The Difference Between Playing a Video Game Character of Color and Yellowface (Cosplay and Yellowface, part 2)

On a recent post I made on this blog, I received a comment that “disagreed” with my point that although it’s fine (and cool and awesome) to cosplay as a character (from any medium) of any ethnicity – even your own – yellowface comes from a long history of fetishizing Asian women and has led to the continued double standard of Asian beauty in which white girls can go up to actual Asian girls and say that they must be Asian on the inside because they “look more Asian” than we do. Pardon my scorn and distaste for this comment.

That said, the commenter did raise the valid point that I’ve made it difficult to relate my point back to video game characters, so that’s going to be my focus in this post.

Our trip to The Quarter actually provided me with a good example to use for this post, so there’s that XD

Fanart of Chun Li from the Street Fighter franchise
Fanart of Chun Li from the Street Fighter franchise

This character is Chun-Li, from the Street Fighter series. She is a Chinese martial artist and Interpol officer who wants to avenge her father’s death. She’s also by far one of the most-cosplayed female characters I’ve seen.

As far as I know, the Street Fighter franchise doesn’t address her race as a major plot point. However, her fighting style does seem to be inspired by the Snake or Dragon styles of Kung Fu, from my limited observation, and since Street Fighter IS a beat-em-up game, her martial arts and ethnic background is a large part of who she is.

Cosplaying as someone like Chun-Li is super cool; it shows how much people love her and appreciate having her in the games. Once again, I’m not hating on people playing or cosplaying as her.

Notice how the cosplayer and the character are different ethnicities? This is fine and the cosplay is really cool!
Notice how the cosplayer and the character are different ethnicities? This is fine and the cosplay is really cool!

Yellowface comes from a completely different mindset than cosplaying or playing a video game as a character of a different ethnicity. Whereas cosplaying or playing a video game come from mindsets of respecting the character and/or the character’s story, yellowface comes from a mindset of making white people look “exotic” for the sake of having white women play roles as Asian geishas in racist movies. Yellowface was originally used to block Asian actors and actresses from the business, and later evolved to become what it represents now: a way to caricature and fetishize Asian people.

So don’t tell me I’m “making sure” that people aren’t being racist. People who do yellowface ARE racist, and “wanting to look Asian” is another way of fetishizing us and reducing us to pretty porcelain dolls with no important personality. And it needs to STOP.

0 thoughts on “The Difference Between Playing a Video Game Character of Color and Yellowface (Cosplay and Yellowface, part 2)

  1. There’s a difference between cosplaying as an Asian character and cosplaying a generic Asian person, which I think is at the heart of your argument and mentioned a lot more in your first post but something that a lot of people have a hard time understanding.
    I also think there’s something interesting to be explored in the art style that these characters are presented in, and how that can either obscure or accentuate race. I don’t really have any fully formed thoughts on it, but it’s something that – as an artist – I consider.

  2. I don’t think we’re going to agree, and that’s fine. I think that I’m looking at this from the more broad perspective of what it means to temporarily inhabit the identity of another, and how returning to a state of higher privilege is not at all connected to the honesty that goes into creating that identity. In short, a racist character is racist. This is no matter who is under the costume, or behind the makeup, or using the controller. I think that the racist stereotypes that you speak of in both articles can indeed be harmful and insulting to individuals who identify with the cultures that are being unfairly portrayed. I wouldn’t, however, direct the criticism toward only fans of that racist portrayal that happen to have a certain skin color. Any person can be insulting and racist toward another culture. If a character is truly a racist portrayal, than all participants in the portrayal of that racism are to blame, not just white ones, but the Asian ones as well, along with any other identity who engages in racist stereotypes of Asian people. If anything, it is perhaps more fair to be critical of the actual creator of the racist artwork/character, which in the case of stereotypical anime characters, might be more likely to be Asian (Just an educated guess, but I honestly don’t know).

    As for the “making sure” bit, those are Marc’s words, who commented, “ Because when you decide to wear yellowface as a white person, there’s no one there to regulate your experience, no one there to make sure you aren’t making a ridiculous stereotype and an ass of yourself.” I personally don’t believe that people require permission from others to cosplay, (as if one person can speak for an entire culture anyway) and my comment explaining that very thing was in response to Marc saying that the experience of a white person needs to be regulated.

  3. Hi Eunnie! First, I always love having conversations with you about this particular issue; a conversation with you is always an enlightening one!

    After reading both posts, it is easy for some to confuse this commentary as a condemnation of cosplay. This is far from the truth. The issue is not cosplay, the issue is effect of particular cosplays that serve to appropriate Asian cultures. To thin out your eyes with eyeliner to talking with certain inflections to make you sound more “kawaii” is appropriation. In response to Doc_V, you are right in saying people should enjoy playing these roles, but there is a difference in appropriating and celebrating. These two things are exclusive of each other, and I think Eunnie is trying to say that appropriating Asian culture and yellowface does not “require permission” but in fact violates a culture. To appropriate means to use someone else’s culture for your own means and not celebrating that culture. That is what Eunnie is trying to say, at least in what I’ve absorbed in these posts.

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