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Fake Mixed Race

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Caucasian Jennifer Jones (left) as Eurasian Han Suyin (right).
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 an attempt to force the viewer to accept that a character is the biological child of a character of another race, even though their phenotype clearly precludes that from being a real possibility.

This is 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 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 context, such as animation or sitcoms. A character will discover obscure roots in another ethnic group, usually by way of a distant ancestor. The character will often proceed to redefine their 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 theoretically be anywhere along the range of colors of any of the races in their makeup, up to and including the lightest and darkest extremes of skin and hair color - though this is extremely rare, and even then you usually can still infer the fact that they have mixed ancestry from their facial features. This nonetheless attracts criticism because Reality Is Unrealistic.

Compare Gender Equals Breed. See also Ambiguously Brown.


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    Films — Animation 
  • In The Hunchback of Notre Dame II, fully white Haley Joel Osment voices the half-white, half-Romani Zephyr. Said character also resembles a miniature version of his (white) father, with almost nothing from his Romani mother's features.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension: The eponymous Buckaroo Banzai is Japanese-American. He is played by Peter Weller, who is American but not Japanese. This is Lampshaded in the DVD Commentary by (the "real") Reno, who claims the movie is a Docudrama inspired by real events. He praises Weller's acting but admits he doesn't look much like (the "real") Buckaroo Banzai.
  • The Human Stain has Anthony Hopkins playing a black man with white ancestry who passes for a white man. Of course, Hopkins is really just white. As a young man, the character is played by Wentworth Miller, who does have mixed ancestry.
  • The movie A Mighty Heart about Mariane Pearl had this. Mariane Pearl was born to a Dutch-Jewish father and an Afro-Chinese Cuban mother. She was played by Angelina Jolie. However, it should be noted that Jolie was Pearl's personal choice to play herself.
  • In the 1936 sound film version of the Jerome Kern musical, Show Boat, the supposedly "miscegenated" Julie is played by the white Helen Morgan.
  • Denzel Washington as the long-lost son of a white man in Carbon Copy.
  • Denzel Washington as the title character in Malcolm X, 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, O-Ren Ishii is stated to be half-Chinese and half-Japanese but she is played by the full Chinese Lucy Liu. Sophie Fatale is stated to be half-Japanese, half-French but is played by the white actress Julie Dreyfus.
  • In Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle, Lucy Liu's father is revealed to be... John Cleese? It's left ambiguous enough for audience members to suspect that her character Alex is adopted, but because of the lack of confirmation either way, some still can't help but wonder if her father is biological or adoptive.
  • In Creepshow 2 juvenile delinquent Sam Whitemoon is intended to be of mixed race (White and Indigenous). He is played by Holt McCallany, a non-Native actor of Irish ancestry.
  • George Clooney's main character (along with most of the characters) is part-Hawaiian in The Descendants. It's partly lampshaded by Clooney's line to one of his cousins: "Listen, we're haole [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-white, half-Native American title character is played by the fully white Tom Laughlin.
  • The title character of Dr. No, a James Bond movie, is half-German, half-Chinese, but played by a Canadian actor of European Jewish descent.
  • Camille Montes Rivero from Quantum of Solace is supposedly half-Russian and half-Bolivian, but is played by Russian-Ukrainian actress Olga Kurylenko. Kurylenko significantly darkened her skin in order to appear Hispanic (unnecessary as there are many light-skinned Bolivians, and this includes ones who have Eastern European ancestry).
  • X-Men Film Series: 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.
  • In the film adaptation of The King of Fighters, Kyo Kusanagi is played by Sean Faris (a white man) while having a Japanese father and being called half-breed by Iori Yagami.
    Spoony: Yeah you're about as Japanese as Goku from Dragonball Evolution.
    Iori: Kyo is a half-breed.
    Spoony: Yeah, half white and the other 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. (Keanu Reeves is actually half-English... though the other half is a mix of Chinese, Hawaiian, English, and Portuguese.)
  • Lupin III:
    • Strange Psychokinetic Strategy has the Japanese-French titular Lupin the Third being played by full-blooded Japanese actor Yuki Meguro.
    • The 2014 Lupin III film once again has Lupin, who, again, is of Japanese-French descent being played by full-blooded Japanese actor Shun Oguri.
  • JoJo's Bizarre Adventure:
    • In the manga, Jotaro Kujo is ¼ British-American (from his Grandfather Joseph), ¼ Italian (from his Grandmother Suzi Q), and ½ Japanese on his Father's side. In the live-action movie, he's played by Yusuke Iseya, who is 100% Japanese and not biracial.
    • Likewise with Josuke Higashikata, who was born out of the result of an affair between British-American Joseph (yes, the aforementioned Grandpa) and the Japanese Tomoko Higashikata. In the film, he's played by Kento Yamazaki, who is full-blooded Japanese.
  • In Ace High, the Greek-Cherokee-Mexican bandito Cacopoulos was played by Eli Wallach, who was Jewish and of Polish descent.
