The Schmooze

Luise Rainer: Can an Actress’s Yellowface Be Forgiven?

At the Turner Classic Movies Classic Film Festival in Hollywood, which runs from April 22 to 25, the German Jewish actress Luise Rainer will embody a still-controversial paradox.

Rainer, who turned 100 in January, will introduce a screening of one of her two Oscar-winning roles, as a tragic Chinese farmer’s wife in 1937’s “The Good Earth.” The previous year, she won her first Oscar for a more giddily dated portrayal of the Polish Jewish entertainer Anna Held in “The Great Ziegfeld.”

As Rainer explains in the remarkable 2008 documentary “Hollywood Chinese: The Chinese in American Feature Films,” the racist convention of casting non-Asian actors in Asian roles, known as Yellowface, gripped old Hollywood, extending to her co-star in “The Good Earth,” the great Polish Jewish actor Paul Muni, born Meshilem Meier Weisenfreund in Galicia.

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Luise Rainer: Can an Actress’s Yellowface Be Forgiven?

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