Cloud Atlas is Offensive on so Many Levels

Cloud Atlas movie poster
Cloud Atlas
may well be the most disappointing movie of the year. I’ve had the book on my to-read list for several months, and in the lead-up to the release of the movie I had numerous friends tell me this was one of the best books they’d ever read.

Obviously with any book-to-movie adaptation there will be some changes, and the results will be mixed. But I can’t imagine anyone, having read the book or not, will be satisfied with this film.

 

cloud atlas gif quote

Granted, this was an ambitious undertaking. The book follows six different stories, telling the first half of each, then passing off the tale to someone in the next before looping back around to give all 6 conclusions:

1) In 1850 a sick notary on a ship befriends a stowaway slave and writes letters to his wife;

2) In 1931 a young musician reads those letters, and also writes letters to his lover as he composes the Cloud Atlas sextet;

3) In 1975 said lover passes information on an unstable nuclear reactor to a journalist (who also reads the musician’s letters);

4) In 2012 the journalists’ life story is presented to a publisher who is unjustly locked up in an institution;

5) In 2144, the publisher’s life story becomes a movie watched by a clone who has been unjustly oppressed and now chooses to rebel;

6) That clone has become a goddess in the eyes of a post-apocalyptic tribal people.

Phew. okay.

Aside from the fact that it is LONG and BORING, Cloud Atlas is just… uncomfortable. I was put-off by the image of Jim Sturgess in yellowface from the beginning, and in the context of the film it is just as unsettling. This racebending occurs from black to white to Asian to Indian and back again (though notably, no one ever wears blackface), and it all took me right out of the movie. I don’t know how to process someone using racial slurs against someone who isn’t actually the race they’re playing, e.g. calling an Asian woman playing a Latina a “wetback.”

Halle Berry Tom Hanks Cloud Atlas racebending

The founding president of Media Action Network for Asian Americans had this to say about Jim Sturgess’ portrayal of He-Joo Chang (via HuffPost):

“It would have been a great, stereotype-busting role for an Asian American actor to play, as Asian American men aren’t allowed to be dynamic or heroic very often… You have to ask yourself: Would the directors have used blackface on a white actor to play Gyasi’s role?” asked Aoki, referring to David Gyasi, the freed slave in the film.  “I don’t think so: That would have outraged African American viewers.  But badly done yellowface is still OK.”

The Wachowski siblings defend their casting choices by stating that “The intention is to talk about things that are beyond race,” and that “The book suggests that there is a humanity that is beyond our tribe, our ethnic features.” In theory it may sound admirable to attempt such “colorblind” casting and filming, and it’s true that in one or two instances the direct parallels of the storylines are highlighted nicely by parallel casting – e.g. two characters playing lovers separated by circumstance, with two very different endings to their tales in different lifetimes.

But the “colorblind” casting philosophy ignores the reality: that black/yellow/brown/red “face” has historically been used by the white majority to homogenize, dehumanize, and marginalize other races.

Putting a black man in yellow face isn’t progressive, it just highlights the fact that so few Asian actors are allowed the opportunity to star in Hollywood films. Though we’ve mostly moved away from offensive stereotypes as blatant as Mickey Rooney’s in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (though not entirely), the starring roles in movies like The Last Airbender and Dragonball Z, which should go to Asian actors, continue to be whitewashed. The casting choices for Cloud Atlas only continue this unfortunate – and truly harmful – trend. As Aoki stated, this would have been a great opportunity for an Asian actor.

If you want to take a deeper look at the racebending techniques used and why they fail on so many levels, Andrew Ti (of Yo, Is This Racist? fame) breaks it down for us.

And for those who might argue that it “doesn’t matter” because Halle Berry and Bae Doona put on whiteface, Racebending.com has a quick overview of why yellowface (or any -face) is problematic.

“Ultimately, whatever the film’s grand aspirations (or achievements), my belief is that Cloud Atlas will eventually be viewed through the same lens as films like The Good EarthBirth of a Nation, or even Dumbo. ….

