Popular entertainment contributes to an American culture that promotes unconscious bias and prejudices. Long-term Hollywood depictions of Asian roles performed by white actors in “oriental” make-up are under attack by a younger generation of Asian Americans who understand the insidious and long-term effects of this still persistent racist practice.
[Vox / YouTube] Yellowface is a bad look, Hollywood
Criticisms of casting white actors who play obviously Asian roles have spread in social media among younger audiences who no longer buy into standard Hollywood economic justifications for these supposedly artistic choices. However popular and well-liked an actress like Scarlett Johansson is, her casting as an Asian manga character with an obviously Asian name (Major Motoko Kusanagi) violates reasonable cultural expectations, with ramification down the line to schools and playgrounds where identities and capabilities of Asian American children watching these movies get diminished.
Entertainer activists and social media creatives have presented critical arguments that put old Hollywood justifications in the defense. With support from actors like George Takei and comedians like Margaret Cho, these protests are getting media coverage and spread via Facebook, Twitter, and other social media channels.
Changes in the entertainment industry to correct this racist Hollywood tradition will be gradual due to long development and production timelines, but they start with those who make the critical decisions – directors and producers. Director Cameron Crowe, for one, has recognized the outcry and publicly apologized for his controversial decision to cast white actress Emma Stone for a mixed-raced Asian Hawaiian role Allison Ng in his movie “Aloha.”
Hollywood and the entertainment industry may take notice of these protests, but the record for many decades show it has been unfailingly unenlightened and averse to improvements. New generations of Asian American and Pacific Islander artists and industry leaders need to play a stronger role in changing this cultural landscape beyond social media protests.
- [VOX] Hollywood’s best Asian roles still go to white people: “Why aren’t there more big-name Asian actors? … Part of the answer is that roles that should go to Asians often go to white people — and that hasn’t changed much since they taped back Katharine Hepburn’s eyes to play “Jade” in Dragon Seed“ Read more
- [Washington Post] Margaret Cho, George Takei protest Hollywood ‘whitewashing’ of Asian characters: ““So let me get this straight. You cast a white actress so you wouldn’t hurt sales…in Asia? This backpedaling is nearly as cringeworthy as the casting. Marvel must think we’re all idiots,” Takei wrote on Facebook.” Read more
- [Fusion] BD Wong to white actors playing Asian: ‘You’re in the wrong part’: “Wong maintained that the source of the racism that pervades casting decisions—whether it’s the denial of roles to Asian actors or the use of yellowface or brownface on white actors—is that “they do not understand.” White production companies don’t get why yellowface and brownface are insulting. White actors don’t get the truth and pain of the Asian characters they’re invited to portray.” Read more
Photo credit: “Casablanca: Starring John Cho”, image by Ador Pereda Yano