Opportunities for Asian Americans in Hollywood are small and scarce.
A study on inequality in popular films was released in 2017 by The Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California that analyzed 39,788 characters in 900 of the top fictional movies between 2007 and 2016 (excluding 2011). Its results revealed how Asian Americans, among other demographics, are left out of the picture in many Hollywood film productions.
While opportunities for Asian Americans in general are limited, opportunities for Asian American women are even fewer. Out of the top 100 films from 2015, 70 of the films had cast no female Asian American actress and 49 of the films cast no Asian American actors at all.
Actress Chloe Bennet found that changing her last name from Wang to Bennet gave her more opportunities in Hollywood. In a 2017 NPR interview, Bennet talks about how casting directors wouldn’t even consider her when they saw the last name Wang.
She also responds to the current climate for Asian Americans in Hollywood, claiming that the narrative in Hollywood is that Asian Americans are the “butt of the joke,” further stating that “we're the nerds, that we're the shy girls or that the guy that can't be sexy because he's an Asian man.”
When they are cast, Asian American actors are usually cast as background characters and are seldom given the spotlight.
The USC study also reveals that only 5.7 percent of characters given speaking roles in the top 100 films from 2016 were Asian. Furthermore, only 2 Asian American actors were cast as leads — and both of them were male.
Lead roles in Hollywood movies are dominated by Caucasian actors. Of the top 100 films from 2016, 86 of the movies had lead roles played by Caucasian actors.
In fact, characters that are Asian often are played by Caucasian actors and actresses in a phenomenon known as whitewashing or yellowface.
For example, in the 2017 live action adaptation of the animated film “Ghost in the Shell,” Scarlett Johansson plays a Japanese character named Motoko Kusanagi.
Matt Damon was involved in a similar case of whitewashing when he took the role of main character William in the 2016 movie “The Great Wall.”
Actress Constance Wu spoke out in response to Matt Damon’s role in the movie saying that it perpetuates “the racist myth that only a white man can save the world.”
And when Asian Americans do land big roles, they are still being treated unfairly by Hollywood producers.
Asian American co-stars Grace Park and Daniel Dae Kim in the CBS rerun of the TV show “Hawaii Five-0” both left the set after producers refused to pay them as much as their fellow cast members. Kim spoke out about his departure from the cast saying that he wanted to “maintain a steadfast sense of [his] self worth.”
Equal representation and visibility on the big screen is imperative. If kids grow up seeing themselves being portrayed one way, they will shape their consciousness around that stereotype.
For many, seeing successful people similar to themselves gives them more confidence that they can be successful as well.
Kim reflected on the dire conditions of Asian American representation in Hollywood in an interview with IndieWire.
He claimed that “[m]ost people [he] looked up to when [he] was a kid were not Asian.” Referring to actors in Hollywood, he explains how he does not know “what made [him] think that [he] could be one of them, but thankfully [he is].”
It’s time to stop stereotyping Asian Americans in Hollywood productions and give them an equal opportunity to play lead roles. Asian Americans deserve to have role models too and should not be limited to the pathetic narrative that Hollywood has made.