Some will suggest that the racebending roles given to some of the actresses in Cloud Atlas mitigate or even forgive the use of yellowface in the film. This strikes me as tokenism of the worst kind. Placing a white performer in yellowface is to put a megaphone to the lips of an A-list actor so he can announce “chink” before an audience of millions. The equivalent use of “whiteface” cannot compare to the act, because there is no history of white exclusion from the American mainstream. In the last decade, 71% of Warner Bros movies’ lead roles went to white men. All other demographics – black, Latino, Asian, Native American, women of any race – have access to one-quarter the leading roles as white men.”

I also want to draw attention to a study cited in that post, which suggests that television exposure predicted a decrease in self-esteem for white and black girls and black boys, and an increase in self-esteem among white boys. Children are directly – negatively – affected when they don’t see themselves represented in TV and movies.

/end rant.

Cloud Atlas Adam EwingBeyond the specter of racism, the role-reversals were just plain unnecessary. We’ve already established that these characters are meeting again and again in different lifetimes, through heavy-handed monologuing and careful editing. (The latter was overdone; I understood that the director was trying to show the parallels between stories and lifetimes, but it only served to cut up story lines into segments so short and disjointed that I honestly stopped caring about each.) But if those clear parallels weren’t enough, we even have a comet-shaped birthmark presenting a big neon sign to the audience – “These are the same people! Get it? Like, reincarnation, or… something? Birthmark!”

So why the actors overlapping story lines? I felt that entire conceit was used for one “satisfying” moment – when Sonmi imagines a door opening in another life and we see that parallel as she opens a door in a different story line. Otherwise… useless. Often the lead actors play peripheral roles in subsequent storylines, or switch from good to evil characters, which dispells any notion that they are playing the same soul reincarnated – you can’t tell me Tom Hanks in 1850 is the same soul in 1975 or in the dystopian future. Even Roger Ebert admitted in his otherwise positive review, that “On my second viewing, I gave up any attempt to work out the logical connections between the segments, stories and characters.”  He seems to think this adds complexity; I see that as thoughtlessness and cheap gimmickry.

It’s just distracting to look at all the racebending roles, particularly with such well-known actors. All you can think is “Wow, Hugo Weaving is Asian?” or “Hugo Weaving is Mrs. Doubtfire?” or “Hugo Weaving is a giant green leprechaun?” rather than paying attention to his character’s purpose.

Frobisher and Rufus Sixsmith Cloud Atlas

Surprisingly, I also realized in watching Cloud Atlas that Tom Hanks is a terrible character actor. He can play leading men like few others, but as a goofy, buck-toothed surgeon? No. As an indigenous, pidgin-speaking tribesman? SPARE ME. That dialogue was Jar-Jar levels of ridiculous. “Yousa been savin me twicely nah, I’ba gon’ takya ta mounty mount, true true!”

Fortunately there were two bright spots in this otherwise leaden script: Frobisher’s romance and plotline were sweet and poignant; and Cavendish’s escapades were amusing, if seemingly  random (and plagued by the off-putting sight of Weaving as Nurse Ratchet) – “Soylent Green is PEOPLE!” got several chuckles.

The futuristic world of Neo-Seoul held the most promise in my opinion, but the story itself was so poorly told that I couldn’t appreciate the adventure or the emotional resonance they tried to build. Why did the resistance care so much about Sonmi?! WHY!?

Overall, I came out of this movie exhausted and annoyed. Major disappointment.

cloud atlas quote gif

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29 Comments

  1. Weird – your title declares this film offensive on “so many levels”, but your piece (which is largely a collection of other people’s pieces) seems to only be able to point back to the “racebending” as sole offending detail.

    1. Fair enough 🙂 I suppose you could call the title a rhetorical device – it’s a phrase I use a lot. See my caption for a picture in the I Am Legend post, which “works on so many levels.” Maybe it’s cliche, maybe it’s bad writing. I still like to say it.

      I was “offended” (read: hyperbole) by how long, boring, choppy, and pointless this movie felt, particularly since I was so excited to see it. But I focused my post on the most tangible reason I didn’t like it, which happens to be a topic a lot of other people are talking about.

      When I include links in my posts, it’s because I’m reading about these things on the internet in my spare time and find them of interest. I actually added Andrew Ti’s article a few minutes after I posted this because I just saw it, and I like his work, and I wanted to include it. Maybe that’s coming across to you as stealing someone else’s ideas? If so, that’s not my intention. Like I said, I just write about things I’m interested in.

