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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 ethnicities that typically have tan skin such as Native Americans (sometimes called "redface" in this case), Latin Americans, Polynesians, South Asians, Southeast Asians, West Asian, 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 Indigenous, Mestizo, Black, White, and Asian Latinos.

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. Generally lousy.
  2. The Ethnic getup. A white actor has 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, they wear no makeup or hair-dye, and sports no national "dress".

A mixture of the three can be employed as well. No 1 is straight up considered offensive these days, while No 2 and 3 are controversial; particularly with the latter due to the fact South Asian/Arab/Native/Latino/Brown actors in general are rarely given roles that aren't stereotypical.

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 Northern Indian Phenotypes and not come across as a jerk.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Biblical movies often run into controversy for this, as they tend to cast very white actors as Israelites/Jews, who at that time period should have all been Middle Eastern (so Ashkenazi Jews are out of the question).
    • The Passion of the Christ had Jim Caviezel (of Irish, Slovak, and Swiss descent) playing Jesus. The rest of the cast, on the other hand, were mainly comprised of Southern Europeans, so they had an easier time playing their characters.
    • One of the controversies surrounding Noah was it having an entirely white cast in a Biblical story.
    • Exodus: Gods and Kings features its largely white cast tanning to portray Ancient Egyptians and Israelites in the 12th century BCE. Joel Edgerton and Sigourney Weaver were the most obvious cases of it.
  • 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.
  • Westerns filmed in America during The Golden Age of Hollywood would often cast Jewish, Italian or even Japanese-American actors as Native Americans, most famously with Espera Oscar "Iron Eyes Cody" de Corti. This was parodied in Blazing Saddles where Mel Brooks, a very light skinned Ashkenazi Jew, cast himself as a Yiddish-speaking Native American chief without wearing makeup.
  • 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).
  • The Last Airbender infamously cast the very white Noah Ringer, Nicola Peltz, and Jackson Rathbone as Aang, Katara, and Sokka respectively. Other than the ethnic costumes, there was no attempt to portray them as anything but whites. In the show, Aang has light skin, so Ringer's casting can be forgiven (though since the Air Nomads are based on the Tibetans, it should not), but Katara and Sokka — and the Water Tribes in general)— are based on the Inuit people. Bizarrely, the Water Tribe extras actually were played by actors who resemble real-life Inuit, so the casting choice could have been better.
  • Aladdin (2019) came under fire before release when word got out that most of the extras were white actors wearing skin-darkening makeup. In response to this, several crowd scenes were re-shot and re-edited with actual people of color.
  • In The 33, Chilean Maria Segovia was played by a French actress.
  • In Master of the Flying Guillotine, one of the main villain's three henchmen, Indian martial artist Yoga Tro La Seng, is very obviously a Chinese actor in brownface.
  • An unusual case in the form of the 2016 biopic of Nina Simone, in which the Afro-Latina Zoe Saldaña wore dark makeup and a prosthetic nose in the title role.
  • 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 illustration 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.
  • No 3. happens in Argo, a film about the Iranian hostage crisis; where the white Anglo-American Ben Affleck plays Mestizo Mexican-American CIA agent Tony Mendez.
    • However, 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 fair-skinned Jewish actress, Jenette Goldstein. This is because the film was an American-British co-production and shot on a filming lot in England. All the US actors (save Sigourney Weaver) were expats living in the UK at the time, with no Hispanic actresses readily available. Goldstein is considerably darker-skinned in that role than she is in real life. However, she's stated she's actually half Moroccan and Brazilian (and not All Jews Are Ashkenazi), making this a subversion.
  • Johnny Depp plays Tonto in the The Lone Ranger. This is especially jarring since Tonto had always been played by Native American actors prior to the film. When critized for this, Depp responded that he had some native blood from his great grand-parents but did not specify which tribe they came from and he never dicussed anything about this before the film.
