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Fake Mixed Race
"Holy Crap, I'M BLACK!"
Family Guy, "Peter Griffin: Husband, Father...Brother?"

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.

In real life, mixed race individuals can be anywhere along the range of colors of any of the races in their makeup, up to and including the lightest extreme (albeit this is rare). This nonetheless attracts criticism because Reality Is Unrealistic. There also seems to be a Double Standard whereby nonwhite actors can play characters with some white ancestry, but a white actor trying to pull off the reverse will often be met with ridicule.

Compare Gender Equals Breed. See also Ambiguously Brown.

Examples:

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    Film 
  • 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 says "Do you see any family resemblance?" Then again, Malcolm mentions three adopted children in the first movie, of which she's presumably one.
  • 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 unmistakably white Helen Morgan in 1936 and Ava Gardner (who was mixed, but did not look it)note  in 1952 (though Lena Horne did sing one of the part's songs in Till My Butts Roll By).
  • Denzel Washington as the long lost son of a white man in Carbon Copy.
    • Denzel Washington as Malcolm X, as well, who was 1/4 white (his mother was the result of her mother being raped by a white man) with reddish-hair and far lighter skin than Washington's.
  • In Kill Bill, Sophie Fatale is stated to be half-Japanese, half-French but is played by the very white actress Julie Dreyfus.
  • Kai in The 47 Ronin is half-Japanese and half-white, but is played by Keanu Reeves, who is 1/8th Chinese, 1/8th Hawaiian, and 6/8th white.
  • In Charlies Angels Full Throttle, 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.
    • Could be justifiable, since it has been proven that Spanish Jews and Ashkenazi Jews share the same genotype.
  • 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.
    • It's partly lampshaded by Clooney's line to one of his cousins: "Listen, we're howlie [white] as shit, but we have Hawaiian blood in us."
  • Jack Black plays a half-white, half-Mexican monk in Nacho Libre. It's never explicitly stated that one of his parents was mestizo Mexican, but that's the implication anyway.
  • 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.
  • Camille Montes Rivero from Quantum of Solace is supposedly half-Russian and half-Bolivian, but is played by Russian actress Olga Kurylenko. Kurylenko significantly darkened her skin in order to appear Hispanic.
  • 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.
  • Gong Li plays a character named Isabella in Miami Vice, who is supposed to be of mixed Chinese and Cuban heritage. Li is Singaporean Chinese in real life and doesn't have a drop of Latina blood in her.
  • Inverted in Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li, where the fully Chinese protagonist is played by Kristen Kreuk, who's part Chinese, part Dutch, and looks vaguely Asian, but still drew complaints from fans. As a child she was played by a fully Chinese actress, meaning that she effectively got a Race Lift within the movie.
    • Even worse in Partition, where she was an Indian woman, the fakery being made even more obvious by the genuinely Indian actors who filled all the other roles in the film.
  • In the film adaptation of King of Fighters, Kyo Kusanagi is played by the whitest guy ever while having a Japanese father and being called half-breed by Iori Yagami.
    Spoony: Yeah, half white and half white.
  • Kenneth Branagh's film version of Much Ado About Nothing has Denzel Washington and Keanu Reeves as half-brothers. Somebody's got to be half-something.
  • Lupin III:
    • Strange Psychokinetic Strategy has the Japanese-French protagonist (Lupin the Third) being played by full-blooded Japanese actor Yuki Meguro.
    • The 2014 film (No title announced) has two examples. A straight example with Lupin being played by the Japanese actor Shun Oguri, and an inverse example; Fujiko is played by Meisa Kuroki, who is of Japanese-Panmanian descent.
  • The low budget Mockbuster/High School Musical ripoff Sunday School Musical delivers a double whammy. The main character is supposed to be the offspring of a white father and a black mother: not only is the actor playing him a very dark skinned black man and clearly does not have a single white person in his ancestry, but his younger brother is played by a white child actor who is also obviously not even remotely mixed race. Being an Asylum film, however, a certain degree of incompetence is expected.

    Literature 
  • Sherlock Holmes and the case of the Yellow Face: The child hiding behind the titular mask is far darker-skinned than either of her parents, an Englishwoman and an African-American.