    2. also: I guess you could say I find the racebending itself offensive on many levels. 1) The reasons I stated in the post (stealing roles from Asian actors, portrayals of different minorities in the media, etc), 2) it was poorly done from a technical standpoint, and 3) it didn’t seem to have a purpose (the points I made about double-casting roles not being necessary/making sense).

      I think that was the main idea I was chasing. Unsuccessfully, apparently.

      1. Funny thing about that Andrew Ti article: I get the impression that he didn’t watch the film. As for the Racebending article, that entry is dated August so they *definitely* didn’t see the film.

        At arm’s length, if someone were to judge from the trailer and still images, there are all sorts of ideas of racism that could bubble up. However, I firmly believe that there is so much context that is missed if one chooses not to see why the directors chose to make-up people into different races/genders.

        The thing about the make-up, is that it was a conscious decision made by the filmmaker to underline the idea of souls losing and finding each other through the ages. So for instance, when we see Doona Bae and Jim Sturgess fall into each others arms in the 1800’s, it comes with an emotional lift after seeing them get torn apart violently in Neo Seoul.

        You’re right, the make-up doesn’t always “look right”…but I don’t think it was ever intended to. It’s meant to push our imaginations into a different direction, but still allow us a familiarity with whose soul is inhabiting what body. Think about Hugo Weaving. Sure he looks odd as a woman and as a citizen of Neo-Seoul…but in every lifetime he plays a bad person. Thus by giving us that glimmer of who is playing the part, we grow to dislike him/her more and more everytime he/she shows up.

        Curiously, the one person somewhat immune to all of this is another thing you didn’t like: Tom Hanks. Toss out his role in 1931 and 2012 (because they’re mostly cameos). What you are left with is a soul that gives us hope for humanity being able to learn from its mistakes. Put Hanks’ roles in chronological order, and what you get is a soul who evolves from horrible to admirable through the ages. He’s our hope – our hope that if we keep getting sent down here, eventually we *can* get things right and live a life we can be proud of.

        There’s A LOT to this film, and I’m not trying to pick on you for disliking it…I’m just hoping to point out some subtleties that might make it play better in hindsight.

  2. The points I was making – that minorities rarely get lead roles, that it’s part of a legacy of exclusion that hurts people’s self-esteem – don’t really depend on seeing the film. In the context of the film itself I didn’t think much was actually racist (well, Doona Bae as the Mexican woman was pretty bad), but it’s important to understand that it doesn’t need to be overtly racist to have negative effects. This is why I quoted so many other articles, I feel like they can express this sentiment better than I can 🙂

    I take your point about lost souls finding each other, and mentioned that I thought the door opening/hug moment really worked. But otherwise, I felt the casting was only thought halfway through. As a friend described the book to me, “It’s two souls, two companions, meeting again in different lives.” So, those 2 souls sometimes look like Jim Sturgess and Doona Bae; sometimes like Halle Berry and Tom Hanks; and only once, like Ben Whishaw and James D’Arcy. Except, that doesn’t really work, because those actors also play extras (Doona Bae in the valley for example, or James D’Arcy as the archivist) or occasionally villains.

    I didn’t see Tom Hanks as one of the two “souls” in 1831; they implied that it was Sonmi/Tilda, rushing towards him at the end. Right? Or maybe the slave Autua? It wasn’t clear. Because I thought there was nothing redeemable about the doctor, I figured this was just another case of casting one of the recognizable faces in a supporting role (see also: Tom Hanks in 2012; you dismissed that cameo but it’s part of a pattern of somewhat random casting). Whereas in 1975, there’s nothing really “bad” about his character at all. What is there to redeem? And why do only his (hand-picked) characters count in this grand scheme towards redemption? We see he has the comet birthmark at the end; so Zachry is also Sonmi, and Frobisher, and Luisa Rey, and Cavendish. His soul has traveled across multiple races and genders but by casting Halle Berry as Luisa Rey, the entire dynamic is thrown off. And look at that list – the same actors never play the person with the birthmark (unless I missed one)! So why bother with the casting gimmick at all?

