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Gemma Arterton as an Englishwoman in Quantum of Solace and as a Persian in Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time.
Dev: The Indian dude [in Short Circuit 2] is a white dude. That's Fisher Stevens. They used brownface makeup.
Ravi: Wait, what?
Dev: Yeah. They got a real robot and a fake Indian.
Master of None, "Indians on TV"

White actors pretending to be members of brown-skinned ethnicities such as Native Americans (sometimes called "redface" in this case), Latin Americans, Polynesians, South Asians, Middle Easterners, or North Africans. This is often done with makeup or tanning, and sometimes hair dye.

Brownface is seen more often than yellowface and blackface in modern productions. Lately, Hollywood prefers casting actors who look enough like Native Americans without using makeup when actual Native American actors aren't used. This is even more common with Latino characters, who have a greater latitude due to the fact that there are White Latinos. In fact, the trope might be used unnecessarily on an actor who can already pass for Hispanic by darkening them to meet the perception that Latino Is Brown.

There are basically three ways that this Trope is played:

  1. The classic "Brown Face". A white actor is plastered with layers of makeup to make them look darker skinned. Universally lousy.
  2. The Ethnic getup. A white actor uses his or her normal features onscreen, but wears Ethnic garb. note . This often sees works portraying people wearing stereotypical clothes and dresses, which may be from the wrong region, worn rarely, worn out of season, or worn in inappropriate locations, or times.
  3. The "lets ignore it" bit: the character's ethnicity is only an informed attribute, s/he wears no makeup or hair-dye, and sports no national "dress".

A mixture of the three can be employed as well. No 1 is generally considered offensive these days, while No 2 and 3 are controversial; ironically while many Westerners tend to be offended at 3 and label it "White Washing", people of the region portrayed generally find that the best result, especially if the actor's phenotype is within range of the types found.


Note that unlike Black Face and Yellow Face, Brownface does not necessarily require serious makeup. There is sufficient overlap between the ranges of skin colour and facial features of Whites note  and Middle Easterners and South Asians that several actors from one ethnicity can play another.

Some white actors can be sufficiently dark-skinned to resemble the nationality they are impersonating, while enough Middle Easterners and South Asians have pale skin and or light hair and eyes to make it believable. Conversely, many Ambiguously Brown foreigners have clearly Caucasoid or near-Caucasoid features beneath their dark skin, so it's not as much of a stretch as trying to pass for a person of African or Asian descent. Basically, there's a reason that the US Census's definition of "White/Caucasian" includes anyone from North Africa or the Middle East as well as Europe.

Of course, many Latin Americans are of partial (or total) European origin anyway. note  For perhaps the same reason, Brownface doesn't seem to carry anything close to the stigma of the other two tropes. Typically, Brownface for a white actor could just be the effect of spending a lot of time in the tanning booth or on the beach. Not to mention post-production color correction, the Orange/Blue Contrast can have a very similar effect on skin tone. This is a subtrope of Fake Nationality. Occasionally used as a method for creating Human Aliens.


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  • Iron Eyes Cody, famous as "The Crying Indian", was an Italian-American who passed himself off as Native American in real life for decades.
  • Ashton Kutcher once darkened his face to play a stereotypical Indian man in a Pop Chips commercial, in an example of No 1 and 2. Ironically, if he had retained his actual skintone, he would have still been within the range of Indian Phenotypes and not come across as a jerk.

