Working As An Extra On A James Bond Film Made Me Realise How Racist People Can Be

Most of the Asian women I had befriended while working on set had gone through similar experiences, based on assumptions of submissiveness, complacency or just plain ignorance. Did you know that Asian women have sideways vaginas?
Publish date:
February 21, 2013
racism, issues, acting, james bond, skyfall, Extras

About a year ago, I was forging the path towards the career of my dreams. Unfortunately, though fashion design and writing were satisfying my creative needs, my bank account said otherwise. So I did what any other logical person would do: joined an extras agency.

Almost as soon as I'd submitted my application, I received this email:

"That's fantastic! I'd love to put you forward as a waitress in the casino scene in Bond."

Many questions arose in my head: did they mean the James Bond or a fetish film about S&M and latex? Was this a scam? Did I accidentally apply to too many random ads off Craigslist again?

But it was Bond - the real deal Daniel Craig Bond, and I was pretty excited. I wasn't expecting a job so quickly, and even if i was, I was thinking more along the lines of a toilet paper commercial.

After exchanging phone calls and various photos with the agency - including the all important leg shot ("the waitresses wear short skirts, you see") - they told me to be 'on call' tomorrow for the fitting, just in case production decides to use me. Just in case? Just in case?! What was this tortuous waiting game these people were expecting me to play?

I sat in my flat nervously embroidering angry words into fabric to pass the time. The next morning, my phone rang and I had to be at Uxbridge station in 2 hours, along with a pair of high heels and a strapless bra. A car would pick me up from the station to take me to Pinewood Studios. A car!

It was real. I was going to be one of the eight casino waitresses in the next James Bond. As part of the role, I was to have martini training at the Savoy with the world's best bartender. The Savoy!

My costume was a backless Chinese collar mini-dress, and thigh high socks adorned with bobbles. Bobbles!

The pièce de résistance was the wig - that Asian bowl hair cut that plagued many an 80s baby, cut right atop my head to suit my face perfectly. Except I looked more like Randy Constan's version of Peter Pan.

The effort put into every painstaking detail was unbelievable. It was mesmerizing - full hair and lashings of makeup, for a total onscreen time of about 30 seconds. Or in my case, an arm for 0.00023 seconds. Hey, I'll take it.

But what I'm actually writing about isn't the weird pseudo glamour of being an extra, the overwhelming beauty of Bérénice Marlohe or the amazing buffet meals from the wonderful people of craft services (we're talking full english breakfasts, grilled salmon, pastas, bread pudding, cakes…sigh).

I'm here to talk about the creepy stereotypes that some men have about Asian women. The setting of the scene alone is worth a ponder. A hazy, opium den of dreams where Asian women exist solely to serve: as waitresses, croupiers, prostitutes or trophy wives who function purely to stand by their men, literally. Most of the female casino guests had to stand painfully in towering heels all day, while their male counterparts were seated.

But there was something more disconcerting happening amidst the perhaps questionable, albeit immensely beautiful, set.

Not only were some of the men taking my part as a waitress literally - actually putting their drinks on my tray when takes were finished(!) - but in between the rather conspicuous leering lay inappropriate comments aplenty.

One extra in particular was brazen enough to declare, "I love Asian girls - they never say no!" (Note: I also feel that it is important to say that there were also many gentlemen on the set too, who were extremely kind, courteous and respectful. These were not those men).

Unfortunately, as these situations unraveled, so did our stories. Most of the Asian women I had befriended while working on set had gone through similar experiences, based on assumptions of submissiveness, complacency or just plain ignorance. Did you know that Asian women have sideways vaginas?

There were partners who expected mild mannered, well behaved, 'do as they're told' Asian women. Women accosted for pirated DVDs and dates simultaneously. A husband approached by a stranger who wanted to know which website he had used to purchase his lovely Asian wife. Feminists humiliated by sexual euphemisms simply because western men assumed that being Asian meant they wouldn't understand them. "Would you like some beef in your taco?"

I can't count the number of times I've been ni hao'd, an nyoung'd and konichiwa'd down the street - which is perplexing. When was the last time a white girl was approached on the street with 'gutentaag' or 'goedemorgen'?

I'm neither Chinese, Korean or Japanese and even if I was, I don't have to speak to you because you've managed to learn one word in my language.

It's disheartening to think that this notion of the submissive and docile Asian woman - one who will flutter her eyelashes at the sound of a 'hello' in her native tongue - still exists.

True, this type of prejudice receives less attention because it does not come from an obvious place of hate. A man once actually told me that I should be flattered he finds Asian women so fascinating. Sigh.

It's an offensive assumption of character that often leaves me feeling more like an oriental rug than a human being, and this feeling is shared by many of my friends. It's comforting to know that strangers can make connections based on mutual experiences, but a shame that this was our common ground.

What do you guys think? Have you experienced anything similar? How would you respond to a stranger saying hello to you in a language he assumes is yours? More importantly, what did you think of Skyfall?

Follow Mari on Twitter @sarimantos.