    I feel like they tried to over-simplify the idea of souls meeting across different lifetimes by saying “ooh look, two lovers separated by a mean old man. Let’s cast those three parts with the same people and then the audience will see the parallels!” Again, I think the casting might sound nice in theory, but when you get into the specifics of how it would work it just falls apart.

    1. “The points I was making – that minorities rarely get lead roles, that it’s part of a legacy of exclusion that hurts people’s self-esteem – don’t really depend on seeing the film…”

      But they do – they always do, and that’s the problem that those articles face. I’m fully support someone saying “What I’ve learned gives me pause”, but to draw a line and start crying “racism” without making the effort to understand what is trying to be expressed stops the conversation in its tracks and leads to a whole different level of ignorance.

      You’re right – in Hollywood there is a legacy of exclusion, but CLOUD ATLAS isn’t a part of that. The Wachowskis have already shown that they believe in diverse casting in THE MATRIX Trilogy. Not only that, but they have repeatedly expressed that what they did with the make-up effects was something that came from a place of calculated intent – not blind ignorance. To compare what they did with D’Arcy, Weaving, and Sturgess to Charlton Heston in TOUCH OF EVIL or Mickey Rooney in BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S is flat-out wrong.

      I read the book too, and I think your friend is slightly wrong. It’s not two souls meeting through several ages, it’s several souls who crisscross one another. There’s nothing in the book to suggest that Ben Wishaw’s soul is Halle Berry’s soul is Tom Hanks’ soul. Even if there was, in the film Tykwer and The Wachowskis chose to tweak that idea in adapting the screenplay. Notice in the movie that the comet birthmark moves from person to person (Sturgess, Wishaw, Berry, Bae, Hanks), and that said person isn’t always in the same position in the relationship.

      So that’s the big difference – in certain storylines a soul only has a peripheral affect on the goings on (like Berry in Neo Seoul), other times a soul is overlapping with someone they knew in another life (like Sturgess in Neo Seoul) like clouds drifting together in the sky

      There’s A LOT in this film to chew on, which is really the main reason I keep stirring the pot with you here – not because I’m trying to pick on you or browbeat you into liking something.

      1. Was I wrong in thinking that the souls that kept meeting were Ewing and Tilda, Frobisher and Sixsmith, Hae Joo and Sonmi, and Zachry and Meronym? Their storylines were almost identical in basic concept: two lovers separated by distance, social mores, and an outsider’s poisonous machinations. If not, that’s certainly what the editing and casting suggest; even Luisa’s comment that “We keep making the same mistakes” seemed to clarify that. She knew Frobisher was reading about a man being poisoned by a supposed friend, not seeing that the same thing was happening to him with Ayres. And yes there were other characters/”souls” who seemed to recur, namely the malevolent figure usually played by Hugo Weaving.

        In any case, I do believe context is important: Argo was similarly whitewashed, but I didn’t find it problematic. Yes, it’s another missed opportunity for diverse casting, but the producer/director wanted the lead role. That’s typical, and it didn’t affect the story.

        I’m focusing on this issue in Cloud Atlas simply because it’s a high-profile example of a bigger problem. The actor who plays Glenn on the Walking Dead recently did an interview where he discussed the importance (and rarity) of a character like his, and how hard it is to find roles that aren’t just Long Duk Dong. Check out some of the controversy surrounding casting of The Mortal Instruments; the author had to fight to get characters who are explicitly described as Asian to be cast that way. Take a look at Whedon’s Firefly universe, which is heavily influenced by Chinese culture and language but has no Asians anywhere. All the actors being considered for the lead roles in Akira are white, as was the case with the leads of The Last Airbender, Dragonball Z, etc… Being “colorblind” is all well and good when you don’t have to deal with the challenges and limitations faced by those who are outside the majority.

        I agree that the Wachowskis were thoughtful in their casting, and I don’t want to attack them for it. I just don’t think these criticisms should be dismissed as “crying racism.” Maybe I AM being “overly sensitive” about this issue, but someone needs to be. Someone needs to spark debate about issues like this or we’ll never overcome them.

  3. My bad – I over-simplified your earlier comment. I thought you were saying that it was THE SAME two souls continually meeting. Frobisher and Sixsmith (sadly) don’t meet again within the framework of this film…though Sachs and Rey do when we get to the distant future.

