Portrayed by: Paul Muni, Luise Rainer
This 1937 film, based on the 1931 Pearl S. Buck novel of the same name, remains one one of the most racist films in history. The story of a family of Chinese farmers has a principal cast comprised of white actors wearing pounds of makeup and prosthetics to appear Chinese. Not just one role, but every single main character.
The story goes that the original vision for the film called for a cast of actors and actresses of Chinese descent, but the studio, MGM, didn’t think that would make for a successful film. Instead, they cast a white actor, Paul Muni, as the lead, figuring that audiences would be more inclined to see a white man headlining the picture. Due to the Hays Code that was in effect at the time—it enforced racial segregation for romantic relationships in films—they had to cast a white actress as his leading lady, and thus Luise Rainer joined the cast. Yikes.