Cloud Atlas and Race
Ok. Ok. So I just saw Cloud Atlas.
I thought it was amazing, but just because I loved the story and cinematography I wasn’t going to let it off the hook when it came to race as having white people pretend to be Asian people has a long and horrible history that can’t be ignored.
However, I think something was lost a little in translation. Follow me a second.
Nea So Corpros, the dystopia portrayed in the film is one in which much of the world is presumably dead, an expansive collection of nations in East Asia and its surrounding areas presumably make up the last remaining organised nation-state on Earth.
Now in the book, something that was made abundantly clear was that Nea So Corpros was a multiracial state, I remember an Indian cab driver as an example, Japan is mentioned as being part of East Seoul. Another thing made clear was that facial reconstruction was easy and available to the point where certain facial configurations would go in and out of fashion.
Considering this I inferred that the people in the film that could be argued to be wearing bad yellow face, may just be white people adjusting their facial structure in the same messed-up way some people lighten their skin or narrow their noses. To fit in with a problematic dominant racial beauty ideal. I mean there are people who appear white depicted (the worker on the ship sticks out) so the state obviously has white people.
Reading the book and watching the film gave me this reading. I’m not explaining away the ick. It was stupid they didn’t have any male East Asian actors in this film. It really should have been made clear in the film that this technology existed. A really interesting part of the book was Sonmi having her permanent server-smile relaxed so she could pass for a consumer (or a citizen as we would term it). I suppose these were edited for time, but if they kept in this idea of facial editing/racial beauty this could have made an amazing point about the colourism/white beauty paradigm we have in todays world.
I’m not giving the film a pass, but I do think they implied something really interesting, just didn’t follow through.