A Fight for Change, a Fight for Equality: Entertainment Edition

Sustained Argument Paper

In 2014, only 1.4% of the films released contained lead roles played by Asians — shocking is it not? And the reason the percentage is so low is not because there were no movies for Asian Americans actors to audition for, but because entertainment industry rather Whitewash films than hire an Asian American actor. Entertainment industries rarely give roles to Asian American actors for many reasons as an excuse to not hire them. Because of this Asian American actors are constantly being seen as invisible and not important to the entertainment industry. Instead, entertainment industries see Asians as a costume that can be played by anyone, they see Asians as not good enough for them.

Ming-Na Wen /@Disney Wikia

The movement for Asian Americans film equality has been an ongoing movement for quite some time, but just recently has it become an uprising. The controversial casting of Scarlett Johansson role in the remake of the Japanese anime film Ghost in the Shell in 2016 created an outrage in communities. Some people, such as Sam Yoshiba, the original publisher of the anime, was supportive of the casting. In Eric Card’s article, “Another Controversial Case of Whitewashing, Scarlett Johansson Cast as Lead in “Ghost in the Shell””, Sam Yoshiba said that “[Scarlett Johansson] has the cyberpunk feel. And we never imagined it would be a Japanese actor in the first place”. Although the casting was approved by the publisher of the series himself, many people did not approve of the casting. Asian American actress Ming-Na Wen, famous for her role in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D and voice of Mulan, voiced her opinion of the casting on her Twitter. In Amanda Hess’s article, Asian-American Actors Are Fighting for Visibility. They Will Not Be Ignored”, Wen stated that despite being a fan of Scarlett Johansson, she is fully “against [the] whitewashing of [an] Asian role” in the film. Many other actors and actresses spoke out about the casting, along with communities displaying their voice of disapproval on the casting. From this, the casting and Asian Americans in the entertainment industry became a popular topic amongst entertainment industries and citizens.

With the topic being a hot ongoing topic, now is time to change the entertainment industries and prove them wrong. Asian Americans will, and should no longer, be considered your token smart person who does your taxes and paperwork, but can also be someone who did an amazing job in a movie that won them an oscar. There are plenty of Asian American actors of “A-List” quality that can make a movie profitable and we as the community can help make the recognizable. It is important to change from the primarily dominate White entertainment industry and make it more diverse.

From left, Daniel Dae Kim, Constance Wu and BD Wong. /@Todd Heisler, The New York Times

Asian American Actors Can’t Make A Movie Profitable?

The most common argument as to why entertainment industries do not hire Asian American actors and actresses is because they cannot make a movie profitable, but that is a false misconception. In Keith Chow’s article, “Why Won’t Hollywood Cast Asian Actors?”, a study done by the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA, found that films with diverse leads did extremely well in the box office in addition to having a high return investment for the studio and producers. From this, the common belief that a White lead is needed to make a movie profitable is statistically proven wrong. Movies such as Harold and Kumar series, which contains a non-White lead, was extremely successful in the box office. Although by having a big name actor, such as Jennifer Lawrence or Chris Hemsworth, playing a lead role in a movie is guaranteed to make money, having an Asian American actor playing the lead role can make the movie even more profitable. Therefore if an industry wishes to do well in the box office, they should hire an Asian American actor or actress to play the lead role.

Rila Fukushima /@Rene Habermatcher (Photographer) on Models.com

“There Aren’t Any “A-List” Asian American Actors/Actresses”

Entertainment industries claim that there is no actors or actresses of “A-List” quality, but if they do not give actors a chance, how can entertainment industries deem them unworthy — it is a contradiction. As pointed out by Daniel D’Addario in his article, “There’s Still More Room-And Need-For Diversity On TV”, “minority actors get less screen time than their White counterpart.” If Asian American actors are not given the screen time to show how great of an actor or actress they are, people cannot fairly judge how good their acting skills are. D’Addario goes on to add that, “when [minority actors] do speak or act, they often do so in generic or unbelievable ways, as if executives were more concerned with casting a token than creating authentic characters — or empowering writers of color who could”. Asian American actors, along with other minority actors, are constantly being stereotyped in films that it is impossible to fully rate the actor’s ability. Entertainment industries make excuses that Asian American actors are not of “A-List” quality, but in reality entertainment industries are writing films to not promote the skills of Asian American actors. They are writing stories stereotyping Asians instead of writing stories to promote Asians for who they truly are. The entertainment industries keeps making excuses like these and now is the time to call them out for it and fight for a change.

What Can We Do To Help?

