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Old Hollywood Casting Choices That Wouldn’t Be Allowed Today

There’s been a recent controversy regarding the Netflix series on Cleopatra and the casting of a black actress in the role. Many have derided this as being historically inaccurate and some Egyptian lawyers are even suing the company for the series!

This is just one of many casting choices that have received criticism. But of course, this is nothing new in American entertainment. In fact, there are quite a few old Hollywood casting choices that wouldn’t be allowed today!

A Japanese landlord played by Mickey Rooney. A Mexican criminal played by Charlton Heston. And The Great Mongol was played by none other than The Duke? Don’t you feel like speaking to the producers to ask what were they thinking?

Join FactsVerse to learn about the Old Hollywood Casting Choices That Wouldn’t Be Allowed Today…



If it wasn’t for Audrey Hepburn’s wonderful role of Holly Golightly, one wonders whether Breakfast At Tiffany’s would still be a huge hit today. That’s because one of the most controversial parts of the film – that turns off viewers today – is Mickey Rooney’s role as the Japanese landlord, Mr. Yunioshi.

This role is often criticized as it’s seen by many as an insensitive and grossly offensive portrayal of an Asian character. Mickey Rooney played the role in what was called “Yellowface” at the time. He is shown wearing rather ridiculous and demeaning prosthetics and his accent – well, perhaps the less said the better.

The mannerisms of the character are considered offensive and racist and was sadly rather common for the time. It should be noted that he wasn’t the only actor to participate in this, it just so happens that Mr. Yunioshi became one of the most famous or perhaps infamous incidences of an Asian character being played by a non-Asian character.

In fact, even when Asian-American actors such as James Hong were cast in roles during that era, they too were made to play farcical stereotypes. However, in the years since the film, Mickey Rooney had expressed regrets for playing the role and apologized to Japanese-Americans for the role.

It was also revealed that the producer of the film wanted an actual Japanese actor to play the role. However, director Blake Edwards had insisted on casting Mickey Rooney. However, even he too later apologized and regretted this role.

While one might definitely cringe when seeing Mr. Yunioshi, it’s important not to censor or shy away from seeing it. It makes us appreciate how much progress we’ve made and what previous generations had to go through.



John Wayne, aka The Duke, was arguably one of the best cowboys we’ve ever seen on screen. But he also had a great portrayal of a Mongol Ruler. Okay, one of the words in that previous sentence wasn’t true.

John Wayne’s role in the 1956 film “The Conqueror” is offensive to many but also laughable and one wonders what was going on in the producers’ minds. Perhaps they got tired of hit after hit with John Wayne and were in the mood for a flop?

The film tells the story of Genghis Khan, the legendary conqueror of the Mongol Empire. Since Mongolia was Communist and cut off from the world, they probably couldn’t find a Mongolian actor to play the role. So, the next best option was John Wayne.

Yet, even The Duke couldn’t save this film which became a huge flop and is not considered to be one of the minutes that made his finest hour.

The decision to cast John Wayne was met with criticism even back in the 1950s. He was obviously not of Mongol descent and he had to don the infamous ‘Yellowface’ to look like Genghis Khan – which itself was offensive.

But it wasn’t just John Wayne who met criticism. The film as a whole was criticized for cultural inaccuracy and showing offensive depictions of the Mongol people and their customs and traditions.

Perhaps its all well that the film flopped and wasn’t taken so seriously. Nevertheless, John Wayne stood up for his role and stated that he was just an actor doing what he did best – to act. He stated that it wasn’t his responsibility to ensure that the film was accurate or not or even culturally sensitive.


Charlton Heston’s role in the 1958 film “A Touch of Evil” is one that is often discussed and analyzed by film critics and scholars. In fact, the entire cast and film is discussed as its arguably one of the best crime films made in the country.

If you haven’t seen it, you’re missing out on a classic. You’re also missing out on a guy named Charlton playing a guy named Miguel! Charlton Heston was of English and Scottish descent – so clearly he was perfect for the role!

