Merle Oberon: India’s forgotten Hollywood star

Posted in Articles, Asian Diaspora, Biography, Media Archive, Passing, United States, Women on 2022-04-21 14:39Z by Steven

Merle Oberon: India’s forgotten Hollywood star

BBC News
2022-04-16

Meryl Sebastian, BBC News, Delhi

Merle Oberon was born in Bombay

Merle Oberon, a Hollywood star of the black and white era, is a forgotten icon in India, the country of her birth.

Best-known for playing the lead in the classic Wuthering Heights, Oberon was an Anglo-Indian born in Bombay in 1911. But as a star in Hollywood’s Golden Age, she kept her background a secret – passing herself off as white – throughout her life.

Mayukh Sen, a US-based writer and academic, first stumbled across her name in 2009 when he found out that Oberon was the first actor of South Asian origin to be nominated for an Oscar.

His fascination grew as he saw her films and dug deeper into her past. “As a queer person, I empathise with this feeling that you must hide a part of your identity to survive in a hostile society that isn’t really ready to accept who you are,” he says. Sen is now working on a biography to tell Oberon’s story from a South Asian perspective…

Read the entire article here.

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Passing for White: Merle Oberon (Make Me Over, Episode 4)

Posted in Arts, Audio, Biography, Media Archive, Passing, United States, Women on 2020-02-20 22:14Z by Steven

Passing for White: Merle Oberon (Make Me Over, Episode 4)

You Must Remember This
2020-02-10

Halley Bondy

In 1935, Merle Oberon became the first biracial actress to be nominated for a Best Actress Oscar, an incredible achievement in then-segregated Hollywood—except that nobody in Hollywood knew Oberon was biracial. Born in Bombay into abject poverty in 1911, Oberon’s fate seemed sealed in her racist colonial society. But a series of events, lies, men, and an obsession with controlling her own image—even if it meant bleaching her own skin—changed Oberon’s path forever.

This episode was written and performed by Halley Bondy, a writer and journalist whose work has appeared in NBC, The Outline, Eater NY, Paste Magazine, Scary Mommy, Bustle, Vice, and more. She’s an author of five young adult books, a handful of plays, an is a writer/producer for the podcast “Masters of Scale.” She lives in Brooklyn with husband/cheerleader Tim, and her amazing toddler Robin.

Listen to the podcast (00:44:57) here.

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Race and the Modern Exotic: Three ‘Australian’ Women on Global Display

Posted in Arts, Asian Diaspora, Biography, Books, Media Archive, Monographs, Oceania, Passing, Women on 2015-11-11 03:01Z by Steven

Race and the Modern Exotic: Three ‘Australian’ Women on Global Display

Monash University Publishing
October 2011
180 pages
Paperback ISBN: 9781921867125
eBook ISBN: 9781921867132

Angela Woollacott, Manning Clark Professor of History
The Australian National University

Annette Kellerman, Rose Quong and Merle Oberon were internationally successful ‘Australian’ performers of the first half of the twentieth century. Kellerman was a swimmer, diver, lecturer, and silent-film star, Quong an actor, lecturer and writer who forged a career in London and New York, and Oberon one of the most celebrated film stars of the 1930s and 1940s, first in London and then Hollywood.

Through her international vaudeville performances and film roles, Kellerman played with the quasi-racial identity of South Sea Islander. Quong built a career based on her own body, through a careful appropriation of Orientalism. Her body was the signifier of her Chinese authenticity, the essentialist foundation for her constructed, diasporic Chinese identity. The official story of Oberon’s origins was that she was Tasmanian. However, this was a publicity story concocted at the beginning of her film career to mask her lower-class, Anglo-Indian birth. Despite anxious undercurrents about her exoticism, Australians were thrilled to claim a true Hollywood star as one of their own.

These three women performers created newly modern, racially ambiguous Australian femininities. Racial thinking was at the core of White Australian culture: far from being oblivious to racial hierarchies and constructions, Australians engaged with them on an everyday basis. Around the world, ‘Australian’ stars represented a white-settler nation, a culture in which white privilege was entrenched, during a period replete with legal forms of discrimination based on race. The complex meanings attached to three successful ‘Australian’ performers in this period of highly articulated racism thus become a popular cultural archive we can investigate to learn more about contemporary connections between race, exoticism and gender on the global stage and screen.

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The legend of Merle

Posted in Articles, Arts, Asian Diaspora, Biography, Media Archive, Oceania, Passing, Women on 2015-11-11 02:33Z by Steven

The legend of Merle

The Age
Docklands, Victoria, Australia
2002-08-21


Merle Oberon (1943)

She was one of the most glamorous stars of the 1930s and ’40s. A screen siren with smouldering looks, exotic features and almond-shaped eyes. Merle Oberon was described as graceful and hauntingly beautiful.

On her ascent, in 1939, she captivated the world in the box office Hollywood hit, Wuthering Heights, playing Cathy opposite Laurence Olivier as Heathcliff.

From the other side of the globe, Tasmanians glowed with pride. Oberon, according to a biography that read like a Hollywood film script, had been born in Hobart, the daughter of an upper-class white colonial family. She left Tasmania for India after her distinguished father died in a hunting accident, and was raised there by aristocratic godparents.

If Errol Flynn was the island state’s favourite son, Merle Oberon was its treasured daughter. In 1978, the Hobart Town Hall hosted a function attended by well-known local identities to welcome her back. Decades later, Tasmanians proudly recount stories and anecdotes about the hometown girl who blazed her way to Hollywood. Only Oberon wasn’t born in Tasmania. She was Anglo-Indian

Read the entire article here.

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