Snapchat has a wide range of filters that can improve the look of a photo and add graphics overlays. They’re a popular element of the app, but the company has been heavily criticized for a new face filter that turns a person into a caricature of Asians.
Twitter users dubbed the filter "Yellowface” and called it racist on account of the slanted eyes, buck teeth, and rounded rosy cheeks it superimposes over people’s faces. The term refers to when white actors portray stereotypes of East Asian people, such as Mickey Rooney’s Mr. I.Y. Yunioshi in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. One person called it “the most overly racist filter ever.”
Grace Sparapani, an incoming graduate student at the University of Texas at Austin, told Motherboard’s Sarah Emerson: ““It makes me angry and very uncomfortable. If you Google ‘caricature of an Asian person,’ you’ll get squinty eyes, and buckteeth. It’s meant to be derogatory.”
Snapchat defended the filter yesterday, saying in a statement that it was an “anime-inspired lens.” The company added that its lenses were “meant to be playful and never offend.”
This isn’t the first time that Snapchat has faced controversy over its filters. The company released a Bob Marley lens on April 20 this year in honor of marijuana holiday 4/20. It combined users’ faces with that of the late singer, leading to accusations of “digital blackface” and being offensive to Marley’s legacy.
Not surprisingly, the filter was quickly removed and won’t be put back into circulation.