The practice of white actors changing their appearance with makeup in order to play East Asian characters in films, plays, etc.

Yellowface marks the Asian body as unmistakably Oriental, it sharply defines Oriental in a racial opposition to whiteness. It exaggerates “racial” features that have been designated ‘Oriental’ such as ‘slanted’ eyes, overbite, and “mustard yellow skin color”.

Yellowface is more prevalent than many think, even honored, in a way, there are more white actresses who have won Oscars playing Asian characters than Asian actresses who’ve won playing Asian characters. Example: Luise Raines, The Good Earth, and Linda Hunt, The Year of Living Dangerously.


The habit of casting white actors to play non-white characters.


  • 2010 “The Last Airbender” M.Night Shymalan’s “The Last Airbender” is a live-action film based on an anime show “Avatar: The Last Airbender”, influenced by East Asian culture and inspired by Japanese anime. However, the cast consisted of white actors as Asian and Native American characters. In fact, the only Asian role was cast as the villain, which many called out to be racist.
  • 2017 “Death Note” Originally, “Death Note” was a manga turn anime series that Netflix decided to make into a live-action adaption. Instead of casting a Japanese actor to play the Japanese main character, they cast a non-Japanese actor instead. The Netflix adaption included a majority white cast, which was immediately called out for.


Miss Saigon started with an audacious idea- create a musical that explores the end of the Vietnam war through an ill-fated romance between a Vietnamese virginal bar girl and a hunky American G.I. The yellowface problem- an acclaimed white British actor, Jonathan Pryce, wearing prosthetics to alter the shape of his eyes and makeup to alter the color of his skin as he played the show’s leading man, a scheming Eurasian pimp called The Engineer.

The Mikado is a source of offense and insult to the Asian American community, for its worst ignorant cultural appropriation and the ongoing yellowface issue of 19th century Japanese signifiers. The play consisted of white actors portraying Japanese characters is definitive whitewashing; their caricatured makeup, costumes, and poses as yellowface in the highest form.

Whitewashing and yellowface commonly go hand in hand.


Yellow Fever: Fetishizing Asian women
Asian women are seen as naturally inclined to serve men sexually and are thought of as slim, light-skinned, and small. Asian women in 1930s films were depicted as exotic femme fetales, weaponizing their sexuality to the detriment of men around them. For examples: “The Dragon Lady” & “The China Doll”

The White Savior
Matt Damon in The Great War: Damon plays one of the heroes in the China set film, a casting choice that was slammed as perpetuating the white savior myth.

Miss Saigon: In the play, Chris, the American soldier who laments “I’m an American, how could I fail to do good?” He spends much of the show emotionally wrestling about how to save his young Vietnamese lover, Kim.


Asian American actors or actresses are constantly token characters in Western films, which could also be known as background characters, such that they are usually disposable, and are eliminated from the narrative early in the story, in order to enhance the drama, while conserving the main characters.