  • After much backlash, Cameron Crowe apologized for the casting of Emma Stone as a half-white quarter-Asian, quarter Hawaiian character in his film Aloha. Stone later poked fun at herself in an SNL guest appearance by suggesting she'd be a great pick for The Force Awakens because she has experience playing an Asian woman.
  • The film version of The Crow (1994) has Michael Wincott (white) as Top Dollar and Bai Ling (Asian) as his half-sister Myca. Lampshaded in dialogue:
    Gideon: Sister? She's supposed to be your sister? [cackles]
    Top Dollar: My father's daughter. That's right. What's the matter, you don't see the resemblance?
  • The half-Chinese, half-white son in the 1922 film The Toll of the Sea was played by a white girl. He looks nothing like his mother and that helps him pass for the biological child of his mother's ex-husband's new wife (who is a white American).
  • Shadows has Lelia Goldoni, who in Real Life was Sicilian, playing a light-skinned black woman. Her lover freaks when he meets her much darker-skinned brother and learns the truth.
  • Bow Barracks Forever is an English-language Indian film focusing on an ensemble of Anglo-Indian (Eurasian with European patrilineal ancestry) characters. However, they are all played by actors of pure Indian ancestry.
  • In The Lost World: Jurassic Park, Vanessa Lee Chester (the daughter of Guyanese immigrants) portrays Kelly, the daughter of Jeff Goldblum's character Ian Malcolm. While it isn't explicitly stated she's his biological child, their turbulent family situation and Ian's comments about his kids and ex-wives in the previous film ("anything that can and all does happen") strongly imply that he has never been in a stable marriage (or even relationship) long enough to have adopted.
  • In To All the Boys I've Loved Before, Lara Jean is half-Asian half-white, but her actress Lana Condor is fully Asian (she's a Vietnamese who was adopted by American parents). She looks so different from her sisters because they were played by actual half-Asian half-white actresses.
  • In The Inn of the Sixth Happiness, a German-Austrian actor (Curd Jürgens) played a character who's said to be half-Dutch, half-Chinese. In the original memoir the film was based on, he was fully Chinese.
  • When Evil Calls: Samantha, the main character, is shown as having a white father and an East Asian mother. The actress playing her, Jennifer Lim, is only of East Asian (Chinese/Korean) descent.
  • The World Unseen: Amina is a quarter Black. Sheetal Sheth, who played her, is of wholly Indian heritage.
  • Yellow Hair and the Fortress of Gold: The main character, who's supposed to be mixed race (white and Native American) is played by entirely white Canadian actress Laurene Landon.
  • San Andreas: Caucasian Alexandra Daddario plays the daughter of Dwayne Johnson (mixed Samoan/Black ancestry) and Carla Gugino (Caucasian). Her on-screen sister Arabella Morton is Caucasian too.
  • Steve Jobs has (so far) been played by white actors in every biographical film made about his life (Noah Wyle in Pirates of Silicon Valley, Ashton Kutcher in Jobs, and Michael Fassbender in Steve Jobs), despite being half-Syrian in Real Life. Steve Jobs does at least acknowledge his multiracial heritage in a scene where he eats dinner at a restaurant owned by his biological father Jandali, but most other films just sidestep the issue entirely.
  • In the 1999 comedy Dogma, Rufus first asserts that Jesus was a black man. Later, there is this exchange between Rufus, Jay, and Bethany, played by Italian-American actress Linda Fiorentino:
    Rufus: The blood that flows through your veins shares a chromosome or two at the genetic level with the one you call Jesus. Bethany, you are the great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandniece of Jesus Christ.
    Jay: So... that would make Bethany part black?
  • In A Family Thing (1996), Robert Duvall plays a man who learns that he's half African-American, and then seeks out a half-brother played by James Earl Jones.
  • Curiously enough, seemingly inverted by both female leads in Tai Chi Zero. Both the heroic and villainous female leads are of mixed race, but portrayed as nothing but Asian and British respectively.
  • In Invitation to a Gunfighter, Yul Brynner (who was a mix of Swiss-German, Russian, Mongol and Romani ancestry) played a character of a completely different mixed race: Jules Gaspard d'Estaing, a creole of colour from New Orleans with a white father and black (quadroon) mother.
  • In Thirteen Women, Myrna Loy uses her exotic looks to play the half-caste Ursula.
  • Wasabi: Ryōko Hirosue was born from Japanese parents, and she plays the Japanese-French hāfu ("half-Japanese") Yumi.
  • Nobody: Araya Mengesha plays Pavel, who's half-Ethiopian, half-Russian. Though Mengesha is half Ethiopian, he's also half-Eritrean, so only of black African ancestry.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Subverted In-Universe 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. Plus, Barney has never been QUITE on everyone's wavelength in the first place.
    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 (1972), where the son of a Chinese mother and white American father is played by full-white David Carradine. He was originally planned to be full Chinese and played by Bruce Lee (who is of mixed race), but the suits didn't think the audience could relate to an Asian actor.
  • More plausibly used in Kung Fu: The Legend Continues, in which Carradine plays the original Kung Fu (1972) character's Identical Grandson, who's presumably had a couple of generations of partial white ancestry. His son is played by a white 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. This was Played for Laughs.
  • The fully black Ben Vereen played Chicken George, the half-white son of a slave and her master in Roots.