  • In Quantum of Solace, the fair-skinned Ukrainian actress Olga Kurylenko has put on a considerable tan to play her Bolivian character, Camille, though the character is actually half-Russian, and Olga has Russian ancestry on her mother's side. And there are fair-skinned Bolivians, actually.
  • 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 Arterton's actual skin tone would be unremarkable in Iran itself, but rather her very European facial features and mannerisms would make her stand out.
    • In the same film, Jake Gyllenhaal plays the titular Persian prince. Gyllenhall is of mixed Swedish/Jewish descent.
  • 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 (well, Northern India that is), but rather his very European facial features and mannerisms.
  • In A Mighty Heart, Angelina Jolie plays Mariane Pearl, a real-life journalist with a Dutch Jewish father and an Cuban-born Afro-Chinese mother. Jolie's skin is made 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 Feisal that many people who had known Feisal, were taken aback at the resemblance.
  • White man Douglas Fairbanks plays a 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.
  • Pan sees Tiger Lily played by Rooney Mara. The In-Universe explanation is that the Neverland tribe is comprised of people of all races and ethnicities, but much of their iconography (feathers, braids, et al) is appropriated from real Native American cultures.
  • Octopussy had the villan, Kamal Khan, an exiled Afghan Prince, played by the white Frenchman Louis Jourdan; we are told by M at the start that he is an Afghan, and that's 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, a Bandito. There is Truth in Television that a number of Mexicans are fair-skinned and fair-haired, but it's still strange why an actual Mexican actor didn't play him.
  • Cloud Atlas: Bae Doona plays a Mexican woman in one storyline. Jim Broadbent also shows up as a brown-skinned prescient.
  • West Side Story cast Natalie Wood (American of Russian descent) as Maria, who's from Puerto Rico. Her brother Bernardo was played by American of Greek Turkish descent George Chakiris. Rita Moreno, who played Anita, was the only actual Puerto Rican in the main cast... and even she was made to wear dark makeup. According to Wood's biography by her sister Lana, she didn't use makeup and instead sunbathed a lot to get a tan so she would look "outdoorsy" as Maria.
    • Averted in the 2021 film version, as Steven Spielberg insisted on casting Latino actors from a wide range of backgrounds. Rachel Zegler (María) is of Colombian ancestry, David Alvarez (Bernardo) is Cuban-Canadian, Ariana DeBose (Anita) is Afro-Latina, Sebastian Serra (Braulio) is Puerto Rican, Julius Anthony Rubio (Quique) is Dominican, and Andrei Chagas (Jochi) is Brazilian, while Rita Moreno (Valentina) appears with her natural skin tone.
  • In A Beautiful Mind, Jennifer Connelly (whose ancestry includes family from Russia, Poland, Ireland, and Norway) plays Alicia Nash, a woman from El Salvador.
  • The Mummy Trilogy:
    • Arnold Vosloo (Afrikaner) as the Ancient Egyptian priest Imhotep and Oded Fehr (Ashkenazi Jew) as the Medjai Ardeth Bay. While they were tanned enough to believably play Egyptians, they did stand out among other Egyptians who were played by local actors, such as the Pharaoh, who was played by a Moroccan Jew. However, the exotic beauty Anck-su-namun was actually played by a Venezuelan actress.
    • The second movie had the English Alun Armstrong as the Egyptian Baltus Hafez. Rachel Weisz, an Ashkenazi Jew otherwise known for playing many an English Rose, briefly donned ethnic garb to play the Pharaoh's daughter in flashbacks.
  • In Apache, all of the Native American characters are played by white actors in makeup and wigs. For some, like the already swarthy Charles Bronson, this more-or-less works. However, for others like the blue-eyed Burt Lancaster—-and especially the redheaded, green-eyed Jean Peters—-it does not work at all.
  • Zigzagged in The Ramrodder. The Indian braves are played by Caucasian actors in makeup and wigs. However, the Indian maidens are played by brunette Caucasian actresses sporting their natural skin tones, which range from 'plausibly Native American' to 'more likely Scandinavian'.
  • In Gandhi, the titular activist is played by Ben Kingsley, who, despite being half-Indian with parentage from the same region and ethnicity as Gandhi, is fair-skinned in real-life; he darkened it for the role.

