When Will Asians Get Their Visibility in the Film Industry?
This past week was a big week for Asians in entertainment with the opening of Crazy Rich Asians in theaters and the release of To All the Boys I’ve Ever Loved Before to Netflix. With each film earning an exceptionally high Rotten Tomatoes rating of 93%, it’s clear that a strong Asian lead not only sells but also appeals to audiences just as much as any other ethnicity lead. Therefore, why aren’t Asians getting the spotlight in more mainstream films? This article contains no spoilers.
In an article written by Teen Vogue in 2016, it is stated that Asians play 1% of leading roles in Hollywood. Since then, there has been some increase; however, many of the characters/actors who complete this statistic play out the same nerdy-loser trope that is damaging to not only Asians but also non-Asians. The debate of whether minorities seek representation or inspiration in their portrayal is one for another article, but it is still important to note the harmful imagery that the media perpetuates of Asians. Specifically in Netflix’s new (and very controversial) series Insatiable, actor Daniel Kang plays awkward, romantically unsuccessful, and perverted convenient store worker Donald Choi; and actress Irene Choi plays obnoxious, romantically unsuccessful adoptee (to a white mother)/pageant girl Dixie Sinclair who insultingly denies being Asian as if it to be some disease. Yes, Netflix casted two Asian actors. However, Netflix was given the opportunity to break ground and portray these characters as dynamic, proud, and deep; yet used this chance to push them in the background while simultaneously dragging their names through the mud.
More positively, the films Crazy Rich Asians and To All the Boys I’ve Ever Loved Before display two forms of Asian female leads (respectively Constance Wu and Lana Condor) facing different battles in similar victories of love, acceptance, and understanding of themselves. One woman navigates dating in her adult life as she unknowingly courts a rich, handsome, Singaporean socialite while the other navigates dating in high school as she becomes entangled in a fake relationship with a popular young man leading to two compelling stories with complex characters and storylines. And the complexity of the Asian characters in these movies is what sets these films apart from all others.
Real people have multiple interests and passions that influence their everyday lives. Real people laugh and smile when they’re feeling great and cry when they are hurt. Real people struggle in platonic and romantic relationships at times while experiencing triumphs. Characters Lara Jean of To All the Boys I’ve Ever Loved Before and Rachel Chu of Crazy Rich Asians share the complicated behaviors that real people off-screen experience. I believe that this is the result of casting actors for their humanity rather than their ethnicity. So what is the solution?
For content creators, it is important to assess whether roles call for men and women of a certain race or simply just a man or woman. And if men and women of any race can be selected, do so! For actors, it is important to not just seek out roles made for Asians but also step into casting calls targeted toward white actors. For viewers, it is important to support artistry that promotes the complexity and realness that Asians hold. And this is not only portrayed in the on-screen characters but also the behind-the-scenes experts who bring ideas into fruition.
Casting Asian individuals in leading roles holds the same value that casting black and LGBTQ+ actors in leading roles does: establishing visibility for the respective community and giving Asians the on-screen role models they deserve. The need for more Asian variety in the media is one I can empathize with because I grew up wishing I had a young, female, dark –skinned character in the media to look up to who was thriving in her personal, academic, and dating endeavors. Although there is ground yet to break in this aspect, to see young Asian men and women witness relatable and realistic heroes gives me hope for the future of diversity in the media.