First of all, let’s agree that whitewashing in Hollywood is not just some disgruntlement of a few ethnic actors, it is a legitimate issue. It has even got its own Wikipedia entry. Notable examples include Three-quarter of the cast of “Dragon Ball Evolution”, Emma Stone as Allison Ng in “Aloha”, and Scarlett Johansson in the upcoming “Ghost in the Shell”. Media Action Network for Asian Americans (MANAA) President Aki Aleong showed his displeasure in a press release, “There are many talented Asian and Pacific Islander (AAPI) actors who could’ve played significant roles in [Aloha].”
There is only a small percentage of Asian actors working in Hollywood, with only a handful of roles written specifically for Asians. Sadly, roles that are AAPI-specific are sometimes used to reinforce a stereotype. The Asian character is either a nerd, an immigrant, or a martial artist. “We have so little casting opportunities as it is, so Asian actors try not to veer from the typecast too much.” said Elena Choo, an actress of Indonesian–Chinese descent currently working in Hollywood. It is no wonder that the audience thinks that all Asians look the same. It’s because the stereotypical Asian ‘look’ is being perpetuated on screen all the time.
That said, these vexations have not fallen on deaf ears. Hollywood has made efforts towards giving us a more diverse cast on screen. ABC currently houses three series with Asian leads, “Fresh Off the Boat”, “Dr. Ken” and “Quantico”. Better yet, many Asian actors are proactively becoming the change they want to see, showing the world that there are more types of Asians than can ever be catalogued. Elena Choo is one such example. She is known for her vivid red locks in the new Netflix series “LOVE” and the upcoming action movie “Syndicate Smasher”. She chose to break away from the traditional Asian dark hair to differentiate herself. When asked whether her hair color constricts her casting options, she says “Initially I was really worried about that, but apparently these days casting directors are much more open-minded about a character’s appearance, and they focus more on the actor’s performance”. And that’s the way it should be. An actor’s ability on screen should be the highest barometer for the industry, instead of skin color. Let’s hope that that this trend continues, and we will see more Asian roles on screen, to better represent the fastest growing demographic in America.