There’s a double edged sword to being on Twitter, in that sometimes I get information that I simply don’t know how to process it. Such was the case when I first learned that Hugo Weaving would be portraying a Korean, AKA: “doing yellowface” in the film Cloud Atlas.
Before this moment, I was so stoked to see this movie based on the first trailer. It’s the first film where Lana Wachowski will be going under her updated legal name, and we won’t be seeing “directed by the Wachowski brothers” in the credits. (Possibly it will read “directed by the Wachowskis” instead.) It’s a movie about reincarnation. In my spiritual faith, I tend to lean more toward the idea of reincarnation than I do to a castles in the sky afterlife, and the idea that these people all keep meeting over and over is very intriguing. So when I got this one image of Weaving looking a bit Dr. No, I grabbed my head and started going “Nonononono.” I do not want to have my opinion of the film ruined before I’ve ever seen it, but this one photo was a little damning by itself.
Yesterday, a four-pane photo set came out showing that Hugo Weaving is playing four characters, with one being a woman, Nurse Noakes. (And by the way, Hugo does not look at all like a woman in the shot. He looks like a man in bad makeup. So whoever did the makeup didn’t realize you can use pancake makeup and a texture sponge to hide all those male pores.) This doesn’t quite resolve my concern, though. Immediately, I began asking on Twitter, “Is Hugo the only actor whose reincarnating characters cross racial lines?” I asked if the Asian actors in the film would be doing whiteface, or if a white actress would come in for those roles. Several people said “Those are good questions,” but at first, nobody had an answer.
Then along comes a random tweeter to say that yes, one of the Asian actors also plays a white woman, and that Halle Berry does as well. (They also commented that they seemed to be one of the few Asians they knew who was curious to see Weaving do a yellowface role.) So based on their updated information, what we have in this film is the entire cast living multiple lives in various races, and the idea is to say “not much changes in the frame from life to life.”
And for this reason, I’m not taking this in quite the same ways as Fisher Stevens doing brownface in Short Circuit when there are plenty of talented Desi actors who could have played the role of Ben Jabituya. It can be demonstrated that many members of the cast are crossing racial lines, and this makes sense, the idea that a soul might not always reincarnate as the same gender or race. This could still be problematic if only the white actors were playing other races. I’m not saying it still might not have issues, but in the context of the story, this decision to do yellowface kind of makes sense.
Nevertheless, I’m going into this with lower expectations than I had just watching that first trailer. And that’s a bummer because while I was watching the trailer, I was almost brought to tears. Yes, the trailer alone gave me deep and intense feelings. So I’m thinking “Hell yeah, the movie could do even more!”
But that doesn’t mean this movie can’t suck. The two latter Matrix movies were awful, and keeping Hugo Weaving on as Agent Smith is a large part of why those movies sucked a dick. The first movie has this great central theme that makes you stare at your dinner for weeks after going “Am I really tasting this, or is a machine telling me what it tastes like?” But the other two movies are a lot of action sequences with bad dialogue in between. The Wachowskis are not infallible, and just because Lana’s transitioned doesn’t make her enlightened.
So, yeah, I’m very hopeful that this movie will be as good as the first Matrix, and that I’ll come out of the theater with a head full of deep questions. But these days, nothing gets a free pass with me just because it’s got some of my favorite actors and a lot of fancy special effects.
And if it turns out that the racebending is offensive, you can be damned sure I’ll bitch and whine about it here.