  • 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.
  • On The Suite Life on Deck, London Tipton's mother is revealed to be Thai and her father is revealed to be white. London is played by Brenda Song, who is Hmong and Thai.
  • 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 mixed-race (half-Asian father, Hispanic mother), but not remotely black or African. They recast the role to avoid further controversy once black comedian Jay Pharoah joined the cast.
  • The show Pair of Kings revolves around two mixed-race fraternal twins, who are played by Mitchel Musso (white) and Doc Shaw (black), respectively. This is handwaved in the show by explaining that they each take after a different parent. It's rare but has happened [1].
  • In 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 blonde white actress. To make Lee and Bill look more alike, Jamie Bamber's naturally sandy hair is dyed brown and EJO wears blue contact lenses over his naturally brown eyes.
    • As per above, Commander Adama is played by Latino actor Edward James Olmos. 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.
    • Of the child actresses who played Hera, only the infant actress was Eurasian (Hera having been born to Helo, whose actor Tahmoh Penikett is half white half Native American, and Athena, whose actress Grace Park is Asian). The others were Caucasian and Latina.
  • In Mr. Robot, the Egyptian Rami Malek plays the brother of the white Carly Chaikin. Their mother and father are Arab and Caucasian, respectively, making the trope apply to both Malek and Chaikin.
  • In Quantico, Indian actress Priyanka Chopra is Alex Parrish, an FBI recruit with a white father and Indian mother.
  • Helix: A main character (Julia Walker), played by a Caucasian actress, is revealed to be the mixed-race daughter of a Japanese man (Hiroshi Hatake) and a Caucasian woman.
  • Criminal Minds: Rossi discovers he has a daughter by his black second wife, Hayden Montgomery. Said daughter, Joy, is thus half-Italian, half-Black and is played by the actually biracial Amber Stevens West, averting this trope. On the other hand, her son, Kai, who's supposedly 3/4 Italian and 1/4 Black is played by a very obviously fully Black actor who manages to have darker skin than both his parents.
  • In the Australian series The Secret Daughter, Jessica Mauboy plays Billie. Mauboy is Aboriginal and Indonesian; her character Billie is half white and half Aboriginal.
  • In Watchmen, full-blooded Vietnamese actor Hong Chau plays the daughter of a Vietnamese woman and Adrian Veidt, who's white.
  • Parodied and lampshaded in 30 Rock:
    • With TGS soon to be cancelled, Tracy (played by the very dark-skinned Tracy Morgan) and Jenna (played by the white, blonde Jane Krakowski) decide their next project should be a movie where they play Conjoined Twins, the joke being that they are both too stupid to realize that non-identical or opposite-sex conjoined twins are impossible and that neither of them could conceivably pass as mixed race.
    • Played straight and also lampshaded later in the same episode when Liz and Criss meet their foster children, who are Expies of Jenna and Tracy: a black boy and white girl. They are apparently full biological siblings and fraternal twins.
  • Feel Good: Ritu Arya was born to Indian parents. In the show, her character Laura's mom is white, with her unseen father presumably of South Asian ancestry.
  • The half-Hawaiian, half-white titular character in Doogie Kameāloha, M.D., is played by the half-Chinese, half-white Peyton Elizabeth Lee.
  • The siblings Simon Tam and River Tam in Firefly are supposed to have partial Chinese ancestry, hence their surname, in keeping with the idea that the Alliance that controls the 'Verse formed from the remnants of the United States and China. Sean Maher and Summer Glau do not.
  • Saved by the Bell:
    • "Running Zack" has Zack Morris saying he has Native American Ancestry and then proceeding to do a very stereotypical and offensive class presentation. When called out on this he is sent to study with Chief Henry to learn some actual facts. This leads to Zack going on to give a presentation in full costume complete with headdress, which is only marginally better but enough to allow him to compete in the Track Meet.
    • Mark-Paul Gosselaar who plays Zack Morris is however of mixed race (describing himself as half Asian) as he has a Dutch-German Father and Dutch-Indonesian Mother and had to dye his hair to Zack's trademark blond.
  • The Jeffersons: Interracial couple Tom and Helen Willis, who are Caucasian and Black respectively, have a son (Allen), played by Jay Hammer, who is Caucasian, and a daughter (Jenny), played by Berlinda Tolbert, who is Black. Each appears to have inherited all of their traits, including skin tone, from the parent whose gender they share.
  • Meet the Browns has Brianna and Joaquin Ortiz, who are supposed to be half-black, half-Hispanic. Their respective actors, Logan Browning and Gunner Washington, actually are mixed race, but they are of mixed African-American and Caucasian heritage, and neither has Hispanic ancestry.
  • Both TV adaptations of Bony cast a white actor in the half-Aboriginal title role. Following complaints, the nineties series had a hasty retool to change their character from a descendent of the original Bony to a white man adopted by Bony's descendants.
  • The Confessions of Frannie Langton: Karla Simone-Spence is of fully black ancestry, while Frannie's biracial.
  • Monarch: Legacy of Monsters: Takehiro Hira, a fully Japanese actor, plays Hiroshi Randa, the son of a white man and Japanese woman. His children Cate (Anna Sawai) and Kentaro (Ren Watanabe) who would both be a quarter white, are also played by actors of fully Japanese descent.

