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
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- 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.
- 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.
: 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.
- 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
- 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, 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.
- 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.