    Rey’s comment about how we keep making the same mistakes over and over was something I loved about the film. When she brings it up, she does so in a very broad sense. Do you have a girlfriend who *always* seems to be dating the wrong guys? She was talking about that. The way we as humans have continually killed each other in the name of whatever God we believe in? She was talking about that. Heck, the fact that fifty years after the civil rights movement, that there are minorities in your country who STILL have to fight for their basic liberties? She was talking about that too.

    That’s what I loved about CLOUD ATLAS – the way it approached acts of greed, love, faith, belief, etc and scattered them over the ages. It reminds us that no matter how far we think we have come as a species, that we really haven’t. It’s a call for greater understanding and sacrifice, even if we don’t get to find each other in the next life.

    The bigger problem you mention is an important one, and one worth discussing. Full stop.

    You’re right to point out that Hollywood is wrong to recast roles that are written for other ethnicities and whitewash them – furthermore, I’m with you in saying that shoehorning white people into stories like AKIRA, AIRBENDER, and DRAGONBALL is atrocious. What I think is worst about that is the fact that it comes from executives playing to the lowest common denominator. It’s like they say “People in New York City will probably come out and see a cast filled with asian people, but nobody in the midwest will. There’s an awful lot of people in the midwest…don’t want to leave all that money on the table…fuck it, white people it is!”

    It’s a terrible mindset, especially since everyday more and more people in North America realize that there is a whole wide world out there where people don’t like their beer cold and their TV loud.

    In championing this, I’m right with you – keep the discussion going.

    BUT! When championing this, we all need to be able to make distinctions, since painting with a broad brush is what gets us into these sorts of quandaries in the first place. So that’s why I asked not only if we’re coming down on something unfairly, and if those broader conversations end up influencing our reviews.

    1. I haven’t, but like I said I’ve heard great things from friends and I plan to read it after getting away from the movie a bit. I’m particularly looking forward to reading the stories as they were written, in large chunks. Editing them into smaller segments for dramatic pacing made it so much harder to connect to the characters and their conflicts. I never really cared about Ewing, and Cavendish’s story (while cute) seemed completely incongruous with the rest of the film, aside from the direct ties to Neo-Seoul and the almost tacked-on “separated from my love” subplot.

      Have you read it? I’d love to hear another interpretation of the multiple souls as portrayed by different actors.

      1. Reincarnation is much more lightly hinted at in the stories as opposed to the ram it down your throat obviousness in the movie. I suspect the film makers did this to leave no question in the viewers mind about what was going onand to use their big name actors throughout. In the novel, for instance, there is a birthmark of a comet that indicates one of reincarnation cycles. I agree that the “racebending” is awkward looking, but I don’t believe at all that it is inherently racist or offensive. If anything it might offend me a touch in that the directors feel like they have to dumb the reincarnation part down a bit for the audience.

        I also want to point out that the portion of the story that takes place in a “consumerist” future Korea includes the author contrived concept of “facescaping” as the plastic surgery of the future. It seems to me that the author, David Mitchell, extrapolated from current day practices to arrive at that portion of the story. South Korea is the largest consumer per capita of plastic surgery, skin bleaching and color contacts which are all aimed at achieving a more “westernized look”. Keeping in mind that in the Sonmi-451 portion of the story the workers are all clones with distinct raw DNA and marked as laborers and don’t take part in the facescaping, but the “purebloods” do. It is logical in extending into the future today’s westernizing plastic surgerys combined with a desire to differentiate themselves from the worker clones that the pureblood’s facescaping would be an almost entire westernized makeover. (Possibly a hint at where the directors might have gotten the racebending idea?)

        I would find it extremely hypocritical if people in Korea felt offended by a couple of site actors playing Koreans in that part of the movie given their appetite for westernizing plastic surgery. There is a very interesting NY Times article explaining the plastic surgery trend in Korea. As I’m sure you know, art imitates life…not the other way around.

