By Shivani Gosai | Opinions Editor
In recent Hollywood films, the roles of Asian characters have been taken by actors who are white. It seems like Hollywood is missing opportunities to become more inclusive by whitewashing their roles.
Most recently, controversy over movies such as Great Wall, in which portrays Matt Damon as the savior European mercenary among Chinese warriors, and Ghost in the Shell, in which Scarlett Johansson was casted as a Japanese character. Marvel’s Doctor Strange caused an uproar as well, in which Tilda Swinton played an originally Asian character.
Nancy Wang Yuen, a sociologist and documentary producer, recounts talking to an unnamed casting director regarding Asians in her book “Reel Inequality: Hollywood Actors and Racism.”
“I work with a lot of different people and Asians are a challenge to cast because most casting directors feel as though they’re not very expressive,” the Hollywood casting director allegedly said to Yuen. The casting director went on to describe Asians as more likely to have acting jobs that cast them if “… they’re at a computer or if they’re like a scientist or something like that,”
These statements went viral after being published in an article for Paste Magazine.
Naturally, the statements received outrage from the internet. The hashtag “#ExpressiveAsians” was started on Twitter, in which users posted over-the-top selfies of themselves and notable Asian actors and actresses making faces that are anything but expressionless.
Asian representation in media is already hard to find, and if we do receive roles, they’re usually offensive tropes. While Asian men are seen as meek and unattractive, Asian women are often hyper-sexualized and stereotyped as submissive or quiet.
When the media reinforces the idea that Asians lack the ability to express emotion, it reinforces the image that we are less than human. The stereotype of Asians as expressionless has darker roots; it can be traced back to World War II and was used as a way to dehumanize the Japanese. The purpose of this was to alienate Asians as people so American soldiers were less likely to feel remorse during combat.
Representation is important. Marginalized groups need accurate representation so that there are role models to serve those people. If you want examples of notable (and expressive) Asian actors, take a look at Daniel Wu, Dev Patel, Kimiko Glenn or Deepika Padukone. Watch any Korean or Indian television series if you want to see some real drama.
In a noble effort to end Hollywood whitewashing, actor Ed Skrein recently made the decision to step down as his roll of Ben Daimio in the upcoming Hellboy movie after realizing that the character is of Japanese heritage.
“It is clear that representing this character in a culturally accurate way holds significance for people, and that to neglect this responsibility would continue a worrying tendency to obscure ethnic minority stories and voices in the Arts,” Skrein said.
Skrein is said to be replaced by Daniel Dae Kim, who recently left his role on Hawaii Five-0 because of un-equal pay compared to his white co-workers.
We need to hold film studios and directors accountable for casting actors of color. Through boycotts and social media protests, equal representation can be a reality for Hollywood. The way the media portrays Asians sets up how the rest of the world sees us. When you deny an Asian actor a role and give it to a white actor instead, you are denying their voice Saying you can’t cast Asians because they’re “unexpressive” or “stereotypical” is a lazy excuse to be racist.
Ultimately, do we really need a hashtag to prove we’re human? We sure as hell don’t need a white casting director to tell us what to believe about ourselves — how’s that for an expression?