Is 'Cloud Atlas' ethnically insensitive?

COLIN COVERT | Updated 10/25/2012

Asian advocacy organization protests, director defends.

Actor Jim Sturgiss in "Cloud Atlas."

 “Cloud Atlas,” which boasts one of the most racially diverse casts in memory, has drawn charges of cultural insensitivity from an Asian media advocacy  group.

The film (reviewed here) stars Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, South Korean actress Doona Bae, Keith David and Hugh Grant, among others. It spans 500 years and several continents, with actors playing multiple roles. With the aid of makeup, Berry plays a white Jewish woman, Bae plays a Latina and a Caucasian redhead, Hugo Weaving plays a female nurse, and Susan Sarandon plays a man. 
 
Berry, Keith, and Caucasian actors Weaving, Jim Sturgiss and James D’Arcy also play East Asians, a casting choice the Media Action Network for Asian Americans termed “offensive” in a press release. It compared their appearance to bad “Star Trek” aliens. 
 
“Every major male character in the Korea story is played by non-Asian actors in really bad yellowface make-up,” said MANAA founder Guy Aoki. “When you first see Hugo Weaving as a Korean executioner, there’s this big close-up of him in this totally unconvincing Asian make-up. The Asian Americans at the pre-screening burst out laughing because he looked terrible--like a Vulcan on ‘Star Trek.’ It took us out of the movie.”
 
Director Andy Wachowski, who co-created the film with his transgender sibling Lana and German filmmaker Tom Tykwer, addressed the controversy in an interview published Monday on the Huffington Post website.
 
“That’s good that people are casting a critical eye. We need to cast critical eyes toward these things. What are the motivations behind directors and casting? I totally support it. But our intention is the antithesis of that idea. The intention is to talk about things that are beyond race. The character of this film is humanity, so if you look at our past work and consider what our intention might be, we ask that those people give us a chance and at least see the movie before they start casting judgment.”

[Photo: Warner Bros.]