    Live Action TV 
  • 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."
    • Except, most dark-skin genes, like genes for dark hair and eyes, are dominant. However, that does not mean the "black" father could not have recessive genes for light skin, and produce a light-skinned child with a woman who is white, or mixed-race; that does happen. What stretched credulity what that he had absolutely no black facial features, or even curly hair. Obviously, the casting director was walking a fine line so as not to spoil the plot twist one that might've been helped by concentrating on actually biracial actors, so they would've at least had an excuse if called out.
  • Implicitly the case in Firefly, where, while there are no Asians in the show, some characters, such as siblings Simon Tam (Sean Maher) and River Tam (Summer Glau), have Chinese-sounding last names. In the back story, America and China were the biggest superpowers in space colonization. It's also why everyone curses in Chinese.
  • An episode of Law & 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.
    • Possible Fridge Brilliance: It was revealed at the end of the episode that the racist mother was paid a hefty sum of money to accept custody of the boy, which she now saw as tainted. By making the boy so obviously white, it emphasizes that it was her own racism that was the problem and that the "ramifications" argument was a load of garbage.
  • 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'.
    • Another features a "black" woman who has "passed" as white for the last 60 years. Take a look at the actresses that portray her.
  • 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 realized he was mixed race. Played straight in that his half-brother was played by the very dark-skinned Wayne Brady.
    Barney: I always thought I was a pale white guy, but it turns out I'm actually a really really pale black guy!
  • 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.
    • Of course, Bruce Lee was himself of mixed race!
    • More plausibly used in Kung Fu: The Legend Continues, in which Carradine plays the original Kung Fu character's Identical Grandson, who's presumably had a couple of generations of partial white ancestry. His son is played by a Caucasian actor, who Lampshades it by remarking that his own mom looked like Betty Crocker.
  • 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. This character, named Alan, later became a member of the main cast (played by a different actor, who was also white). 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.
    • That might be plausible in such a case.
  • On The Suite Life on Deck, London Tipton's mother is revealed to be Thai and his father is revealed to be white. London is played by Brenda Song, who is Hmong and Thai.
  • In Lie to Me, the actress playing Cal and Zoe's daughter is clearly all white, while her mother is half-Black. It's more believable than other examples since Jennifer Beals is light enough to play white characters herself, plus it is not unusual for someone with only a black grandparent to appear fully white, such as the daughters of Victoria Rowell, Eartha Kitt, and Persia White.
    • Actually, one of the few true-to-life examples. Light-skinned genes are recessive, so two biracial people can have a very light-skinned child who looks white, but not a very dark-skinned child (unless they are both coincidentally very dark-skinned). More than one gene plays a role in determining skin color, though, which is why mixed-race children usually look like a literal palette-mix of their parents' skin tones. It's in the second generation that skin tones are less predictable. It's the same with eye and hair color. When you see a person who looks fully African-American, other than having blue eyes, he has at least one white grand (or great, or great-great) parent on each side.
  • Initially thought to be the case with Joan Watson in Elementary, who is played by Lucy Liu. The pilot briefly shows her father, who is a white American, but a later episode reveals that her birth father is Asian.
    • An Enforced Trope if they wanted to stick with the last name "Watson" with Liu in the role, though. Unless they just used adoption as an explanation instead.
      • Or, an Ellis Island spelling of a Chinese name like "Wan-tsun."
      • Her surname being Watson is explained later on in the series as her assuming her stepfather's last name.
  • The kids in Wizards of Waverly Place are half Italian-American, half Mexican-American. Selena Gomez is the only one of the actors who is the same combination, with David Henrie being Italian and Jake T.Austin being white and Puerto Rican.
  • For some time, Saturday Night Live had Barack Obama portrayed by Fred Armisen, who is sort-of mixed-race (white father, half-Hispanic mother) but not remotely black or African. They recast the role to avoid further controversy once another black comedian joined the cast.
  • The show Pair Of Kings revolves around two mixed-race fraternal twins, who are played by Mitchell Musso (white) and Doc Shaw (African American), respectively. This is Handwaved in the show by explaining that they each take after a different parent. It's rare, but has happened [1].
  • The 30 Rock finale toys with this. Liz adopts a pair of mixed-race twins, one of whom looks like her black coworker Tracy, and the other of whom looks like her white, blonde coworker Jenna. It's Played for Laughs of course.
    • The Distant Finale scene at the end shows Liz's half-black granddaughter, who is played by an actual biracial actress.
  • In the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica, the white actor Jamie Bamber plays Captain Lee Adama, the son of Commander Bill Adama, who is played by the Latino actor Edward James Olmos. Lee's mother Carolanne is played by a white actress. To make Lee and Bill look more alike, Jamie Bamber's hair is dyed brown and EJO wears blue contact lenses.
    • Commander Adama himself is also an example, as in the prequel series Caprica his father Joseph is played by the Latino actor Esai Morales and his mother Evelyn is played by the white actress Teryl Rothery. Which explains the blue eyes.
  • Actor Yaphet Kotto was cast as Lt. Al Giardello on the award-winning cop series Homicide: Life on the Street, though his dark complexion and facial features made it very implausible for him to be the biracial son of an Italian-American father and an African-American mother. One episode of the series even went out of its way to draw attention to the issue when a light-skinned African-American woman declined to date Giardello because he was "too black" for her. (That said, Kotto was outstanding in the role and it's impossible to imagine another actor playing Giardello. There is a valid argument for colourblind casting.)
  • Inverted on The Vampire Diaries. Kat Graham is half black half Jewish, but both of Bonnie's parents are black (which works because "Jewish" is not a race, although the original Jews were in fact a mixture of Caucasoid and Negroid genotypes).

