likely, I'd say) that this will turn out to be as bad as people suspect, and that in any case, people will rightfully object to having to see, once again, racist portrayals of Asian people in film.

The rush to make this ok before even seeing the film is suspect, basically.
saintvlas22 24th-Jul-2014 06:02 pm (UTC)
Hollywood still trying it with that yellowface, I see.

Fuck off Colin Firth.
la_petite_singe 24th-Jul-2014 06:04 pm (UTC)
I mean...this is what they did in the '20s, yes? Along with blackface? Gross and antiquated, yes, but accurate, and it seems like he's meant to look like an idiot doing it -- like, he claims she's a fraud, but he's obviously being a huge, obvious one himself. I've heard this movie isn't that good anyway, but it seems a weird thing to wank about in context. (And no, it's not really hipster racism. Which is also stupid.)
cageyb 24th-Jul-2014 06:10 pm (UTC)
Film-making is intentional. They chose to set this movie in the 1920s. They chose to tell this story in this way. They chose to display this form of racism in their story. They weren't forced to out of fealty to the attitudes of the time period. They made a deliberate choice to put an actor in yellowface when they could've written a story that conveyed the same ideas without resorting to this. There's no excuse.
kris_terror 24th-Jul-2014 06:14 pm (UTC)
So should we never tell stories that show the way that people were racist in the past? The movie is obviously meant to highlight that Firth is the hypocritical phony, it's critiquing his character.

Like you are meant to view his character as reprehensible.
bellwetherr 24th-Jul-2014 06:15 pm (UTC)
Basically. The excuse to be historically accurate kills me every time when its white people fucking over minorities. But try and bring up the fact that black people existed BEFORE slavery, and people look like you're speaking another language.
backtoblack 24th-Jul-2014 06:21 pm (UTC)
Thank you, there were plenty of snake-oil seller types in the 20s for them to pick from and they chose that INTENTIONALLY. No excuses.
chilli_cheese 24th-Jul-2014 06:26 pm (UTC)
lmao i love it when 'accuracy' always comes around when dealing with exclusion of minorities or racism against them, but artistic license with everything else. let's write a romance abt 50yr old and a 20yr old lol.
dull_and_wicked 24th-Jul-2014 06:42 pm (UTC)
not just any character, but the one that the audience is expected to root for too
lokiyan 24th-Jul-2014 06:38 pm (UTC)
I feel like it depends on the context. Obviously, none of us have seen this film, but from all the advert, his seeming foolish is a projection on his character rather than the Yellowface. If they were actually pointing out the mounting discrimination that Asians faced at that time period in conjunction to his act, then that's one thing. From the way they've marketed it so far, however, it seems like a casual detail in a ~whimsical~ romantic comedy about a charming white lady and her white befuddled beau.

ETA: The lack of any Asian actors in a significant role is also pretty telling about the tone of this movie re: racism.

Edited at 2014-07-24 06:41 pm (UTC)
agatharuncible 25th-Jul-2014 02:33 am (UTC)
I get where you're coming from but I think that the biggest issue is the way this will likely be treated in the movie.

I agree that movies shouldn't necessarily gloss over the horrible things that were common back then and which still have an effect now, or make it seem like prejudice was only invented when kids these days started listening to justin bieber and before that everything was perfect because it was the good ol' days.

BUT what people are taking issue with, I think, is the fact that it's very unlikely that this will be portrayed properly at all. it's more likely that it'll just be a joke, or that it's going be shown as an old thing that never happens now that we live in a ~post-racial society~ (which isn't true tbh). it's a comedy, the guy doing this is the romantic lead, and it's a woody allen movie. I don't really have much faith that the character's yellowface will be treated with any depth (like showing the very real ways in which racism affected the lives of many people).
cheekymonkeyboo 25th-Jul-2014 05:33 pm (UTC)
if its what they did in the 20's the film wouldnt really be making him seem to look like an idiot then? because it would have been seen as normal, so there would be no need to mock him so that right there dosnt make a connection for me. hes a magician...thats the part thats the fraud, he petends while on stage to perform actual tricks...that has nothing to do with hey hes actually pretending to beasian so hes a fraud just like her. he knows hes not a real magician.
cageyb 24th-Jul-2014 06:05 pm (UTC)
Side-eyeing actors who agree to do shit like this still.
mortoeroe 24th-Jul-2014 06:05 pm (UTC)
wait was there a recent controversy over his daughter i'm missing out on?
labhaoise 24th-Jul-2014 08:23 pm (UTC)
She accused him of molesting her as a child . There wasa pretty damming report of memory serves
bulastar 24th-Jul-2014 11:11 pm (UTC)
shit I thought you were talking about Colin Firth for a moment
walkintowalls99 24th-Jul-2014 06:07 pm (UTC)
LOL at ONTD predictably ragging Firth for this. It's not his movie or script, for fuck's sake. He does what the director tells him.
saintvlas22 24th-Jul-2014 06:11 pm (UTC)
And nobody forced him to take the part and sign that contract, so bye.
walkintowalls99 24th-Jul-2014 06:11 pm (UTC)
"bye." Nice comeback.
robintheshrew 26th-Jul-2014 03:53 am (UTC)
cageyb 24th-Jul-2014 06:13 pm (UTC)
He could've said no. It's not like this is his first ever film with a big name director and saying no means an end to his career.
wheresandrae 24th-Jul-2014 06:24 pm (UTC)
You have to be kidding. As if a gun was held to his head when he read the screenplay and signed onto the movie.
trymattys 24th-Jul-2014 09:40 pm (UTC)
lol at stans predictably running to defend a yt dude
agatharuncible 25th-Jul-2014 02:36 am (UTC)
I would have ragged him just for working with woody allen, even. he's not exactly a desperate nobody who needs to agree to work with a big-name director to not be shunned forever in the industry. he's got an established career and could have said no.
cheekymonkeyboo 25th-Jul-2014 05:39 pm (UTC)
yeah but you can make choices about if you want to be in yellow face or not..he wont starve for having morals (if he felt a certain way about this kind of make up which im gunna assume most white ppl dont). it wouldnt kill him if he said no, it also wouldnt have killed woody allen to not have yellow face in the movie.
gagglefuck 24th-Jul-2014 06:07 pm (UTC)
I was stunned when I first came across this image. I just couldn't believe what I was seeing.

