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 ethnicity, even though their physical features, particularly skin color, clearly preclude that 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 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 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 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 rare). This nonetheless attracts criticism because Reality Is Unrealistic.
- 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.
- 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?
- Juni Cortez, the son of Antonio Banderas and Carla Gugino in Spy Kids, is played by the Jewish/German Daryl Sabara.
- 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-Indian title character is played by the white Tom Laughlin.
- 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-Ukrainian actress Olga Kurylenko. Kurylenko significantly darkened her skin in order to appear Hispanic.
- 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 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.
- Kenneth Branagh's film version of Much Ado About Nothing (1993) 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:
- Kim Cattrall plays Gracie Law in Big Trouble in Little China, who is (at least according to Lo Pan's magical test) a Chinese woman with green eyes. Given her interest in Chinatown and references to it being her people, it seems very likely she was intended to be a woman of mixed European and Chinese descent (or possibly born in Hong Kong to white parents). Kim Cattrall does not have any such ancestry.
- 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 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-husbands new wife (who is a white American).
- In the JoJo's Bizarre Adventure manga, Jotaro Kujo is the child of a Japanese father and a British-American mother. In the live-action movie, he's played by Yusuke Iseya, who is not biracial.
- Likewise with Josuke Higashikata, who was born out of the result of an affair between a British man and a Japanese woman. In the film, he's played by Kento Yamazaki, who is full-blooded Japanese.
- 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 Goldblums character Ian Malcolm. While it isnt explicitly stated shes his biological child, their turbulent family situation and Ians 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, the Korean/white Lara Jean is played by Lana Condor, who, although she was adopted by American parents, is of Vietnamese descent. Her sister Margot is played by Janel Parrish, who is half Chinese.
- 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 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 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.
- Ben Vereen played 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 his 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 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 .
- In Battlestar Galactica (2003):
- 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 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 half-Asian (Hera being born to the White human Helo and Asian Cylon Athena).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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; 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."
- The page quote is from Family Guy, when Peter discovered one of his ancestors on his father's side was black. While Peter did play his new-found "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 The Hunchback of Notre Dame II, fully white Haley Joel Osment voices the half-white, half-Romani Zephyr.
- 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 La Marr, lack the latter.