  • In The Man From Mukinupin by Dorothy Hewett, the script specifies that the half-Aboriginal Lily is played by the same actress as her full-white sister, which in practice generally means they're both played by a full-white actress. Done deliberately by Hewett as part of making a point about the erasure of Aboriginal people from Australia's history.
  • When Miss Saigon opened in New York, the casting of Jonathan Pryce as the Engineer caused a huge controversy with Actors' Equity, as the character is mixed race (Vietnamese/French) and Pryce is white. While he did eventually go on to play the role on Broadway (and win a Tony for it), productions since then have consistently cast actors of Asian descent. For the record, the first Asian to portray the role is Chinese actor Wang Luoyong, who previously appeared as Ip Man in Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story.

  • While the player can customize The Lone Wanderer to look any way they want in the game proper, all official merchandise depicts them as a pale young man with reddish hair despite his mother being canonically black.

    Video Games 
  • Unless you listen to the audio files and piece together his past, it's impossible to tell that Booker Dewitt from BioShock Infinite is supposed to be part-Native American. It's not some distant ancestry either, as Booker can speak Sioux fluently at an age when receiving education on such a topic would be highly unlikely.
  • Jill Valentine of the Resident Evil franchise is specifically stated to be of Japanese and French ancestry, but the various models who've lent their appearance to her in the games have all been white women, predominantly hailing from North America and Eastern Europe.
  • Wayne Holden of Lost Planet is modeled after Korean actor Lee Byung-hun, despite being of mixed American and Japanese ancestry.
  • Justified with Solid Snake in the Metal Gear Solid series, who is remarked upon to have Japanese ancestry by Vulcan Raven despite looking wholly white. His Japanese "ancestry" comes from a Japanese woman, who donated the enucleated egg cells which were injected with Big Boss' DNA to clone him. Snake was engineered to look and act like Big Boss, along with his brothers Liquid and Solidus, "ancestry" be damned. Originally, the twist was that Big Boss was half-Japanese himself in which the previous game portrayed him with Sean Connery as a stand-in; this has been retconned.

    Web Videos 

    Western Animation 
  • Central Park: Both Tillerman children are half-black, half-white, but they are played by black voice actors, though in Season 1, Molly Tillerman was played by the Caucasian Kristen Bell.
  • The Simpsons:
    • In-Universe: 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; 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".
      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."
  • In Family Guy, Peter discovered one of his ancestors on his father's side was black. While Peter did play his newfound "blackness" for all it was worth, it understandably wasn't visible, due to said ancestor living before the American Civil War. In any case, Peter's biological father later turned out to be a full-blooded Irishman.
  • In Stretch Armstrong and the Flex Fighters, Ricardo Perez and his father seem to have both African and Hispanic heritage, yet their respective voice actors, Ogie Banks and Phil LaMarr, lack the latter.
  • On The Rocketeer, Kit Secord is a Caucasian girl with Lebanese ancestry. Kitana Turnbull is a Caucasian girl of Italian, Chinese, and Taiwanese ancestry.
  • Zak from The Secret Saturdays is half-white and half-black. Zak's voice actor on the series proper, Sam Lerner, is white and Ogie Banks, who voiced Zak in Ben 10: Omniverse, is black.
  • In Puppy Dog Pals, half-Chinese/half-Jewish Chloe is voiced by Emma Shannon, who is Caucasian.