|Quotes • Headscratchers • Playing With • Useful Notes • Analysis • Image Links • Haiku • Laconic|
When a character who is supposed to be of mixed ancestry is played by an actor who obviously is not. This is not to say that people of mixed parentage do not physically resemble one race over another -- they often do. This trope describes the flagrant instances of laziness and inattention in casting, which result in a attempt to force the viewer to accept that a character is the biological child of a character of another ethnicity, even though his/her physical features, particularly skin color, clearly preclude that possibility.
Due in large part to the lack of mixed-race actors in the American television/film industries -- although one should point out that this is largely due to the biases of the industry itself, which has a tendency to shy away from performers who aren't readily identifiable as members of a particular race/ethnicity.
Often occurs where the parentage of the character is a defining issue of the plot. This is not uncommon in American dramatic shows, where it most often involves the children of black/white mixed marriages. Chalk this one up to the rigid and brutal history of the American color line--scriptwriters still use the twist of an ostensibly "white" character being fathered by a black man (or vice versa) to jolt the audience by invoking longstanding taboos against cross-racial romance. Therefore, one could say that the imperatives of plot justify this trope to a limited extent. However, in the majority of cases it comes across as utterly implausible. More often than not, the writer simply leans upon viewer ignorance -- as if the relatively small number of biracial Americans makes it possible to accept that a character is biracial simply because the plot decrees it. Adding to the insult against viewer intelligence is clumsy writing, which often causes the parentage revelation to be completely disconnected from the preceding plot. It is often a ham-handed attempt to up the dramatic ante,without rhyme, reason, or foreshadowing. In other words, it is a Shocking Swerve, a cheap source of foundation-shaking conflict that can be invoked without regard for the narrative's internal logic.
A variant is often used in a comedic contexts, such as animation or sitcoms (see Family Guy quote above). A character will discover obscure roots in another ethnic group, usually by way of a distant ancestor. The character will often proceed to redefine his/her whole identity in a ludicrously exaggerated manner based on this information, regardless of the fact that the person lacks any substantive cultural or physical resemblance to the group in question. This plotline's persistence can perhaps be explained by its versatility as a vehicle for dissecting and/or subverting ethnic stereotypes and assumptions.
Truth in Television, since mixed race individuals can be anywhere along the range of colors of any of the races in their makeup. This nonetheless attracts criticism because Reality Is Unrealistic. (it's true that they do most often look "dark", because of dominant genes. However, light-skinned, light-haired mixed-race people definitely do exist.)
Compare Gender Equals Breed.
- The Movie of The Human Stain had main character Coleman Silk (who is mostly black with some white ancestry, and appears white) played by Anthony Hopkins (who just looks... white). In flashbacks, the young Coleman is played by Wentworth Miller (who actually is mixed-race and can "pass" for white).
- Roger Ebert defended the casting choice, pointing out that Coleman would not have been able to pass in the first place if he had not looked completely white.
- The Lost World: Jurassic Park casts Jeff Goldblum's daughter with an actress who might not have a single white man anywhere in her family tree. Lampshaded in the film where another character mentions "Um... do they look related to you?" Then again, she might be adopted.
- Malcolm mentions three adopted children in the first movie.
- The movie A Mighty Heart about Marianne Pearl had this. Marianne Pearl was born to a Dutch-Jewish father and an Afro-Chinese Cuban mother. She was played by Angelina Jolie.
- This happens in both sound film versions of the Jerome Kern musical, Show Boat; the supposedly "miscegenated" Julie is played by the unmistakeably white Helen Morgan in 1936 and Ava Gardner (who was mixed, but did not look it) in 1952 (though Lena Horne did sing one of the part's songs in Till The Clouds Roll By).
- Denzel Washington as the long lost son of a white man in Carbon Copy.
- Denzel Washington as Malcolm X, who was 25% white, (his mother was of mixed race, due to her mother's rape by a white man) and far lighter-skinned than Washington is.
- In Kill Bill, Sophie Fatale is stated to be half-Japanese, half-French but is played by the very white Julie Dreyfus.
- In the second Charlie's Angels movie, Lucy Liu's father is revealed to be... John Cleese?
