It’s hard to avoid the buzz over several popular movies out starring Asian actors like Crazy Rich Asians and To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. It’s clear that the entertainment industry has taken strides to include Asian people and culture in recent media. The industry, however, still fails in their portrayal of diversity.
While Asian actors have made appearances in the media industry since the 1910s, their roles have frequently been written as shallow and stereotypical. The lack of true-to-life Asian characters has left audiences starving for a more inclusive cast with stronger leads.
Recently, the entertainment industry has attempted to address this apparent stigmatization of Asian actors by portraying Asian culture more often and in an accurate light. This change proved profitable for the industry with the success of Crazy Rich Asians, which was directed by Jon M. Chu and based on the 2013 novel by Kevin Kwan.
Crazy Rich Asians is a romantic comedy about an Asian-American woman meeting her boyfriend’s family. The plot twist is that the family is the richest in all of Singapore, and his mother does not approve of her son’s American girlfriend. The film features an almost entirely Asian cast and left the box office astounded as it carried high numbers for weeks after its opening.
Fortunately, Crazy Rich Asians was able to largely avoid Hollywood’s infamous history of white-washing. Film critic A.O. Scott wondered why it took so long to see a cast like Crazy Rich Asian’s—one with a majority of Asian members, according to his review in The New York Times.
Though Crazy Rich Asians is a refreshing break from Hollywood’s lack of representation, adversity still bares its ugly teeth elsewhere. The accelerating inclusive nature of entertainment continues to contain subtle or unintentional discrimination in the form of jokes, casual racism and white-washing.
Ghost in the Shell, a 2017 film directed by Rupert Sanders, is a prominent and recent example of white-washing in the industry. Fans almost immediately began to protest Scarlett Johansson’s casting as the lead: an Asian character known in the original manga as Motoko Kusanagi. A petition in 2015 called for the role to be recast, but was ultimately ignored according to Time.
The film The Outsider, produced by Netflix, also stars a white-washed lead. It focuses on the Yakuza—organized crime groups in Japan—with white actor Jared Leto cast as the main character. Netflix was heavily criticized for choosing a white man for the central role in a film based around Japanese culture.
The American fallacy that strong leads must be portrayed by white actors perpetuates the exclusion of actors and actresses of other races.
On the other hand, there are other great examples of recent inclusivity that have been rightly praised for their depiction of universal experiences by diverse casts.
Netflix’s 2018 To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before released this summer is exceeding all expectations in its popularity. The coming-of-age story about an Asian-American girl leaves no room for a shallow, stereotypical lead.
Searching, a 2018 American thriller film directed by Aneesh Chaganty, follows a father trying to find his missing 16-year-old daughter. The movie is free of classic racist stereotypes and is the first Hollywood thriller with an Asian-American lead.
The importance of inclusivity is reinforced by these and other cliché-free inclusive productions. John Cho, the lead of Searching, spoke of a hopeful view for films to represent Asian culture.
“I want the future to be where it’s completely normal to see an Asian-American family on-screen,” Cho said to Vanity Fair in its July 2018 issue.
It should be unremarkable to see diversity. Although the recent progress is making American mindsets more receptive to multi-ethnic movies, seeing non-white lead actors and actresses should be the norm instead of a welcome surprise. It is logical that diversity is shown in a place as diverse as this country. Modern audiences are fed up with the racially exclusive nature of Hollywood.
Looking at Hollywood productions from the past century, it is as if genuine Asian culture did not exist until the past couple of years. Every human should have the chance for their lives to be represented accurately to the general public.