Asian Role: Jade
Non-Asian Performer: Katharine Hepburn
Release Date: 1944
These days, a deliberate caricature of another race is controversial; we have made some progress since the mid-1940s. But back in the day, the most famous actors engaged in yellowface—even legends like Katharine Hepburn. In Dragon Seed, Hepburn played Jade, a Chinese woman who resisted the takeover of her village by the Japanese.
Similar to The Good Earth, Hepburn’s fellow villagers were performed by ethnic Asians, even though the leads were performed by white actors. In a way, this sort of erasure hurts more than Fu Manchu. There were lots of Asian roles with depth out there. It’s just that Asian actors never had a chance of claiming them.