    2. (for some reason I can’t reply to your reply so I’m putting this up here)

      I have to take issue with your suggestion that “art imitates life.” Koreans use those extreme methods to become more “Western-looking” because light skin and big eyes are considered beautiful – and thus, anything different is ugly – an idea that many believe has roots with Western colonialism/dominance and is perpetuated by the media (http://www.cnn.com/2011/WORLD/asiapcf/05/19/korea.beauty/index.html and http://www.asian-central.com/stuffasianpeoplelike/2008/03/20/41-eye-enlargement/). The same trends can be seen in the fact that light-skinned black women are portrayed as more desirable (www.racialicious.com/2012/10/02/when-will-the-media-start-portraying-black-women-without-betraying-them/).

      The fact that this race-based standard of beauty is idealized doesn’t mean it’s okay to perpetuate the idea in movies; it’s a harmful, negative stereotype, and a clear example of how racism exists even in the absence of offensive acts committed with cruel intention.

      The facescaping you described sounds like it adds an additional level of complexity to the book that unfortunately was lost in the movie adaptation; they never even explained what was meant by “purebloods.” If they had used white actors to play Asians and suggested they used plastic surgery to achieve the look, that would have been a VERY different dynamic, and possibly a powerful commentary on ideas about beauty.

      1. You’re right in that western ideals of beauty shouldn’t be considered something to be emulated worldwide, and I agree that they should have mentioned the facescaping in the movie. However, I disagree that there is some colonialism or western dominance has anything to do with modern day Koreans fascination with plastic surgeries meant to westernize themselves. I’m not sure how much you know about modern Korean culture, but it is an extremely nationalistic country that takes pride in its culture, economic strength, and growing power. It was never colonised by a western power and might be the country in Asia least influenced by western culture in terms of an influx of western TV/movies. I would suggest that there fascination with a westernizing look has more to do with an undercurrent of insecurity around their perceived lack of individuality. This is a known phenomenon in Japan as well where youths dress in widely outlandish clothing in an almost pathetic attempt to differentiate themselves.

        Art most definitely imitates life and if anything this movie is an example of that. You suggest it yourself with this movie and the Nina Simone biopic. Artists have the power to break the cycle, but rarely do leading us to end up with movies, etc that reflect our prejudices and behaviours. Suggesting that just because someone makes a movie that it should be incumbent on them to relieve it of all inherent prejudices is unrealistic as they are just as human as the rest of us and prone to subconscious displays of their ‘programming’ as we all are. Hence the suggestion that art does deed imitate life.

        Given the chance to speak to you personally I could prove with one simple riddle that you yourself perpetuate stereotypes without even knowing it. We are all guilty of it while wishing and knowing that we should be better. It’s a slow process to correct which is better dealt with by politely pointing out the instances of transgression rather than clubbing people with charges of racism and bigotry. Those are better left to the more egregious examples.

    3. @stmiller02

      You’re right that there are other factors that can explain the fascination with plastic surgery – I did say in my comment that “admittedly not all” believe it has to do with Western features [edit: apparently I cut that from my final comment and just said “many” believe, my bad]. It’s obviously difficult to trace the origin of an idea, but the majority of what I’ve heard and read – in news articles, blog posts, op-eds, etc – attributes the phenomenon to a preference for Western features (obviously not due to literal colonialism in this case, I was speaking about the broader trend of cultural imperialism). Others explain that it has nothing to do with wanting to look “Western;” it’s just a preference for a certain appearance. But where did that preference come from? Again, it’s difficult to trace.

      I’m not trying to say that I’m some paragon of tolerance and acceptance and that I have no prejudices that affect me in any way. Obviously that’s impossible for anyone. But that doesn’t mean we should accept that condition blindly. I watch movies and tv, listen to conversations, read things in books and online, etc all with a very critical eye. What is the author/speaker saying? Why? What is the root of that belief, and what effect does it have on the reader/audience? Am I complicit in something unsavory just by being silent about it?

      I’m not saying that one movie is going to be perfect, or completely devoid of prejudice; the very act of choosing a topic to write about reflects prejudices. That’s why most movies star men, or if not, have some light fluffy romance plotline for women. Does that mean those movies shouldn’t be made? Of course not. But we can speak up and say, “I’m not happy with the fact that movies targeted toward women star a flighty damsel searching desperately for a man. Give me something better.” It won’t happen overnight, and it won’t be perfect when it does happen. But if we want to see change, we have to be vocal about it.

