On the Plus Side, Yellow Filter No Longer Needed

September 10, 2020


ON APRIL 19, Netflix shared a new trailer for its recently released Chris Hemsworth film Extraction, which takes place in Bangladesh. The trailer depicts the high-octane methods used to film the movie (a cameraman attached to the front of a car moving at high speed, for instance). But the trailer had an unexpected consequence: Viewers quickly noticed that the footage of the movie being filmed looked normal while the final cut of the film has a distinct, and off-putting, yellowish tint.

There’s a phrase for this distinct color palette: It’s called yellow filter, and it’s almost always used in movies that take place in India, Mexico, or Southeast Asia. Oversaturated yellow tones are supposed to depict warm, tropical, dry climates. But it makes the landscape in question look jaundiced and unhealthy, adding an almost dirty or grimy sheen to the scene. Yellow filter seems to intentionally make places the West has deemed dangerous or even primitive uglier than is necessary or even appropriate, especially when all these countries are filled with natural wonders that don’t make it to our screens quite as often as depictions of violence and poverty.

“It’s upsetting. It goes hand in hand with how racist Westerners perceive these places and people, especially when you think about how vibrant and colorful these countries’ cultures actually are. Applying these filters plays into stereotypes about these places and the people who live there,” Sulymon, a business analyst from California, whose family is from India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, tells me.

Extraction is hardly the first movie to employ such an unfortunate color palette: Darjeeling Limited used it in scenes depicting small villages in India. The tone of Traffic, a 2000 movie directed by Steven Soderbergh that focused on the drug trade in Mexico, turns undeniably yellow during an execution scene in the desert (shots of Michael Douglas, who plays a judge from Ohio, are cast in blue tones). Nearly a decade ago, Redditusers pointed out that viewers could spot a Breaking Bad scene in Mexico because the screen turned the color of straw.

American films tend to add the yellow filter when they depict countries stereotyped as impoverished, polluted, or war zones (or all three). Twitter commenters on the Netflix trailer for Extraction expressed a range of emotions over the film’s use of yellow filter, from confusion to condemnation. One user joked that its also called the “Mexican filter” while another quipped “the lower a country’s GDP the more mustard coloured it is.”

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