Unbreakable - we’re people too, damn it!

#whitewashedOut. This hashtag was started by actress and comedian Margaret Cho, Keith Chow of The Nerds of Color, and Ellen Oh of #WeNeedDiverseBooks. The intent of this hashtag was to bring attention to the practice of whitewashing in Hollywood. Whitewashing, meaning “the entertainment industry's attempt at making ethnic characters more appealing to the white, money-spending masses by making exotic characters less ethnic and more white,” as Urban Dictionary poignantly puts.  

Some recent examples of being #whitewashedOut are seen in the films Ghost in the Shell, Doctor Strange, and Dragonball: Evolution. They have casted white actors in Asian roles, and in the case of Ghost in the Shell, they went one step further by testing CGI effects that would make actress Scarlett Johansson look Asian. In other words, modern day yellowface. For those of you unfamiliar of the term, yellowface is the use of makeup and prosthetics to give an actor of non-Asian descent, a "more Asian" appearance. It’s a practice that has been denounced, but somehow it’s a practice that continues.

In addition to being a denounced practice, it’s also important to note that the use of yellowface is unfortunately, historical. Check out this video from Vox that gives a great summary of its usage.

In sum, yellowface is a disgusting practice. It paints Asians as caricatures, and it treats us as less than. Also, it essentially makes our identity into something as trivial as a costume. Yellowface is NEVER okay.

However, like I said, it’s a practice that continues - and dare I say it - it’s grown so commonplace that the usage of it is thrown around for the sake of being “thrown around.” This is exactly what happened on the T.V. show, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. The show has had problems with the topic of race in the past, particularly with their sub-plot of  white actress Jane Krakowski’s character, Jacqueline Voorhees, being of Native American ancestry (not so spoiler alert - Krakowski is NOT of Native American descent). It was my hope that the handling of the topic of race would improve in the second season, but I was wrong. The third episode of season two, entitled “Kimmy Goes to a Play” proves that.

Pictured: Titus hanging up his poster of his musical. Photo cred: Netflix

Pictured: Titus hanging up his poster of his musical. Photo cred: Netflix

The episode focuses on the character Titus, and the backlash he receives for his upcoming musical. The backlash is from R.A.P.E. (classy, Tina Fey - did you do that on purpose?), standing for Respectful Asian Portrayals in Entertainment. Their outrage is based on the fact that Titus, a black man, will be portraying a geisha named Murasaki (a person that he believes to have been in a past life).

Pictured: Webpage of fictional group R.A.P.E. Photo cred: Netflix

Pictured: Webpage of fictional group R.A.P.E. Photo cred: Netflix

Outrage ensues. Titus gets bullied online and is verbally harassed by members of R.A.P.E. Long story short, the group protests his musical, and in the end they become fans of his musical after watching it. The inferred “purpose” of this plot is to mock outrage internet culture, and to not judge a work of art before seeing it. Caroline Framke of Vox, puts it best:

...the climax of ‘Kimmy Goes to a Play’...comes when Titus sings at those unhinged, offended Asian bloggers until they come around and realize they were the assholes all along. Essentially, the episode argues that Titus’s portrayal of Asian culture is beautiful enough to negate the angry internet takedowns written by the good members of RAPE (ugh) in response to his mere announcement of the show. They were just offended for the sake of being offended.
— Caroline Framke, Vox

That was the point, but in the end Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt comes off tone deaf and unfunny. Strip the plot away, and what you are left with is the fact that actor Tituss Burgess was in yellowface, all for the purpose of an underdeveloped plot.

Yellowface is NEVER okay, and it is a practice that must end. However, plots like “Kimmy Goes to a Play” gives this practice a rubber stamp of approval - all for the sake of comedy.

I personally will keep advocating against this practice. Together we can keep spreading awareness with hashtags such as #whitewashedOut, or by simply having a conversation with your friends and family. One thing for sure is that we cannot stay silent. If we do, we will continue to be #whitewashedOut.