Asian American tackles Hollywood whitewashing

By Wei Xi Source:Global Times Published: 2016/6/16 19:04:00

Pictures from Michelle Villemaire's Correcting Yellowface project featuring actress Katharine Hepburn (left), Scarlett Johansson (top) and Villemaire Photos: Courtesy of Villemaire


Pictures from Michelle Villemaire's Correcting Yellowface project featuring actress Katharine Hepburn (left), Scarlett Johansson (top) and Villemaire Photos: Courtesy of Villemaire

Does Hollywood have a white preference?

While a number of black actors and filmmakers boycotted the Oscars to express their dissatisfaction with this year's all white nominee list, Michelle Villemaire, an Asian mom and blogger in Los Angeles, is trying to change things by "correcting yellowface."

Villemaire, whose mother is Thai-Chinese, runs a blog which shares DIY projects and personal experiences. Recently, she started a new project called Correcting Yellowface, which caught the attention of the Internet world. For the project, Villemaire takes pictures of herself as famous Asian characters who were played by white actresses in films, such as Olan in The Good Earth (played by Luise Rainer), Jade in Dragon Seed (played by Katharine Hepburn) and Motoko Kusanagi in the currently in production Ghost in the Shell (played by Scarlett Johansson).

The project is Villemaire's personal response to the racial typecasting that she feels is still prominent in today's Hollywood. On her blog she wrote a post explaining that her inspiration for the project originated in her experiences not seeing many Asian faces on television and in films while growing up.

"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," Villemaire wrote. 

Purchasing as many props as she could or making those she could not find herself, Villemaire dressed up and recreated famous scenes caught on camera. With the help of a friend who understood photoshop, she successfully put herself in almost the same environment as the original stars.

Villemaire is not the only Asian American who feels mistreated because of her race.

Around the same time when Villemaire was working on her project, Jonathan Park, a Korean American rapper better known as Dumbfoundead, uploaded a music video on Facebook. In the video, the musician imagines himself in various lead roles in Hollywood films but in the end he is replaced by a white actor because the "director" thinks his face lacks that "Hollywood star quality." 

"I think Hollywood has a hard time casting Asians in lead roles. Take romantic comedies for example. Never Asians. There is a false perception that America won't like it. I am so grateful for the noise that Asians made this year - it brought a lot of attention to this travesty," Villemaire told the Global Times in an e-mail.

As "weird" and a little "giddy" as Villemaire felt about her project at the beginning, Correcting Yellowface, however, has sparked applauds since it was first posted online in late May.

"There have been many people contacting me telling me how moved they were by the project. My favorite response was 'I looked at your pics and for a moment I felt healed.' I have loved hearing from Asians all over the world, not just Asian Americans," the mother of two said. 

Now she has decided to continue to mix DIY projects with social justice.

"Surprising, I've found that these two areas of interest work together very well. I will continue to fight for Asian inclusion in Hollywood," Villemaire said.

Visit Michelle Villemaire's blog ( or her Youtube page ( for more details about her story.

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