In the New York Times, many notable Asian-American actors—Constance Wu, BD Wong, Aziz Ansari, Daniel Dae Kim and more—discussed the obstacles they’ve had in securing parts, pegged to the larger conversation around overall diversity in Hollywood, as well the recent spate of films in which characters written as Asian have been whitewashed in the most pathetic and craven ways imaginable. (Aloha and Ghost in the Shell, for instance.)
Or, as George Takei put it to writer Amanda Hess, “It’s all so plainly outlandish... It’s getting to the point where it’s almost laughable.”
The overall problems, as the piece points out, go beyond the usual studio adherence to the concept that “stories about straight white people are universal,” as Ansari said, and into a deeper pervasive notion among studio heads about the ability of any non-white actor to play a part relative to a white one, regardless of their level of talent or work ethic or even rightness for the part. Even despite more recent steps forward in visibility for certain actors—Ansari’s Netflix show Master of None, Wu’s Fresh Off the Boat, Priyanka Chopra in Quantico, to name a few—the strides are relatively small. Writes Hess:
But mostly, Asian-Americans are invisible. Though they make up 5.4 percent of the United States population, more than half of film, television and streaming properties feature zero named or speaking Asian characters, a February report from the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California found. Only 1.4 percent of lead characters in a sample of studio films released in 2014 were Asian.
For Asian-American actors, the dearth of opportunities compounds itself. “An Asian person who is competing against white people, for an audience of white people, has to train for that opportunity like it’s the Olympics,” Ms. Wu said. “An incredibly talented Asian actor might be considered for a leading role maybe once or twice in a lifetime. That’s a highly pressured situation.”
It’s loathsome that this remains the case for actors of color throughout Hollywood in 2016. Still, the piece ends on a forward-thinking note, discussing the hashtags #StarringJohnCho and #StarringConstanceWu, which reimagined the actors in blockbuster Hollywood films through the ingenuity of Photoshop and a dream:
“As I was Photoshopping John Cho’s face on top of Tom Cruise’s in the ‘Mission Impossible’ poster, my friends and I started chuckling a little bit, like, ‘How crazy would that be?’” said William Yu, the 25-year-old who created the hashtag. “Then I caught myself. Why should it be crazy?”
Read the full piece here.
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