This whole thing makes me feel very uncomfortable.

Edited at 2014-07-24 06:20 pm (UTC)
milfordacademy 24th-Jul-2014 06:57 pm (UTC)
holy shit
gagglefuck 24th-Jul-2014 06:59 pm (UTC)
I can't believe this is supposed to be a romantic comedy.
hobnailedboots 24th-Jul-2014 07:00 pm (UTC)
fucking hell.
pastelpinklace 24th-Jul-2014 07:43 pm (UTC)
It's bad enough the movie looks boring af
flawedinsomniac 24th-Jul-2014 07:48 pm (UTC)
I know! like I guess I shouldn't be shocked by whatever fucked up thing Woody Allen comes up with anymore, but it was still pretty disturbing
rhapsodeeinblue 24th-Jul-2014 08:20 pm (UTC)
curlycutie016 24th-Jul-2014 06:10 pm (UTC)
Has the "but it's set in the 1920s when people were racist?" argument been made yet?

(This isn't my POV, just curious?)
cageyb 24th-Jul-2014 06:14 pm (UTC)
a few comments above.
kairoso 24th-Jul-2014 06:14 pm (UTC)
yes look above or below lol
curlycutie016 24th-Jul-2014 06:15 pm (UTC)
I hit refresh...ahh there it is...

yes t'was a simpler time then, I'm glad racism is finished so we can all laugh about it now*

*said no one ever
ellesmereisland 24th-Jul-2014 06:19 pm (UTC)
Sadly, that is basically the gist of the article's argument.
troy_macclure 25th-Jul-2014 05:59 pm (UTC)
robintheshrew 26th-Jul-2014 03:54 am (UTC)
Like 8 times lol
notoriousreign 24th-Jul-2014 06:11 pm (UTC)
panta924 24th-Jul-2014 06:12 pm (UTC)
I don't get it.

Are we supposed to pretend that yellowface and blackface didn't exist back then?
cageyb 24th-Jul-2014 06:16 pm (UTC)
Why are white people so fascinated with continuously "exploring" that part of history though? *side-eye*
panta924 24th-Jul-2014 06:19 pm (UTC)
You can make that comment about essentially every film that features racism, bigotry, prejudice ever.

When Roger Sterling performed My Own Kentucky Home in blackface, it was horrible and cringeworthy. But that was the point!
curlycutie016 24th-Jul-2014 06:22 pm (UTC)
Because we like saying "see we aren't like that anymore" as we throw awards at 12 Years a Slave and none for Fruitvale Station because that movie made us feel bad about how racism is still a thing
robintheshrew 26th-Jul-2014 03:55 am (UTC)
milfordacademy 24th-Jul-2014 07:00 pm (UTC)
I'm sure Woody is going to make a very deep and incisive social commentary on yellowface, and not just play it for laughs. Colin Firth is the romantic lead in the film.
tx5mym5 24th-Jul-2014 07:04 pm (UTC)
Yeah, it existed, but there's always the question of why the writer/director choose to include it.

On Mad Men, it was to show how racist the character is and to remind us to not trust or like Roger. What's the use here? Why is the male protagonist in this romance movie in yellow face? How does this aid in characterization? I think Woody Allen made a racist choice for this role. Add in his reluctance to cast non-white actors*, and it clear there are several more reasons to dislike this fucker.

*Yes, after several complains years ago, he cast Chiwetel Ejiofor as the lead in two movies, but non-white actors in substantial role since. Even more glaring was his casting for “Bullets Over Broadway” play set in Harlem's Cotton Club and he once again only cast a single biracial black woman in the dance ensemble.
mimblexwimble 24th-Jul-2014 10:14 pm (UTC)
You pretend that Asians and Black people didn't exist back then all the time, I'm sure you'll do fine.
agatharuncible 25th-Jul-2014 02:38 am (UTC)
it existed, but I don't think this is going to be the best movie to tackle the subject. this is supposed to be some kind of wacky romantic comedy with colin firth's character as the lead, so it's probably going to be contextualised as an ancient thing that never happens now and which is just funny, instead of something rooted in prejudices that really affected (and continue to affect) people.
cheekymonkeyboo 25th-Jul-2014 05:45 pm (UTC)
no but funny how white film makers can pretend that asian and black ppl had depth back in the 20's and can never make films about that but can always seem to drum up movies about white ppl in yellow or black face.....of course ppl know it was a thing but in an idustry that ignores poc almost completely why do i want the only color i see to be on a white man that just happens to have black or yellow face as a part of his act? should i be jumping for joy when i see that? lets not act like ppl here dont understand its historical context and just a part of life in that time period but so what?? what is your point??? we cant be upset with anything..
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