By Homemade Mimi
OK you guys. This might be my favorite DIY project ever. It’s personal. And it’s weird. And I’m a little giddy about it. Excuse me while I go giggle behind my delicate Asian hand. 😉
A few weeks ago, in a fit of frustration over the history of Hollywood whitewashing, I felt an urge to do something. I started taking pictures of myself. Not just random pictures. I took pictures of myself as Asian characters who were played by white women in film. And it felt sooooo good.
I put a chair in front of a white wall, set my camera timer, focused on my acting headshot (which had never seen so much action until this project) and ran into place hoping that my head was tilted just right and that I could get into character and emote something before the shutter started to click.
Why did I do this?
Growing up, I didn’t see many faces like mine on television and film. And because I wanted to be an actor it was really hard to believe that I could ever be one. Only women who had a certain skin color and eye shape were really allowed on screen, right? To this day white people are cast as Asians, deepening the message that Asians just aren’t wanted.
Hey, Hollywood is just a town of fallible humans. Producers, directors and casting agents? They make mistakes- and they need a little help. So, my friends, I decided to try my hand at correcting the yellowface.
I had doubts about my ability to pull off believable versions of these characters. Maybe I can’t do this, I thought. Maybe there’s a legit reason they don’t cast us. Maybe I’m not a good actor. Maybe I’m not beautiful enough.
But I kinda needed to know that I was. So I did this.
Luise Rainer in The Good Earth
Did y’all read The Good Earth in junior high? Do you remember when Olan birthed that baby and went right back to plowing the fields? Aw yeah. I was so proud to be of Chinese descent when I read that.
This role should have gone to my girl Anna May Wong 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.
I just have to say- I didn’t wear makeup in this shot. A challenge for me and perhaps I will grant myself my own award for that. But Olan was a Chinese farmer. She birthed her babies in the fields and got right back to plowing. I wanted my sun spots to show, because imagine being a Chinese farmer- how bad for your skin! I look at my driver’s side arm and imagine THAT all over my face. My grandfather’s family were farmers in China and I love hearing his stories about riding to Thailand on horseback and eating stone soup. This one’s for you, grandpa.
Katharine Hepburn in Dragon Seed
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.
It was also one of the most challenging photos to shoot. One, because it’s Katharine Hepburn and I didn’t want to disrespect the queen may she rest in peace. And two, trying to recreate one of our greatest actors’ expressions while that actress’s face has been tampered with is just some crazy gymnastics. I really got into my head here and it wasn’t pretty. 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.
To see more check out Homemade Mimi, she does Myrna Loy, Scarlett Johansson, Emma Stone and more.