This has been one of the tougher roles to criticize from film critics, historians, and audiences. On one hand, it is a fine performance and a great film. On the other hand, there was much criticism over an Anglo-American playing a Mexican character. Hollywood was criticized for erasing an ethnic identity for Charlton Heston to play a Mexican character. His accent was also considered to be offensive.

However, the film remains a hit and this has made some question whether its justified at times to choose a great actor even if its not an ethnic match. In more recent times, the British Christopher Lee played the Pakistani Prime Minister Muhammad Ali Jinnah while the Egyptian Rami Malek played Freddie Mercury who was of Indian Parsi heritage.

Nevertheless, in the 1950s, we saw more stories about Hispanic Americans yet seldom were these characters played by Hispanic actors. Today, we see this changing and perhaps characters like Miguel Vargas would be played by an actual Mexican or Mexican-American today.

Charlton Heston, however, remains one of Hollywood’s greatest actors and like it or not – this role is considered to be one of his finest performances. One wonders if, with the passing of time, future generations will be able to enjoy the role as a character or whether social mores will make them dismiss the character and film. We’ll have to wait and see.



The Swedish Anita Ekberg appeared in many great films in Europe and the United States. Perhaps most of us know her for her role in Federico Fellini’s film La Dolce Vita. There are few iconic scenes in cinema like that of her in the Trevi Fountain. But her role in a 1955 drama film in America is one that hasn’t stood the test of time.

Anita Ekberg’s role in the 1955 film Blood Alley was different from her other roles. She played the character of Wei Ling, a Chinese woman who helps an American sailor played by John Wayne escape from communist China.

Her performance in the film was praised by critics who always loved her acting. But of course, her casting as a Chinese woman can’t escape controversy. Even a Swede was made to partake in Yellowface!

What’s even crazier, is that this role was one of her breakthrough roles that helped her find more work – and become taken seriously as an actress! It was thanks to Wei Ling that she began receiving more roles.

Just as Charlton Heston’s role as Miguel Vargas can’t be ignored, it seems that Anita Ekberg’s role couldn’t get ignored either. From today’s lens it may not receive praise or admiration, but the fact is that this was the role that helped her further her career!


As we mentioned in the introduction, the new series about Cleopatra has come under fire due to a black actress playing the Queen. It’s been asserted that the Queen was light-skinned. However, there was already a film called Cleopatra that cast a light-skinned actress and it still courted controversy.

While in terms of skin color Elizabeth Taylor might have looked more like Cleopatra, she wasn’t Egyptian. At the time, the film was banned in Egypt and many Egyptians to this day are upset about Elizabeth Taylor’s casting.

It was also believed that by playing Cleopatra, Elizabeth Taylor was contributing to the “exoticization” of non-European women. Like John Wayne, Elizabeth Taylor defended her role and stated that she was just an actress doing her job.

Critics argued that the decision to cast Taylor as Cleopatra perpetuated the stereotype of the “exotic” or “other” woman in Hollywood films. This stereotype reduced non-white women to objects of desire and exoticism, and it ignored the cultural and historical context of the characters they were portraying.

It should also be noted that a few years before the 1963 film Cleopatra was made, Elizabeth Taylor had converted to Judaism. She was also an outspoken supporter of Israel and this caused controversy in Egypt.

To have a supporter of Israel play the Queen of Egypt was hurtful for many Egyptians and the criticism continues to this day. Nevertheless, the film Cleopatra became a huge hit and is still considered to be a Hollywood epic to this day. For Elizabeth Taylor, this was considered to be one of her best roles. One wonders whether the new series will receive the same success.

This is a great example of an old Hollywood casting choice that wouldn’t be allowed today. But even today, the casting of Cleopatra and Egyptian characters remains contentious in Hollywood!



Are you a fan of any of these films? While many are great films, one wonders about whether they’ll still be popular due to the casting choices.

Now, here’s what we’d like to hear from you:

Do you think that casting choices need to be more sensitive toward cultures, races, and ethnicities?

Or is it perfectly acceptable to cast an actor who doesn’t fit the race or culture of the character even if its historically inaccurate?

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