Villains come in many shapes, sizes and colors. One particular villain only comes in one of those: yellow. The subject of today's piece is a pop-culture icon who has graced cinemas for the last 50 years, though not nearly so much lately. Back in the hey-day before political correctness, we had this man, played by many a British, American or Canadian actor. Note that he was pretty much never played by a member of his own race. He is the man, the myth, the mustache:
Fu ManchuThe gist of the character is that he is smart, evil and obsessed with world domination. As we all know, the Chinese are only two of those (you can pick which two). In spite of this handicap of logic, the character has persevered. Let's take a look at some of the greats that have played him on screen, both big and small.
1. Boris Karloff
2. Christopher Lee
3. Peter Sellers (in his last role)
4. Henry Brandon
5. Nicolas Cage
Now, to be fair, a couple of these people were British and China was a colony of the Empire, so...yeah, it's still bad. This is not the only time this has happened. Who can forget the weird thrill of watching famed horror actor J. Carrol Naish play Dr. Tito Daka in the Batman & Robin movie serials? Or the unmitigated joy of Flash Gordon's (1980) Ming, played by esteemed actor Max Von Sydow?
One famous incident of backlash involves character-actor Ross Martin (famous for playing Artemus Gordon) and his portrayal of Charlie Chan. In 1972, he played him a very popular TV film that was a pilot for a series. People thought that it was a little weird for him to play a Chinese guy, so no TV show for you. You can't have your yellow-face and eat it too.
Up next in the series, a movie about black culture and by Iron Man's grandpa. Stay tuned...