      Yes, it’s a slow process. But just because I am upset about something, that doesn’t mean I am ignorantly “clubbing people with charges of racism and bigotry.” I acknowledged that the Wachowskis had a vision, and I pointed out why I believe they made (what I see as) a huge mistake. I never attacked them personally or called them racists, I said that what they are doing is perpetuating a problem that they don’t even realize exists. It’s an important distinction to make, but they don’t get carte blanche just because they had good intentions.

      1. Understood. I think that you’re exactly right when you say that “the very act of choosing a topic to write about reflects prejudices.” It also makes the writer appear to be noticing the hits and not the misses. For instance, that Aliens movies (including the new “Prometheus” movie) have all had very strong heroine roles, the cartoons of Hiyao Miyazaki all have heroines, etc. My point is that it’s easy to cherry pick examples like “Cloud Atlas” and extrapolate that to some sort of systemic racism or sexism while ignoring the good ones. I’m just not sure it’s systemically as bad as a site like racebending.com seems to make it out to be which is where I ended up reading your article from via a link.

        Thanks for the very enlightening chat and if you have children or your friends do spread the word that the Miyazaki films (‘My Neighbor Totoro’, ‘Spirited Away’, etc) are all great cartoons and have strong girls as the protagonists.

      2. Sadly it’s kind of in my nature only to write about the things that really bother me! When I come out of a movie thinking that it was just an enjoyable watch, I’m not inspired to rant or rave. I did make note of how great I thought the portrayal of women in Judge Dredd was, but in general I tend to focus more on the negative because it’s easier to grasp and put into words. Maybe I should do a “Movies that got it right” series 🙂

        I still believe that racism and sexism in Hollywood are a major issue, so deeply ingrained that either we don’t notice or we say “Well they’re just giving the people want they want,” missing the fact that people who want something different (movies made by and starring strong female characters or minorities) are not usually in a position of power and able to make those films happen.

        I appreciate your thoughtful responses and I’m really glad you stopped by! I’m glad this review sparked a debate and got some people thinking about these issues. Whether or not you agree that the casting in Cloud Atlas was problematic, it’s always good to be a thoughtful and engaged moviegoer.

    1. In their defense, the Wachowskis had good intentions and made a conscious artistic decision; I think the Nina Simone case is much worse. By casting a light-skinned actress to portray a woman who faced significant hurdles due to the darkness of her skin, they are blatantly perpetuating the same discrimination Simone herself faced. It’s almost embarrassing that they don’t realize this – or outrageous that they just don’t care.

  4. Aaah Hugo Weaving looks AWFUL! Despite seeing the trailer for this a while ago, I hadn’t quite understood the level of “race bending” as you so aptly put it.

    I’m really not looking forward to this. The novel has been sitting on my book case for the best part of five years. I’ve tried, and failed, to read it a number of times. It didn’t enjoy even one paragraph of that book.

    Great post, though!

    1. I’m so surprised to hear that, everyone I know who’s read it has said it was one of the best books they’d ever read! I’ve been meaning to pick it up for a few weeks now (ever since I finished World War Z, cannot WAIT for that movie) but I need to forget the movie a bit first.

      Based on some of the comments I think the book will have so many layers (beyond romance) that just didn’t come across in the adaptation, told in a more easily processed plot, so I think you’d do well to read it before watching. The movie might just ruin it for you!

  5. It seems there are a lot of foolish whites in the comment section here. Of course these racial bias in the film don’t offend them because they’re white, but to defend these? I suppose the reason why Hollywood can keep making movies like this is precisely because there are so many ignorant whites in America among only a handful of intelligent and thoughtful Caucasians.

    I’ve seen the film, and I was pretty disgusted how they followed the classic tradition of Hollywood of objectifying women of different color, especially Asian women, as some type of mindless sex objects while marginalizing Asian men. Did anybody even notice all the men in the movie who go through reincarnations are played by white men, and only some of the women are allowed to be the members of minority like Asians or blacks? Even in the days of slavery, white males were able to keep black female slaves as lovers while the opposite (white females keeping black males slaves as lovers) would’ve been absolutely unthinkable.