  • In-Universe in Movie Crazy. Harold meets Mary the actress for the first time when she is in costume, wig, and Brownface to play a Spanish woman. He meets her again when she is out of costume, in her actual appearance as a pretty blonde. He doesn't recognize her, and a Two-Person Love Triangle ensues.
  • Viva Villa! is an entire film about Pancho Villa and The Mexican Revolution that doesn't employ a single Mexican. Most obvious with the makeup job on lily-white Fay Wray.
  • Spaghetti Westerns typically cast Spaniards and Italians as Mexicans and Native Americans, since they were typically filmed in Spain and made by Italians.
  • Eli Wallach, an olive-skinned Polish-American Jew, played Mexican bandits in The Magnificent Seven, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Ace High and Don't Turn the Other Cheek!. On top of that, he's played a South American dictator in Kisses For My President, a Spanish gypsy in For Whom the Bell Tolls, the Sharif of Khwarezm in Genghis Khan, and more Italians and Sicilians than you can shake a stick at (which is helped by the fact that he grew up in an Italian neighborhood).
  • Brotherhood of the Wolf has Mark Dacascos as a Native American. Dacascos has Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, Spanish and Irish ancestry, but no Native American. He does not use makeup, in an illistration of No 2 and No 3.
  • Jacob Black in the Twilight movies is played by Taylor Lautner, who has only "distant" Native American ancestry. He does not use makeup. Most of the other werewolves are played by people with more prominent Native American heritage.
  • The very white Spencer Tracy seems to have used some kind of makeup to darken his skin when playing a Portuguese fisherman in 1937's Captains Courageous.
  • Averted in Argo, a film about the Iranian hostage crisis; the white Ben Affleck only darkens his hair to play White Latino CIA agent Tony Mendez.
    • Tomy Mendez has said that his features (dark hair and eyes and light skin) are such that he could pass as a local in most places from, Europe and India.
  • Vasquez from Aliens is played by a white Jewish actress. She is considerably darker-skinned in that role than she is in real life.
  • Johnny Depp plays Tonto in the The Lone Ranger. Of course, the issue doesn't really come up: not only is Depp (allegedly) of Indian descent himself, but Tonto spends nearly the whole film with white clay spookily smeared on his face (which, absurdly, doesn't even wash off when he jumps underwater!). In-Universe examples also include several white outlaws impersonate Comanche Indians in order to massacre settlers and provoke a war.
  • In Quantum of Solace, the fair-skinned Ukrainian actress Olga Kurylenko has much darker skin as her Bolivian character, Camille.
  • Gemma Arterton, a fair-skinned Englishwoman, looks considerably tanner while playing the Persian princess Tamina in Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. Curiously enough, Gemma Artertons actual skin tone would be unremarkable in Iran itself but would not be convincingly Persian to Western audiences — in reality such phenotypes are very common in some parts of the region.
  • Fair-skinned English comedian Peter Sellers wears brown makeup to play Indians in The Millionairess and The Party. Again, his phenotype would actually not make him stand out in real life India. He was aware of this, and indeed he was paradoying stereotypical Western views of the Sub-Continent.
  • In A Mighty Heart, Angelina Jolie plays Mariane Pearl, a real-life journalist with a Dutch father and an African-White Cuban-Chinese mother. Jolie's skin is slightly darker and her hair is made curly to resemble Pearl more. The casting caused a minor outcry in spite of the fact that Pearl had personally approved the casting.
  • Pharaoh: Everyone. It's a film about Ancient Egypt, made in Poland in 1966. A bunch of very white Polish people put on makeup.
  • Christopher Lee, an English actor , played Gandhi's Pakistani opposite number, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, in the film Jinnah, and needed very little make-up to do so since Jinnah was fairly light-complexioned, and Lee did have more than a passing resemblance to him. Casting a foreigner, especially one known in his home culture for his villains, still caused a lot of controversy. An example of Type 3.
  • The Frenchman Pierre Briece is most famous for his role as Apache chief Winnetou.
  • In Short Circuit, white actor Fisher Stevens darkens his face to play Indian Ben Jahvri.
  • Charlton Heston darkened his hair to play a Mexican detective in Touch of Evil. His makeup is hard to gauge since the film is black and white.
  • While still blonde, Elsa Pataky (Spanish actress of Romanian-Hungarian descent on her mother's side) is more tanned and has her hair darker than usual in her first Hollywood role, the passenger Maria in Snakes on a Plane. This is completely avoided in her later role as Brazilian police officer Elena Neves in The Fast and the Furious franchise.
  • In both The Sheik and its sequel The Son of the Sheik, a bunch of very white actors are tasked with playing Arabs. This is most notable in the sequel with Karl Dane, who was Danish, but still managed to look brown to play Rudolph Valentino's Arab sidekick.
  • In The Searchers, the Comanche Scar was played by Henry Brandon, a blue-eyed German.
  • Lawrence of Arabia: Alec Guinness, an English actor, plays Prince Feisal, an Arab. Memorably, Guinness looked enough like Faisal that many people who had known Feisal, were taken aback at the resemblance.
  • White man Douglas Fairbanks plays a half-white half-Native American character in The Half-Breed.
  • Almost all Hollywood versions of Ramona featured white actors in both leading roles: an Indian man and a half-Indian woman. Their ethnicity is integral to the plot. The one exception was Mexican actress Dolores del Río in the last silent version.
  • Exodus: Gods and Kings features most of its cast tanning to portray Egyptian people. Joel Edgerton and Sigourney Weaver were the most obvious cases of it. The former at least was completly unnecessary, the real Ramases II was red haired. note 
  • Octopussy had the villan, Kamal Khan, an exiled Afghan Prince, played by the Frenchman, Louis Jourdan; we are told by M at the start that he is an Afghan, and thats it, no Brownface, no Ethnic Dress, no accent even.
  • Black Narcissus had Jean Simmons, Sam Jaffe and Esmond Knight in Brownface to play Indian characters. Averted with the Young General - as he was played by the Indian Sabu.
  • In Animas Trujano, the title character, a Mexican citizen, is played by Toshiro Mifune.
  • In The Outrage, Paul Newman plays Juan Carrasco, the Expy of Tajomaru from Rashomon, a Bandito. There is Truth in Television that a number of Mexicans are fair-skinned and fair-haired.
  • Cloud Atlas: Bae Doona plays a Mexican woman in one storyline. Jim Broadbent also shows up as a brown-skinned prescient.