- Juni Cortez in Spy Kids is played by the Jewish/German Daryl Sabara, who actually looks even whiter than his ancestry implies.
- Not so bizarre considering his mother is obviously very Nordic white and his father is a Spaniard, ie European.
- George Clooney's main character (along with most of the characters) is part-Hawaiian in The Descendants. Clooney pulls it off but some of the other characters aren't as convincing.
- Richard Gere plays a half-Japanese man in Akira Kurosawa's Rhapsody in August.
- One of the common complaints about the Billy Jack film series is the half-Indian title character is played by the VERY white Tom Laughlin. The films try to justify it by having all the characters recognize him as an Indian, but that just makes it all the more laughable.
- The title character of Dr. No, a James Bond movie, is half-German, half-Chinese but played by a white Jewish actor.
- Armando Munoz, aka Darwin, is half-Mexican and half-African American. In X Men First Class, he is played by Edi Gathegi, who has no Latino ancestry of any sort.
- Inverted in Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li, where the fully Chinese protagonist is played by Kristen Kruek, who's part Chinese, part Dutch, and looks vaguely Asian, but still drew complaints from fans.
- An episode of the drama Without a Trace featured the disappearance of a college student. It was revealed in the show's climax that the white young man was... secretly the product of his white mother's romantic affair with a black man. An appallingly stupid handwave occurs when the mother confesses this to her son. Outraged, he voices the viewer's natural sentiment that this is not possible. The mother responds "It happens. You take after me."
- An episode of Law and Order had a woman accused of killing her ex's new wife because she was going to reveal that the man was black (he'd been passing for white for decades). The prosecution contended that the woman's motive was racism, while the defense claimed that she panicked over the possible ramifications for her son, who would now be "revealed" to be black. It might have had more impact had the actor playing the boy not been so obviously white.
- An episode of Cold Case revolved around a victim who turned out to be of mixed race; this was likely a deliberate use, as he was doing his best to hide his heritage and was murdered by someone who believed he'd 'turned his back on his people'.
- Subverted in How I Met Your Mother, when Barney meets the father of his black half-brother and thinks the guy is his father as well, and he's just never realised he was mixed race.
Barney: I always thought I was a pale white guy, but it turns out I'm actually a really really pale black guy!
- This would make the very dark-skinned Wayne Brady's character half-white.
- A classic example is Kung Fu, where the son of a Chinese mother and white American father is played by David Carradine. He was originally planned to be full Chinese and played by Bruce Lee, but the suits didn't think the audience could relate to an Asian actor.
- In season 7 of That 70s Show it was revealed that Hyde's real father is a black man. Hyde was played by the completely white Danny Masterson (although the character did have extremely curly hair). This was Played for Laughs.
- Ben Vereen played the half-white son of a slave and her master in Roots. He was one of the darkest-skinned people in the whole production and was significantly darker than even his mother.
- On The Jeffersons, Tom and Helen Willis were an interracial couple who had two children. Their daughter Jenny, who was often shown, looked like a typical African-American. But in a Very Special Episode, Jenny's brother came to visit, and he was played by an obviously non-mixed-race white actor.
- The character, named Alan, becomes a part of the cast played by a different actor who is also a non mixed race white actor. It's lampshaded when someone expresses shock that his mother is black.
- Yusuke Yamamoto is fully Japanese but tends to be cast in But Not Too Foreign roles, including Tamaki (half-French) in Ouran High School Host Club and Tsurugi (mixed Japanese-European) in Kamen Rider Kabuto.
- Inverted in Alicia Key's video "Unthinkable". Keys is clearly mixed race, yet the people playing her family are all black. Since the topic of the video was interracial dating, the family portrayed had to be all-black (to contrast with Key's white love interest).
- In Terra Nova, the lead character is a white man married to a woman who appears to be of East Indian ancestry. Their two daughters have brown skin, brown eyes and appear to take after their mother. Their son, however, has pale skin, blue eyes and no apparent Indian ancestry.
- On The Suite Life On Deck, London Tipton's mother is revealed to be Thai and father is revealed to be white. London is played by Brenda Song, who is Hmong and Thai.