    In very weird ways, Hollywood still continues that tradition because people in America (mostly white men) still like that fantasy world, I suppose. It’s even more troubling how a movie that comes from supposedly progressive filmmakers can reflect this much racial prejudice in America.

    1. Studies show that little girls identify with both female and male leads in children’s shows, but boys only identify with male leads; the same thing is true along racial lines – white is considered the default, whereas women and/or actors of color are thought to cater to a niche target audience. I do think that’s gradually changing but for the time being, Hollywood will continue to produce what sells.

  6. Love this movie. It is easier to understand if you are familiar with Kardecism. The actors changing race is crucial to the film because it shows that race is not important as the spirit goes on and can inhabit different bodies.

  7. I think to criticize the prosthetics and cry racism is lazy and little more than bandwagon jumping. The reason why actors of specific ethnicities were not cast in roles defined as a specific ethnicity, is because having a Korean actor portraying He-Joo Chang, would have diminished the ease of grasping the point that he was, or at least, a part of him was, at one point, Adam Ewing… To cast each character individually, while probably a more accurate and realistic portrayal, would have simply confused that transmutational aspect of the stories which needed to be as clear as possible as swiftly as possible, for viewers to easily latch on to so they can follow the stories, rather than having to also think “Who was that last lifetime round?”

    1. I agree with this comment totally. The “race-bending” was never rascist to me. It was a tool used to show who was being reincarnated as who. If an Asian man had played Hae-Joe, I wouldn’t have recognized him as Adam Ewing. Same with Napier reappearing as General Apis (he helped Luisa Rey rebel against a large company and then persuaded Sonmi to become a rebel).

      Also, the “could have cast more people of color” argument falls a little flat when you consider than Sonmi-451 was originally supposed to be played by Natalie Portman lol.

      I think it was important to see the same actors reappear in the Neo Seoul world, and obviously it was important to make them look the part. Also, I agree that because it takes place in the future, they can get away with a lot because we don’t know how people will look in the future. Also, interesting note: his movie won the Critic’s Choice Award for Best Makeup!

      PS. The comment in this article about the Big Isle language was pretty ignorant if you haven’t read the novel. It wasn’t “Jar Jar” speak, it was an entire way of speaking created by the books original author, David Mitchell.

      I guess it’s needless to say that I love this movie and this book and it is still today one of my favorites. It’s flawless and it makes me cry every time because it’s so beautiful.

    2. I agree with this comment totally. The “race-bending” was never rascist to me. It was a tool used to show who was being reincarnated as who. If an Asian man had played Hae-Joe, I wouldn’t have recognized him as Adam Ewing. Same with Napier reappearing as General Apis (he helped Luisa Rey rebel against a large company and then persuaded Sonmi to become a rebel).

      Also, the “could have cast more people of color” argument falls a little flat when you consider that Sonmi-451 was originally supposed to be played by Natalie Portman lol.

      I think it was important to see the same actors reappear in the Neo Seoul world, and obviously it was important to make them look the part. Also, I agree that because it takes place in the future, they can get away with a lot because we don’t know how people will look in the future. Also, interesting note: this movie won the Critic’s Choice Award for Best Makeup!

      PS. The comment in this article about the Big Isle language was pretty ignorant if you haven’t read the novel. It wasn’t “Jar Jar” speak, it was an entire way of speaking created by the books original author, David Mitchell.

      I guess it’s needless to say that I love this movie and this book and it is still today one of my favorites. It’s flawless and it makes me cry every time because it is so beautiful..

  8. “I also want to point out that the portion of the story that takes place in a “consumerist” future Korea includes the author contrived concept of “facescaping” as the plastic surgery of the future. / South Korea is the largest consumer per capita of plastic surgery, skin bleaching and color contacts which are all aimed at achieving a more “westernized look”.”

    If you payed attention to the film you’d noticed the “pureblood” citizens of Neo Seoul not only looked part White, but a few appeared part Black as well. This is South Korea’s capital in the year 2144 and I think what’s being hinted here is that throughout the many years the metropolis has experienced an influx of immigration from different countries. What we see now with the “purebloods” is the result the assimilation that took place between the native and immigrant population. It’s kind of a cool concept to play around with, that one of the most homogenous countries today can end up becoming a diverse multiracial society akin to Brazil in the future.

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