In a space of 70 years everything in the world has changed except white people being cast as Asians
It’s been more than 25 years since Asian Americans have taken center stage in a Hollywood film that was written by, directed by and cast entirely with a mix of Asian stars from all over the world starring both newcomers and movie legends alike.
The film Crazy Rich Asians follows Rachel (Constance Wu) an American-born Chinese economics professor who travels to Singapore for her boyfriend’s best friend’s wedding. It quickly becomes apparent that her boyfriend Nick and his family are incredibly wealthy. When she learns that he’s the heir apparent to one of the biggest fortunes in the world.
While this seems like a plot for every romantic comedy what set this film apart was that it was made in by Hollywood which has a notable history of racism towards Asians since its inception
There was the yellow face of the past where white actors played Asian caricatures and now present day there was white washing.
In 1944 Aline Macmahon was nominated for an Oscar for her yellowface role for Dragon Seed. Later on in 1982 Linda Hunt would win an Oscar for playing a Chinese man in the Year of Living Dangerously or in 2012 when Jim Sturgrees and Hugo Weaving reincarnated as a Koreans for parts in Cloud Atlas.
In a space of 70 years everything in the world has changed except white people being cast as Asians.
Many films based on stories that are largely centered around Asian characters have been whitewashed in casting,, much to the anger of hundreds of thousands of Asian Americans who are rarely ever see a face like theirs on screen.
Just look at the casting of Scarlett Johansson in the anime franchise Ghost in a Shell or Tilda Swinton playing a Tibetan character in Marvel’s Doctor Strange or Emma Stone playing a part Chinese part Hawaiian in Aloha. It’s how all these casting conditions combined dating back to the earliest days of Hollywood have made Asians invisible at best and at worse a butt of a cruel joke.
It’s not surprising that directors want to hire big names to attract producers to fund projects but when they want to do stories about Asians and won’t cast Asian actors they should know why Asian’s in the west are angry.
Kevin Kwan who wrote the book to the movie Crazy Rich Asians was based on said he was approached by an producer who wanted to whitewash his story. He said “there was initial interest from a producer who wanted to change (the heroine) Rachel Chu in to a white girl. I tell that story to book clubs in suburban middle America and they go crazy ; Why does Hollywood think we want to see this movie with white people”
A recent UCLA report found that “In both film and television, women and minorities remained notably underrepresented in every arena.”
The report points out that the United States consisted of nearly 40% minorities in 2016 despite this less than 20% of film leads are people of Colour.
And Asians fare even worse making up just 3 percent of all film roles in 2016
The reports concluded that films and television shows with casts attuned to America’s diversity tend to register the highest global box office figures and viewer ratings.
With the industry appearing to embrace the idea that America’s increasingly diverse audiences demand film and television content populated with characters whose experiences resonate with their own, who look like them, and with whom they can relate.
Crazy Rich Asians lead Constance Wu recently tweeted “I know [Crazy Rich Asians] won’t represent every Asian American, So for those who don’t feel seen, I hope there is a story you find soon that does represent you. I am rooting for you. We’re not all the same, but we all have a story.”
In the end Crazy Rich Asians is a win for diversity in Hollywood.