This year, The Oscars put themselves on the right track towards recognizing the work and effort POC actors, filmmakers, screenwriters, and entertainers are contributing to this marvelous industry. Jordan Peele, officially the first ever black man to win an Oscar for Best Screenplay. The Best Picture Award went to a Mexican film director- Guillermo Del Toro. Coco, a movie entrenched in Mexican culture won the Best Animated Feature Film. It’s honestly quite heartwarming to see that in an industry dominated by white people, POC can have a chance to be given the same recognition for the same amount of work. After Moonlight won Best Picture last year, I’m sure we’ll continue to see this trend of recognizing POC for their work.
However, there’s just teensy-tiny problem. Hollywood is still refusing to acknowledge Asian-Americans and their stories.
There’s a huge distinction to make. I’m not talking about Asians in general, I’m talking specifically about the group of Asians living in America who seem to constantly be swept under the rug when it comes to the matter of representation. Despite Asian Americans being like every other American- who lead complex, interesting, and fulfilling lives, stories that surround them and roles afforded to them all seem to boil down to stereotypes of submissive housewives, tiger moms, nerd number #4 behind the protagonist in two scenes, and a shopkeeper with broken English.
And even when stories about Asians are being told and making it to the silver screen, somehow, their logic is to cast a white person instead of, oh I don’t know, an Asian person to tell their own story.
Take the disastrous “Ghost In The Shell” starring Scarlet Johansson portraying a character called “Motoko Kunasagi” – seriously guys? Or the highly controversial “Doctor Strange” which replaced a powerful Tibetian character with a Celtic one so the studio could cast Tilda Swinton and praise themselves for increasing women’s representation (by the way, a 2016 statistic shows that Asian female characters make up 6% of female characters).
Here’s another depressing figure: more white actresses have won Oscars for portraying Asians than Asian women themselves have won Oscars. And if you’re wondering, no Asian woman has ever won the Best Actress Award. The sole award was the Best Supporting Actress award which went to Miyoshi Umeki for portraying the submissive, quiet, and docile housewife to Marlon Brando‘s character in “Sayonara”. Back in 1957.
It’s not that I’m advocating to shove Asian characters everywhere. No. I’m merely asking that Hollywood allow Asians to tell Asians stories. Actually no, that’s too far. How about letting Asian people play Asian characters. Once they get the hang of that maybe they can progress to something more complicated, like casting Asian people to be normal people.
Unfortunately (and unsurprisingly), Hollywood doesn’t seem to be changing anytime soon.
You see, Hollywood has an obsession with Asian stories. They love hearing them and they sure love telling them – it’s just that they can’t possibly imagine Asian people in the roles. And it’s getting really fucking frustrating. But it seems that not everyone on the Internet understands why people are mad, so let’s take some really common reasoning (read excuses) for not casting Asians and analyze them:
“Actual Asian peopled don’t get mad about it.”
First of all, if you say that and you are in no way or shape Asian by any stretch, I’d need you to shut the fuck up and take several seats.
What people usually mean by this is they would look at comments made by Japanese people living in Japan or Chinese people living in China and go “Oh look! This (insert particular country) Asian isn’t mad, so you shouldn’t be mad.”
Let me reiterate the part about shutting the fuck up again.
Asian-Americans are still Asians. Hell, Asians who are born in any Western countries are still Asians. They still have a right to connect to their roots and background and they still face struggle and discrimination on a daily basis. On the simple fact that they are a minority group. They’re the one that has the most vested interest in having films portray actual full fleshed non-stereotypical characters because they’re often the one affected the most by these shitty representations, or no representation at all. They’re the ones that have to put up with bullshit racists gestures and assumptions all the time because when all your assumption about a race comes from media, it can impact the way you interact with that particular race.
If you, a non-Asian, try to tell another Asian person how to feel about a clearly racist and outdated practice, you don’t have any moral or logical high ground and you just look really stupid. And racist. Don’t ever tell Asians how to feel about racism directed towards them.
“But Asians are not profitable.”
If we were to pretend that K-pop (that’s Korean pop for those unaware) isn’t one of the most profitable, powerful, and prevalent Asian exports to Western society, and we were just to look at, let’s say, the film industry in general, you’d still be wrong.
According to a very boring and official report by PwC. China’s spending on movies surpassed the U.S last year and is expected to grow furthermore. Being such a powerhouse in the film industry, can you take a guess as to what the Chinese audience tend to favor in terms of movies?
Yeah. It’s Asian faces.
In fact, Hollywood is slowly starting to take notes and casting huge Chinese stars in small minor roles in major blockbusters in a very pathetic attempt to cater to the Chinese audience. However, it’s working. But soon, China’s appetite for Hollywood films and seeing proper representation on their screen cannot be quenched by simply throwing in a major singer and giving them two lines to speak in one scene. Hollywood would inevitably have to step up their game if they want to remain in the game.
That argument falls flat when we look at it from the other direction, which is:
“Only white actors in films can make a profit, so whitewashing Asian roles is inevitable.”
Now You See Me 2, in all honesty, and without spoiling much, is a mediocre film at best. The twist at the end was lackluster and the conflict resolution felt a bit too rushed and easy to come by. However, with that being said, it managed to break the box office record in China with a 14.8 million dollar opening day. This isn’t a coincidence; the marketing team and writing team knew what they were doing. Some parts of the film were spoken in Chinese, even featured Mark Ruffalo and Morgan Freeman attempting to speak (very bad) Mandarin. Furthermore, half the movie was set in Macau and it features quite heavily (by Hollywood standards) Taiwanese rapper Jay Chow. Sure, at best this was a case of pandering, but with all these Asian influences mixed in, it (surprisingly) managed to make a profit.
Funny how that works.
And last but not least:
“America only has x percentage of Asians so it doesn’t make sense to put them in.”
I would like to direct you to point number two where China is the largest box office for Hollywood films and also the simple concept of export: Hollywood hugely depends on with their revenue made from international screenings.
So not only does it make economic sense, it also helps wipes away the shameful past of Hollywood’s whitewashing which features actual white actors in yellowface:
Mickey Rooney as the infamous Mr. Yunioshi in Breakfast At Tiffany’s (1961)
Marlon Brando as an Okinawan translator in The Teahouse of the August Moon (1956)
Katherine Hepburn as Jade in Dragon Seed (1944)
Or maybe even those not too long ago:
Emma Stone as Allison Ng in Aloha (2015)
Scarlet Johansson as Motoko Kusanagi in Ghost In The Shell (2017)
So, how about it, Hollywood. Maybe it’s time you give us some space to shine.