    Professional Wrestling 
  • The Dudley Boys / Team 3D are supposed to have the same (white) father, though it's glaringly obvious that D-Von is not mixed race.
  • Amy Dumas's "Lita" character was Mexican when she first arrived in WWE, despite her red hair and (relatively) pale skin. (This part of the characterization was ultimately jettisoned, with Dumas acting more like the North Carolina hillbilly-woman she actually was, but the "Lita" name remained.) Ultimately a subversion, since Dumas was one-quarter Mexican. Also, there are Mexicans who have lighter, European features.
  • Averted in the case of TNA wrestler Jay "Black Machismo" Lethal, a character which is a blatant copy of Randy Savage. Prior to Savage's death, TNA were in talks with him to join the company as Jay's manager and Kayfabe biological father, despite the fact that Jay has no white ancestry whatever. Negotiations fell through when Randy realised that Hulk Hogan lived near the Impact Zone and would visit at unpredictable intervals, and the idea was never developed.

    Video Games 
  • In BioShock Infinite it is heavily implied that the protagonist Booker Dewitt is partially native American. The same goes for the main villian Comstock what with them being alternative universe versions of the same guy. However Booker looks fairly white in all his coverart, and Comstock looks a lot more like Santa Claus than Squanto.

    Web Video 

    Western Animation 
  • Tenzin from The Legend of Korra is half Water Tribe but looks very similar to his father, but both of his siblings have darker skin between the shades of their parents, while Tenzin's main resemblance to his mother's side in his eyes. As late comedian Greg Giraldo pointed out with his own family, it's entirely possible to have full siblings with completely varying complexions. He also resembles his actor, JK Simmons.
  • In-Universe on The Simpsons—Apu pretends to be married to Marge when his mother comes to visit, hoping this will get him out of the Arranged Marriage she wants to foist on him. By extension, Bart, Lisa and Maggie pretend to be Apu's children, despite clearly being too light-skinned to pass for Anglo-Indians (and they don't even dye their skin, which could have been successful since Indians often have perfectly Caucasoid features beneath their brown skin); the option of pretending to be Apu and Marge's adopted children also didn't occur to them. At one point they ask her why she has a dot on her forehead and she questions whether they know anything about their "Brahmin heritage." note 
    Bart: "As long as you have absolutely no follow-up questions: yes, yes we do."
    • Ironically, Bart, Lisa, and Maggie were eventually revealed to be part Black and part Native American through their father's side, although to such a small extent that they could still have blond hair.
    • Nelson Muntz (German-American through his father's side) also claimed to be "part Eskimo" - leading Principal Skinner to retort, "I don't care if you're Kristi Yamaguchi."
  • On South Park, one of the Goth Kids (Michael) is designed like other white characters but has an Asian mother. Possibly Justified since a previous episode implied his parents were divorced; the Asian woman may be his stepmother, but he refers to her as "Mom."
    • This is actual the second case of this. There's a minor character named Kevin, who was stated to be of Chinese-American descent back in the fifth season, but has the exact same features as all the other boys except Token.
  • In the DC Comics-based superhero series Young Justice, the extremely blonde, teenage superheroine Artemis is the biracial daughter of blond, Caucasian supervillain Sportsmaster and the Vietnamese-American reformed supervillain Huntress. We know she's not colouring her hair, because even in flashback as a small child she's portrayed as blonde. While not outright impossible (presumably if there was a blond, caucasian ancestor on her mother's side) Artemis' hair colour is, at best, unlikely in the extreme.
    • Word of God says that Artemis' coloring is based on the Real Life child of friends who is also half-American, half-Vietnamese. The difference is that her parents are also Vietnamese/American making blond hair much more likely, which wasn't taken into account. Having said that, Artemis is clearly depicted as mixed-race, with noticeably darker skin than her white teammates and facial features to match.

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