  • The Last Battle has an in-universe example. Tirian, Eustace and Jill wear the Narnian version of fake tan to make their faces brown enough to briefly pass for Calormenes.
  • Another in-universe example in Hans Christian Anderson's The Wild Swans. The Wicked Stepmother covers Elisa's face in walnut juice - which is known for staining the skin brown - to make sure her father doesn't recognise her.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In F Troop, none of the Hekawi tribesmen are played by actual Native Americans. Most were played by Jews using classic Borscht Belt-style performances. There was even a reference to the Hekawi being the lost 13th tribe of Israel.
  • Parodied in It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, in which Dee has a character she performs called Martina Martinez, which is an extremely stereotypical Latina with an artificially brown face and black wig. People who see her in costume are mortified.
  • In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, white American actress Robia LaMorte played Jenny (actually Janna) Calendar, a Romani woman pretending to be an Ambiguously Brown American. Confused yet?
  • In the Cimarron Strip episode The Battle of Bloody Stones, all the main Native American characters in the episode are played by white men, despite having Native American extras.
  • Later on in the Star Trek canon it became common practice for actors playing Vulcan characters to have an olive or bronzed make-up foundation (which makes some sense considering their home planet is very hot, arid and dry, common factors connected to skin tone). The original Vulcan, Leonard Nimoy, was Jewish (in "Chinese yellow" makeup) and many of the later Vulcan actors had a similar background and appearance. It wasn't until the black Tim Russ was cast as Tuvok in Star Trek: Voyager (the first time establishing a distinct ethnic diversity in the Vulcan population) that the make-up practice took hold and the very pale Jolene Blalock was darkened to play T'Pol on Star Trek: Enterprise.
  • Leela in Doctor Who was heavily browned up in her early promo-shots to go with her Nubile Savage theme (and possibly to make her look futuristically mixed-race). The makeup she eventually wore on the show was darker than her natural colouring and included brown eye contacts, but was a lot more subtle than in early pictures (which bordered on blackface).
    • Patrick Troughton in "Enemy of the World" when playing the Mexican-born Salamander, both as Salamander and the Doctor impersonating him. While it isn't very noticeable in black-and-white, a slightly-dark tinge is visible. It is worth pointing out that the story shows a scene of the Doctor literally applying dark makeup to appear like Salamander...
  • Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Averted for comedy when the blond-haired and blue-eyed snob Jacqueline (played by Jane Krakowski) is revealed to be secretly a Lakota Native American who is ashamed of her heritage and changed her appearance to pass as white in high society.
  • Spike Milligan went into brownface to pay a Pakistani character in his short-lived sitcom Curry and Chips. The result was held to be crassly racially insensitive even by the standards of The '70s and the humour depended on one-dimensional racial stereotypes with very few redeeming features. The sitcom did not last for longer than one series and has never been repeated.

  • White Englishman Peter Gabriel wrote the story of The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway with a New York Puerto Rican named Rael as the protagonist. When Genesis took it on the road in 1974–75, Gabriel performed the role of Rael heavily made up in brownface.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • Reversed for the fairly dark Chicano Chavo Guerrero, who used make up to become paler, in order to fit in better with "middle class America" (one case in a series of race baiting by WWE writers). Ironically, his uncle Eddie Guerrero, who was a good deal lighter-skinned, portrayed a far more stereotypical Chicano character.
  • Carmella is actually pretty fair-skinned outside of the ring but wears a really dark tan to portray her Italian-American Joisey. Given that she was introduced as a hairdresser-turned-wrestler, it's not too much of a stretch to suggest the character just likes tanning.
  • Averted with Ivelisse Vélez during her time in WWE. Despite wanting to turn her hair brown, WWE insisted she remain blonde. She was also given the name 'Sofia Cortez', a reggaeton entrance theme and billed from her native Puerto Rico - without darkening her fair skin.
  • Karlee Perez, who is mixed race but fair skinned, tans up to play the apparently Mexican Catrina in Lucha Underground.

    Video Games 

    Real Life 
  • Quite a few British intelligence officers posed as Indian or Persian merchants while gathering information about Central Asia. Most of them had been living in tropical climates already, and their travels included desert environments, so they ended up pretty tan, and in some cases practically indistinguishable from the people that they were blending in with.
  • In the memoir Seven Years In Tibet (it didn't make it in the 1997 film), Heinrich Harrer tells how German and Italian explorers escaped a British internment camp in India: the Germans disguising themselves as Indians, while the Italian officer Marchese was already brown enough to pass for an Indian with only a clothes change.
  • Some have suggested that US Presidential candidate Mitt Romney got a fake tan before appearing on Univision to better appeal to Latino voters. His ears are noticeably paler than his face.
  • Lillian Smith, a trick-shot performer and contemporary of Annie Oakley, pretended to be a Sioux by darkening her skin and calling herself "Princess Wenona" while performing for Mexican Joe's Wild West Show.
  • Walter B. Harris, a British writer established in Morocco, used dark makeup and dressed like a Moroccan to gather information for his books.
  • When Robert Beltran was cast as Chakotay, an American Indian character on Star Trek: Voyager, the producers, wanting to avoid this trope, asked him if he had any Indian in his heritage. His response was, "Gee, I'm only Mexican." His point: not all "American" Indians come from North of the Rio Grande.