There are many things that we as citizens can do to help Asian American actors and actress get lead roles. The entertainment industry strives off the money we spend to watch a film, so we the community have power in the industry. There are many different ways that we can help such as promoting films starring Asian American leads. Anyone can help make a difference, people in the entertainment industry are not the only ones who can help make a change. Just remember that the most important thing is to keep it going, keep fighting and do not stop until change happens.

From left: Daniel Dae Kim, Aziz Ansari, Constance Wu and BD Wong CreditTodd Heisler/The New York Time

Support Movies With Asian American Leads

The easiest way to help is to go to the movie theatres to watch movies with Asian American actors playing lead roles. In Patrick Healy’s article, “Pointed Talk about the Barriers for Asian-Americans at the Casting Door”, David Henry Hwang, a playwright, librettist, screenwriter, and theater professor, stated that “it’s just really important for all people to vote with your feet”. It is essential to physically go and support a film instead of waiting for the DVD to come out or watch it online. Entertainment industry care more about the box office sales of a movie because that is how they determine how successful a movie is. By supporting movies with Asian American actors at the movie theatres instead of watching a movie with an American lead, entertainment industries will see what viewers want more of. So when the live action movie for Ghost in the Shell, starring Scarlett Johansson as the lead role, comes out, it is important to boycott the movie. Instead people should go watch different films, perhaps one starring an Asian American actor as the lead.

Community Effort

As previously stated, the entertainment industry strives off the community, therefore the community has a strong influence in the industry. In Shirley Li’s article, “Breaking The Other Color Line”, Jon M. Chu, the director for Now You See Me 2 and Crazy Rich Asians, points out that “Hollywood listens to money and controversy” which can clearly be seen with the news about a live action adaptation for Mulan. The announcement sparked controversy to make the movie not another whitewashed film that resulted in a trending Twitter hashtag, #MakeMulanRight, along with a petition of 19,000 signatures. Because of all this, Disney agreed to make Mulan an all Chinese cast. Additionally Disney is holding a casting call for the main role of Mulan to debut a new actress in the industry — just like what they did with Moana. The community created a big controversy that Disney agreed to their demands. We as a community can come together stop further movies from being whitewashed as well as promoting Asian American actors to be in Asian based films. Just one person can help make a difference that can develop into a community fight for change.


Social Media

Social media is a powerful tool to help promote change in the world which includes fighting for equality in films. #MakeMulanRight was not the first hashtag to go viral in support for film equality. There have been plenty of other viral hashtags in support for Asian American actors. For example, in Katie Roger’s article, “John Cho, Starring in Every Movie Ever Made? A Diversity Hashtag is Born”, the hashtags #StarringJohnCho went viral in May of 2016 to promote for greater diversity in entertainment. Additionally, in Grace Hwang Lynch’s article, Have Award Shows Changed the Way We View Asian Americans?”, April Reign created the hashtag #OscarSoWhite due to the amount of racists jokes that occurred during the 2016 Oscars. While social media can be a distraction or be misused for things such as cyber bullying, social media is a powerful tool to help make people aware of what is going on in the world. Because social media is such an influence, hashtag movements like #MakeMulanRight was able to prevent Mulan from being just another whitewashed film. With technology and social media advancing these days, people should use it to their advantage to help promote awareness of causes like whitewashing in films and make a change in the world. Just one person making a post can result in thousands following.

Work Cited

Rogers, Katie. “John Cho, Starring in Every Movie Ever Made? A Diversity Hashtag is Born.” The New York Times. The New York Times. 10 May 2016. Web. 13 Sept. 2016.

Hess, Amanda. “Asian-American Actors Are Fighting for Visibility. They Will Not Be Ignored.” The New York Times. The New York Times. 25 May 2016. Web. 13 Sept. 2016.

Chow, Keith. “Why Won’t Hollywood Cast Asian Actors?.” The New York Times. The New York Times. 22 April 2016. Web. 28 Sept. 2016.

CAAM. “Have Award Shows Changed the Way We View Asian Americans?” CAAM. N.p., 2016. Web. 08 Nov. 2016.

Card, Eric. “Another Controversial Case of Whitewashing, Scarlett Johansson Cast as Lead in “Ghost in the Shell”.” Northwest Asian Weekly: 9. Apr 2016. ProQuest.Web. 8 Nov. 2016.

Li, Shirley. “Breaking The Other Color Line.” Entertainment Weekly 1439 (2016): 10–11. Academic Search Complete. Web. 15 Dec. 2016.

D’Addario, Daniel. “There’s Still More Room-And Need-For Diversity On TV.” Time 188.13 (2016): 23–24. Academic Search Complete. Web. 15 Dec. 2016.

Healy, Patrick. “Pointed Talk about the Barriers for Asian-Americans at the Casting Door.” New York Times, Late Edition (East Coast) ed. Feb 15 2012. ProQuest.Web. 15 Dec. 2016 .

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