PVV – yellowface, porn, and invisible racism

Like blackface, yellowface is pretty racist. I wanna end that sentence with a sassy “duh,” but I can’t. Because unlike blackface, which today is generally regarded as a cultural taboo and has pretty much disappeared (to my knowledge), we as a culture are more accepting (accepting?) of yellowface.


In support of this statement, one directed at us as a wider culture (of which porn is simply one part), case in point: led by Joanna Angel and Tommy Pistol, adult content producers Burning Angel recently shot a “Walking Dead” parody. Tommy served as the writer and director and Joanna as the producer, and I’m guessing this flick is gonna be a funny one. Burning Angel and Joanna herself are known for their clever, tongue-in-cheek projects, great campy cultural nods, and fantastic horror homages – a “Walking Dead” porno seems right up their alley.


(pictured: Joanna Angel as Zombie Lori, image from Joanna’s blog here)

Ever fan-centered, Joanna shared behind-the-scenes images regularly throughout the production. This included awesome pictures of the cast in make-up transformations – Skin Diamond as Michonne, of-age (as evidenced by her ink and her presence on a 2257 compliant adult website) Burning Angel girl Sierra Cure as Zombie Sophia, and Danny Wylde in yellowface as Glenn…

Wait, what?!!



(pictured: Danny as Glenn, image from Joanna’s blog here)

Some observations…

One could say that Joanna as Zombie Lori is kinda yellowish green… Isn’t that also yellow-face?

–> No, it’s zombie face.

One could say that there was no Asian man performer – much less Korean man performer – available to play Glenn, so Burning Angel made do in an attempt to remain true to the source material…

–> No. Consider: especially if she’s engaging in a sex scene in the “Walking Dead” parody, the Zombie Sophia character is most certainly NOT a pre-teen aged girl. Aside from the fact that the presence of an actual child in an adult film is HIGHLY illegal (duh), even giving the impression that someone could be under 18 is a big no-no in professional adult content production. (fyi: young looking and/or of-age teenager are not the same as an impression of “under 18”)

Point being, even knowing nothing about the script, I’m willing to bet that the source material has been altered such that Zombie Sophia is not a child in the film. The argument then that Glenn must remain authentic – Asian… Korean, actually – is moot.

It stands to reason that Porn Glenn’s story could’ve been altered such that Danny did not *need* to be in yellowface. Danny, who allegedly “has a lot of similar features as Glenn,” could’ve played Glenn’s cousin or brother or something. Or, the folks at Burning Angel could’ve taken a lesson from Operation: Tropical Stormy (2009) and said Glenn had had some sort of zombie apocalypse accident/operation resulting in him looking just like porn star Danny Wylde!!


 (pictured: Steven Yeun as Glenn looks nothing like Danny Wylde IMO)

le sigh…

Now, I’m not the first person to notice this. Yesterday (1/31/13), for example, Jezebel.com wrote about Danny as Glenn – “Walking Dead Porn Parody Relies on Yellowface” – and AVN responded immediately in Burning Angel’s defense – “Burning Angel Racist? What Jew Talkin’ Bout, Jezebel?

Both pieces made some good, as well as some incredibly ridiculous, points. Consider:

Drawing attention to the yellowface: good point, Jezebel!!

Suggesting Keni Styles should’ve been cast as Glenn: ridiculous, Jezebel.

Pointing out that Keni is Thai and if you’re gonna be so mindful of these issues you’d better get your dimensions correct, Jezebel: good point, AVN!!

Implying racial and ethnic discriminations are some how similar/interchangeable: ridiculous, AVN.

And on and on… Here are my thoughts on the matter:

Joanna Angel makes fun of everything (including herself), and she was working on a (presumably comedic) parody project. These are true facts. Her humor and lightheartedness are a huge part of what makes her work compelling. This goes for Tommy Pistol, as well.

Now, most certainly, neither Joanna nor Tommy would ever put a performer in blackface because that’s obviously so racist and wrong – however, for many similar but also for several very unique reasons, yellowface is just as racist and wrong.


(pictured: Skin Diamond as Michonne, image from Joanna’s blog here)

Further, the notion that this whole yellowface thing didn’t occur to anyone at Burning Angel (wtf? I’m actually shocked that this didn’t occur to Joanna, whom I know to be thoughtful and intelligent… but I’m almost more shocked that Danny Wylde, whom I don’t know at all but who I understand has a penchant for social justice informed awareness, went along with this) or the fact that Jezebel suggested casting Keni Styles (wtf?!!) gets at bigger issues…

The bigger issues being: invisible racism, the erasure of Asian-Americans in the US, and the flattening of difference between Asian cultures. (a similar flattening of difference happens to Hispanics and Latinos in the US too, fyi)

I do not think Joanna Angel, Tommy Pistol, or anyone in the Burning Angel family are overtly racist individuals, but I do think this is an example of a racist action. Further, I think our inability to process it thusly – our inability to see this instance of yellowface as akin to blackface – speaks to larger, extremely problematic US cultural issues.

Though Joanna may have simply put her foot in her mouth in the context of her normal equal-opportunity-jokester shtick and though I do not like to see the self-righteous blast her, something problematic did happen here. And though she is certainly responsible for her decisions and actions in this specific instance, Joanna did not create the larger issues. These things are far deeper and more insidious than casting and make-up in a “Walking Dead” porn parody.

I am open to the possibility that this may truly have been an honest accident, the product of our cultural tendency to ignore racism as it relates to Asian-Americans… but the wider (and extremely uncomfortable) issues this incident speaks to need to be addressed, and they need to be addressed in the spirit of growth and social progress. Because most everyone chiming in here has a point… but the overwhelming silence surrounding this issue speaks volumes more.


(pictured: Sierra Cure as Zombie Sophia – notice the compliance statement at the bottom of the page here)


Here is some Wikipedia stuff about yellowface and stereotypes of Asian folks in the US (I’m not a race scholar, so my references are thin here – apologies!!)

Stereotypes of East Asians in the United States

Portrayal of East Asians in Hollywood

AVN also makes the point that racist, race-based rhetoric surrounding Asian women of all ethnicities is common in porn.

But beyond all of that, there’s an even grander, more gaping hole in Jezebel’s indictment: The fact that if they’d done the briefest Google search, they’d have come up with so many exponentially more demeaning depictions of Asians in porn, it would make this look downright noble. Just have a glimpse at some of the titles that have graced adult retail shelves in the past few months: Shrimp Fried Pussy(Wicked Pictures), Fortune Cookie Pussy (Justin Slayer International), Dim Sum Pussy (Vouyer Media), Yellow Fever (Exquisite Multimedia), Sum Yung Ho (O Gee Studios), Sushi Sluts (Legend Video), Thai Teens: We Masturbate for You (DreamGirls). The list goes on… (here)

This is true, but it’s also attempting to compare “conventional” overt racism to the more subtle “new racism” (within which invisible racism and race-based ideologies are situated) we see permeating our culture today in a 1:1 manner – apples and radishes.


*UPDATED* July, 2013

Burning Angel’s The Walking Dead: A Hardcore Parody has released – buy your copy and/or watch it now here.

Read Dr. Chauntelle’s review of the film and more discussion here.


* * *

Like what you see? Follow PVV on Facebook and Twitter!!

Visit Dr. Chauntelle at ChauntelleTibbals.com and on Twitter at @DrChauntelle.

You may quote anything herein with the following attribution: “Reprinted from Porn Valley Vantage/PVVOnline, copyright © Chauntelle Anne Tibbals, PhD (www.PVVOnline.com).”

PVVOnline – Critical Commentary on Adult Production