  • "Clubland Heroes" has an in-universe example. The Mystic Maharajah, one member of a superhero team called the Splendid Six, is actually a white Englishman pretending to be an Indian mystic.
  • 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 Andersen'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 
  • Eastenders, British Pakistani Syed Masood is played by Marc Elliot who is half Scottish half Anglo-Indian. Making Syed look way whiter than both his onscreen parents. Its even jarring when Jay Brown describes him as an Indian looking fella.
  • 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.
  • In the 1970s sitcom It Ain't Half Hot, Mum, the British Army's Indian bearer Rangi Ram was played by a white British actor, Michael Bates, with his skin darkened by makeup. Bates was born in India, and had served in the Indian Army. The other Asian characters were played by Asian actors.
  • 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. Series following the 2010s Trek Revival have averted, having many a pale skinned Vulcans, including Ethan Peck's Spock.
    • Another case of Brownface would be Khan, as played by Ricardo Montalbán with heavy make up and a wig to make him look Indian. Montalbán was a White Hispanic. The dark makeup was notably not used for his return in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, however.
    • Meanwhile, Klingons all tend to have dark skin, which is a good match for African American actors such as Michael Dorn but has led to several white actors being browned up to fit the look. These generally get a pass since after all Klingons are not even Earthlings, let alone meant to represent any particular human ethnicity.
  • Classic Doctor Who had several examples of this, chiefly in its 1960s black-and-white era:
    • In "The Aztecs", every character bar the Doctor and his companions is an Aztec, played by a white actor with darkened skin.
    • "The Crusade" features several Arab characters, including the famous Saladin and his brother, played by white actors in brownface.
    • Patrick Troughton in "The 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...
    • Leela 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).
  • 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.
  • In the Bonanza episode, "The Burning Sky," Dawn Wells of Gilligan's Island fame guest stars as a Native American wife in redface with all the stereotypes of the day, in an episode about racism of all things.
  • Downplayed in the 1981 BBC production of Othello, in which the title role was conceived as Arab rather than Black. Anthony Hopkins played the part in brownface, but little or no effort was made to darken his blue eyes.
  • In The Saint episode, "The Gadic Collection", Peter Wyngarde of Jason King fame guest stars as a villainous Turk in brownface. Wyngarde later regretted the role when he appeared in Channel 4's It Was Alright in the 1960s.
  • Two Sentence Horror Stories: "Manifest Destiny" has an in-universe example. The episode focuses on a reenactment of a European settler village, and features both European and Blackfoot characters. However, all of them are played by white people, including the Blackfoot lead, who is played by a very blond, blue-eyed white man. This is only a part of the problem, because everyone has been misled into thinking that it's a feel-good reconciliation story between Europeans and Native Americans, while the real story ends with the settlers massacring the Blackfoots.
  • Horrible Histories would do this with the main actors playing Egyptian and Native American characters, though one of the actor's Mat Bayton spoken about regretting playing non-white characters (such as in the Egyptian sketches).
Baynton: We didn’t do blackface, for example, but you could argue that we did. Because I played Egyptians, you know, for example, where you’d get a spray tan, essentially, and stand in your pants. That whole sort of issue, I think, is one worthy of continuous discussion.

  • 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.

  • Othello: In a case for The Zeroth Law of Trope Examples, the title character has traditionally (though certainly not always) been played by a white actor made up to look like a person with brown skin, or even in full-on blackface. This is complicated partly because Othello is identified as a Moor, which in Shakespeare's day was something of a vague catchall term for people with any shade of brown or black skin, including olive-skinned Caucasians as well as Sub-Saharan Africans. (More specifically it meant Arabs and/or North Africans, but that still doesn't it narrow it down very much.) For obvious reasons, modern productions are likely to avoid brownface in favor of an alternate solution, such as simply casting a person of color, or giving the play a Race Lift, as in the production starring Patrick Stewart as the only white character in an otherwise black cast.

    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 Pérez, 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.
  • In September 2019, photos of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau were leaked, some of which had him in brownface and wearing a turban for an Arabian Nights-themed party in 2001. Other photos showed him in blackface, and Trudeau admitted to several other similar incidents happening in the past. However, Trudeau's apology and acknowledgement that he was wrong to wear skin-darkening makeup were enough to ensure that his political career wouldn't be ruined, which was helped by the Liberal Party's progressive policies making the apology come across as sincere, and he was re-elected in November.
    • A similar incident happened with Virginia Governor Ralph Northam.