From Wikipedia:

In the early years of film, black characters were routinely played by white people in blackface. In the first filmic adaptation of Uncle Tom's Cabin (1903), all of the major black roles were white people in blackface. Even the 1914 Uncle Tom starring African-American actor Sam Lucas in the title role had a white male in blackface as Topsy. D. W. Griffith's The Birth of a Nation (1915) used white people in blackface to represent all of its major black characters, but reaction against the film's racism largely put an end to this practice in dramatic film roles... This stands in contrast to made-up white people routinely playing Native Americans, Asians, Arabs, and so forth, for several more decades... As late as the 1940s, Warner Bros. used blackface in Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942)...

It seems to me that there have been lots of examples, in European and American movies, of Caucasian actors disguised to look like other racial types. For example the Fu Manchu movies, Charlie Chan movies and Lawrence of Arabia featured Chinese or Arab characters played by Caucasians or Hispanics. In Little Big Man, Dustin Hoffman played the Indian in the title role, and in The Searchers, German-born Henry Brandon played an Indian named Scar. In these films (in my opinion) this racial mismatch was not for the sake of humor; casting was simply based on criteria other than race, and audiences were expected to accept the depictions.

In films made abroad (or here, I guess), are there comparable examples of non-Caucasian actors painted pink to play Caucasian characters?

  • You should definie "caucasian" because Omar Sharif might not be classified as Caucasian (being from Egipt, Africa) buy he played caucasian Doctor Zhivago Feb 19, 2020 at 14:53
  • Well, Chinese and White are the same color, so apart from some horrific stereotypes (i.e. Mickey Rooney playing an Asian in Breakfast At Tiffany's), it's not a huge stretch. You don't see whites playing blacks in a serious role, or vice-versa. Back to your examples, do you really know if the actors involved weren't of Asian heritage somewhere in their bloodline, and so may have had some of the facial appearances of being Asian, enough so that a little bit of makeup makes them convincingly Asian in appearance? Mar 20, 2020 at 12:50
  • @Johnny Bones I'm sorry I didn't see your comment until now, 6 months late. I feel like you're right that whites rarely play serious black roles; maybe that's partly because black actors were available in Hollywood and seemed preferable on artistic grounds (such as being more believable). Perhaps serious black roles were so rare for so long that little occasion arose. And of course I'm not sure of the heritage of the actors I was thinking of. How do those points bear on my question? Are you doubting the possibility that a foreign studio could disguise an actor as Caucasian?
    – Chaim
    Sep 15, 2020 at 21:59
  • It would be good to specify, are you interested in a non-caucasian actor wearing make-up that makes him/her look caucasian or a non-caucasian actor playing a canonically caucasian character? For example, in Bridgerton there are two black actors playing the role of Queen Charlotte and Duke of Hastings during the reign of King George III but they don't wear any "whiteface" to look white, like the real-life historical characters.
    – Yasskier
    Jan 12, 2021 at 6:03

3 Answers 3


A Dane got famous for playing a Chilean, does that count?

Giancarlo Esposito, born in Copenhagen of Italian and African descent, played Gus Fring, a Chilean-American.


I don’t know about minority actors who necessarily became famous for playing caucasian characters in a serious role. But, there are quite a few actors who played characters who were originally supposed to be another race. Such as:

  1. Denzel Washington in the Pelican Brief
  2. Kevin Spacey in Pay it Forward
  3. Scarlett Johansson in Ghost in the Shell
  4. Arnold Schwarzenegger (nationality) in everything
  5. I’ll add to the list later

Often times, these actors were already famous. So, changing the race of the character from what it was in the source material is more likely a way of capitalizing on the actors fame and talent.

In decades past, this practice was more about keeping minorities out of the public eye. Not necessarily on the part of bigoted directors and producers (though, that was probably going on as well). But, to make movies more marketable/palatable to white Americans. There were many talented minority Americans in the theatre and film industry who found more acceptance overseas while white Americans played their parts here in the US.

  • I don't think that this is what the OP asks for, as he specified that he is interested in non-caucasian actor as a caucasian character
    – Yasskier
    Jan 12, 2021 at 6:05

Uhh... saying "became famous" is quite subjective. But there were quite a few famous non-caucasian actors playing caucasian characters (source - tvtropes), although it was usually "played for laughs"

  • Eddie Murphy in "The nutty professor" (and various episodes of "Saturday Night Live")

    enter image description here enter image description here

  • Whoopi Goldberg in "The Associate"

    enter image description here

  • O.J. Simpson in "Juiced" (Displayed in "O.J.: Made in America")

    enter image description here

  • Shawn and Marlon Wayans in "White Chicks"

    enter image description here

  • 2
    I appreciate the addition of images. But I don't think these examples are comparable to the ones I initially mentioned. They seem to be jokes in which the audience finds it funny to see a black celebrity imitating whites. But in my examples the audience was supposed to accept the casting as unremarkable. I guess they cast those films as they did because it simply seemed the best casting.
    – Chaim
    Feb 21, 2020 at 1:01
  • @Chaim: Are you asking for cases where the plot explicitly points out that the character is Causasian? Because that's not very common.
    – Flater
    Jan 11, 2021 at 17:55
  • @Flater I guess I don't really understand your comment. In my examples of Fu Manchu, Charlie Chan and Lawrence of Arabia, there's no doubt that the characters are Chinese or Arabs, right? Does it sometimes happen that someone makes a film about white historical figures and makes up nonwhite actors to play them? Or are there films made in India or China but set in the US, with local actors disguised as whites because an America entirely peopled by Indians or Chinese would not convince?
    – Chaim
    Jan 11, 2021 at 23:12
  • @Chaim: If the race of the character is left unmentioned (or unreferenced), there's no reason to presume that the race of the character is different from that of the actor; making it wholly impossible to know whether the character was intended to be of a different race than the actor. So we're logically left with plots where it is explicitly established that a character is Caucasian, which, as I mentioned, is exceedingly rare.
    – Flater
    Jan 12, 2021 at 0:45
  • @Flater Okay. I meant to ask about instances in which it was possible to detect that a character was white.
    – Chaim
    Jan 12, 2021 at 0:59

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