Ethnic Cleansing: Colorblind Casting in Cloud Atlas by Zeba Blay

Jim Sturgess promotional still from “Cloud Atlas” (2012)

Last month, British actor Jim Sturgess sent a tweet to his 40,000 followers which read: “Yellowface? Blackface? Pinkface? Pinkberry? Blueberry? Strawberry? Bananas? Frozen Yogurt? All the toppings? … Lovely!”

The message was Sturgess’s veiled response to recent criticism of his role in the upcoming science fiction epic Cloud Atlas. Sturgess, along with stars Halle Berry, Tom Hanks, Hugo Weaving, Ben Whishaw, and Hugh Grant plays not one but six different characters in the movie.

Directed by the Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer, the film is based on the critically acclaimed 2004 novel of the same name by David Mitchell. It tells six interlocked stories spanning several centuries, from an 1850s missionary expedition in the Chatham Islands to a futuristic corpocracy where clones are bred as slaves. Most critics agree that it is very good, even great — one MSN Movies review declared it “full of passion and heart and empathy,” and “completely unlike any other modern film.” But since its premiere at the recent Toronto Film Festival, where Lana Wachowski called it an “experimental” movie that “speaks a lot about human courage” (it received a ten-minute standing ovation), a number of detractors have reached a not-so-positive consensus: Cloud Atlas is racist.

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Hugo Weaving promotional still from “Cloud Atlas” (2012)


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