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Portrayals of Asians in Film and Television

Before World War II


Broken Blossoms
The subtitle of this 1919 silent film tells you a lot: "The Yellow Man and the Girl." A Caucasian actor portrays a Chinese man who befriends an abused English girl.
The Cheat
Packaged with another silent film, The Cheat, from 1915, has a wealthy Japanese villain actually portrayed by a Japanese American. So interchangeable were Asians, however, that when the film was re-released in 1918, the character became Burmese.
The Good Earth
Against author Pearl Buck's wishes, this 1937 adaptation of her novel starred American movie stars in "yellowface" as Chinese farmers.
The Lightning Raider
Warner Oland appears in one of his first roles as a wily Asian villain, in this 1919 silent film. Released as a serial, only the first chapter survives. [In The Serial Squadron: lost serial collection]
Lost Horizon
In this 1937 fantasy about Shangri-La in the Himilayas, there's nary an Asian actor in the cast.
Story of the last chrysanthemum = Zangiku monogatari
The classic 1939 Japanese film about a 19th century Kabuki actor proves that Asian characters can be deeply emotional, vibrant, powerful, subtle, honestly expressive, and sensual.

Jennifer Richards

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Jenny Richards