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OMIGOD! Katherine Hepburn is Chinese! And other Ethnically Incorrect Films

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OMIGOD! Katherine Hepburn is Chinese! And other Ethnically Incorrect Films

Old 01-29-04, 12:15 PM
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OMIGOD! Katherine Hepburn is Chinese! And other Ethnically Incorrect Films

I was watching either AMC or TCM (cannot remember) and listed was a movie called "Dragon Seed" (hope thats right) in which Katherine Hepburn played a Chinese Villager.

WTH?! Let me repeat that... Katherine Hepburn played a Chinese Villager.

Not Kidding. Has anyone seen this movie? It was on just before I was going to work so I didnt get a chance to watch much of it. I believe it also featured other prominent caucasians as other Chinese people.

UMMMMM... Hmmmmmm. errrrrrrrr.... How about hiring Asian actors to play asians? Yes I know, Hollywood during that era was quite unlikely to cast a movie with ethnically correct actors, Just look at "The Ten Commandments" or even "Othello"

Just something seems so wrong about this to me. Does anyone know where there is a picture of K. Hepburn from that movie(that can be posted) so that people on this board can see it and not think I am completely making this up?

Feel free to post other examples of ridiculous casting (based of course on ethnicity)

Just for the record, My wife is Chinese, and when she saw Katherine Hepburn in this movie she actually screamed from fright. Not Kidding.

Last edited by rushmore223; 01-29-04 at 12:27 PM.
Old 01-29-04, 12:22 PM
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John Wayne as Genghis Khan

Michael Clarke Duncan as The Kingpin
Old 01-29-04, 12:40 PM
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You have to remember that China (and Japan to some extent) was a closed society in those days. There was no free trade, no free travel between the US and China. The country and its culture was for the most part a big mystery to us. I don't imagine that there were a lot of Asian actors to choose from in those days, even if they wanted to use them.
Old 01-29-04, 12:42 PM
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Old 01-29-04, 12:44 PM
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Re: OMIGOD! Katherine Hepburn is Chinese! And other Ethnically Incorrect Films

Originally posted by rushmore223
Feel free to post other examples of ridiculous casting (based of course on ethnicity)
Pretty much every actor who has portrayed Christ.
Old 01-29-04, 12:47 PM
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pretty much any of the actors who played Charlie Chan:


Not an ethnic thing, but I think a British actor would have done a better job than Dick "world's worst fake British accent" Van Dyke in Mary Poppins
Old 01-29-04, 12:58 PM
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Old 01-29-04, 01:44 PM
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Rex Harrison in Anna and the King of Siam, Cyril Ritchard in A Majority of One, and (as pictured above) probably the most offensive one ever - Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany's
Old 01-29-04, 02:06 PM
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hell, almost every american movie that I have ever seen that has a significant number of asian characters, they are always played by people of the wrong ethnicity. ie, japanese actors being chinese... chinese playing japanese. Koreans as Vietnamese etc etc etc etc.

In some films its kinda silly and distracting, other times I just shrug it off.

I think Wayne as Khan has to be the worst example of ethnically-appropriate casting in the history of film.

j
Old 01-29-04, 02:11 PM
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How about Eli Wallach playing a Mexican in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, as well as The Magnificent Seven.

Or Rod Steiger playing a Mexican in A Fistful of Dynamite
Old 01-29-04, 02:12 PM
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Maybe it's just me, but I don't find anything like that "offensive". All those movies where made at a very different time from now, when people were living with a different mindset. If they were made now I would have a problem with them, but projecting the social feelings of now onto movies that were made back then seems a little silly to me.
Old 01-29-04, 02:14 PM
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Ricardo Montalban played Khan, who is of Indian decent, as well as a sheik in Cannonball Run II.
Old 01-29-04, 02:14 PM
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Old 01-29-04, 02:26 PM
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I'm sure Charlton Heston playing a Mexican in Touch of Evil elicited groans when it was first made . . .

I don't have a problem with the casting. It's when the performance and its context gets ridiculous that it starts getting offensive, a la Mickey Rooney.

But I don't know how effective Christopher Lee as Fu Manchu was underneath all that make-up. All you can see are his eyes.
Old 01-29-04, 02:41 PM
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Old 01-29-04, 02:44 PM
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There is a long and very respectable tradition of Westerners playing Asian roles. The Good Earth (1937) is a good example with Oscar-nominated performances by Paul Muni and Luise Rainer in a film where the vast majority of players were in make-up but not all. End result: The fakes were undistinguishable from the real Asians, the film was stupendous and the total effect was staggering.

It would have been a great loss if Flora Robson hadn't lived to play the Dowager Empress Tzu-Hsi in 55 Days at Peking (1963).

That kind of make-up has a way of liberating actors and setting them free to give extraordinary performances, political correctness be damned.

As Alfred Hitchcock used to say to Tippi Hedren who wondered how she was supposed to express her dislike for the Sean Connery character in Marnie because he was so charming: "It's called acting, my dear."

Last edited by baracine; 01-30-04 at 10:59 AM.
Old 01-29-04, 02:46 PM
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Originally posted by DonnachaOne
Who better than a bad Italian actor to play a bad Cuban gangster?
Old 01-29-04, 02:56 PM
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Charleton Heston as a Mexican Police Chief in Touch of Evil was priceless....

in a recent example, the guy they chose to play an American Indian for Brotherhood of the Wolf was Hawaiian....quite the journey from Iroquois country.

and there are dozens upon dozens of similar examples...in fact, I'd hazard a guess that anglos playing Indians is probably the most prevalent example of this kind of thing in the history of cinema. See Burt Lancaster in Apache among others for a particularly silly case. Charles "Bruchinsky" Bronson also played a bunch of Indian characters....most famously Chato in Chato's Land.

Last edited by HistoryProf; 01-29-04 at 03:02 PM.
Old 01-29-04, 03:01 PM
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I recently saw Sinbad the Sailor (1947) recently where Douglas Fairbanks jr. (American), Maureen O'Hara (Irish) play Arabs; Anthony Quinn (Mexican) plays an East-Indian and Walter Slezak (Austrian) plays a Chinese character.

But really a better thread might be which actors played the right foreign character (pre 1960's).
Old 01-29-04, 03:13 PM
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Raul Julia as a German in The Rookie.

Charles Bronson as an Indian Native-American in Chato's Land.
Old 01-29-04, 04:25 PM
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It's called acting people. It's not offensive...accept when done poorly. But all bad acting is offensive.
Old 01-29-04, 04:50 PM
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Originally posted by brizz
and there are dozens upon dozens of similar examples...in fact, I'd hazard a guess that anglos playing Indians is probably the most prevalent example of this kind of thing in the history of cinema. See Burt Lancaster in Apache among others for a particularly silly case. Charles "Bruchinsky" Bronson also played a bunch of Indian characters....most famously Chato in Chato's Land.
Iron Eyes Cody, most famous for the "Crying Indian" P.S.A, played an Indian in over a hundred movies and was actually Italian.
Old 01-29-04, 05:07 PM
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Christopher Lee playing Fu Manchu.
Old 01-29-04, 05:10 PM
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This is soooo stupid...

How about John Rhys-Davies playing a dwarf of Tom Cruise playing a heterosexual... The list goes on forever.
Old 01-29-04, 05:52 PM
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Originally posted by devilshalo


The funny thing is the first time I saw this movie was last year when I was flying Japan Airlines back to the States on a business trip.
Apparently the airline wasn't too offended.

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