Whitewashing Asians in the Film Industry

Hollywood today has been growing for decades, bringing in many with talent, but there is a controversy about how Hollywood is still racist today, or are they? An example of this controversy is that most people will never see an Asian American main character in modern day film, besides the typical martial art films. Why is it that you don’t see an Asian American play a major role in American films today? Well, in The New York Times, Keith Chow says producers do not want to gamble putting minorities as the face of the film (Chow, 2016). Screenwriter, Max Landis says in The New York Times that, “There are no A-list female Asian celebrities right now on an international level” (Chow, 2016), meaning that Asian American celebrities are not known throughout the world, but how can an Asian American make it big if they can’t even get a major role to front their name? Instead, Hollywood plays it safe by casting popular American actors playing Asian characters.

Thesis: Hollywood today is still whitewashing Asian characters that are meant to be portrayed by Asian actors. They’re casting roles for American actors with Asian names, portraying them as Asian, and not giving the role to Asian actors. By doing this, Asian actors will never get the limelight and become well known in the film industry.

What the Media Says:

Breakfast at Tiffany’s

The first artifact that caught my attention was the movie “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”. Long story short, this movie is romantic comedy about a woman named Holly, portrayed by Audrey Hepburn, who falls in love with her neighbor Paul, who is played by George Peppard. Within the movie, there are conflicts between Holly and other men, but at the end, she and Paul admit their love for one another. There are many films where the casting is similar to this, but this movie particularly caught my attention due to the fact that it became a controversy. In this movie, they casted Mickey Rooney, who is a Caucasian American actor, to portray as Mr. Yunioshi who is the Japanese landlord of the apartments that Holly lives in. There was a controversy about this film about yellow facing due to the fact that they made him a stereotypical “Asian”, i.e. big buck teeth, squinty eyes, and is really loud with an Asian accent. This whole scenario could have been prevented by just casting an Asian actor to play this character as who they are but not live the racial stereotype, but apparently there weren’t any Asian actors back then, so instead, the producers of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” decided that yellow facing it would be a great idea, and caused a racial discussion.


Mickey Rooney has Mr. Yunioshi, the landlord.

Mr. Yunioshi talking: https://youtu.be/Lapak02ct3E?t=8m40s

Doctor Strange

Another artifact that caught my attention was the new movie “Doctor Strange”, where Tilda Swinton portrays an ancient Tibetan monk. Obviously by appearance, Tilda is not Asian at all. On USA TODAY, the director of “Doctor Strange”, Scott Derrickson, told Kelly Lawler from USA TODAY, that he had casted Tilda Swinton to avoid Asian stereotyping, which could have caused a controversy as well (Lawler, 2016). In my opinion, I don’t think that would have caused a controversy because a lot of Asian actors today are known for their cultural aspect, so in my beliefs it would have been more appreciated.


Tilda Swinton as Celtic from “Doctor Strange”.

The Walking Dead

The last artifact that I’ve chosen, and a positive one, is actor Steven Yeun portraying as Glenn, from “The Walking Dead”. The reason why I chose this artifact because he is a factor for breaking through the film industry, showing that Asian actors can be well known. He plays as an Asian-American, more as himself, but in an intense storyline living day by day because of zombies and other problematic issues that come up. He lasted about 7 seasons and then the show followed the comic book and he had to die, but in general, Steven himself put his name out there through this television show. He now has many fans, and is very popular on the internet and talk shows himself.


Steven Yeun as Glenn from “The Walking Dead”.


 Asian characters should be casted by Asian actors, that is that. Yes, there is an argument that the movies today need a main actor with a well known face, but shine a light through these Asian actors; the reason why they aren’t famous is because there isn’t any opportunities for them, or maybe even the director believes that the character for them is too stereotypical. If it’s too stereotypical then they could decide if they want the part, but I believe that it’s best to be stereotypical rather than start a racial controversy on white washing. There is only a handful of well known Asian actors, such as Lucy Liu, Jackie Chan, and now Steven Yeun. These actors became famous by having a major or supporting role in films, and that could be a step for the film industry to reconsider.

Conclusion: All in all, whitewashing or yellow facing characters should not be happening on Hollywood screens. Hollywood has grown to be diverse with many actors of different ethnics, yet the roles are still selective to well known or big actors just because the media already knows their face. There are plenty of Asian actors that could play a role like that, and slowly but surely, they too can become known to the media as well.

Learning Moments

One of my learning moments would have to be from week 9. That was when I realized about media literacy and that you can never have too many sources. It’s best if after you hear something on the news, which seems to be biased, is to do some online research and see if there are other sides to the story. So in general, whatever you see on the news or media, you should take it with a grain of salt.

Another learning moment would be about plagiarizing. I really appreciated high school for teaching us how to cite our sources, and learning to rephrase and such. Plagiarizing especially on the internet is a dangerous thing, due to the fact that anything that is posted on the web, will forever stay on the web even if deleted. So it’s best to type it in your own words, and or even if you use someone’s work, might as well cite it so you aren’t plagiarizing in the first place.

Works Cited

Chow, K. (2016, April 22). Why Won’t Hollywood Cast Asian Actors? Retrieved

November 14, 2016, from



Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Directed by Blake Edwards. Produced by Martin Jurow, and

Richard Shepherd, October 5, 1961. Film.

WatchMojo.com. Top 10 Racially Offensive Yet Funny Movie Characters. Online

video clip. YouTube. YouTube. September 7, 2013. Web. November 14, 2016.

Lawler, K. (2016, November 7). Whitewashing controversy still haunts ‘Doctor

Strange’. Retrieved November 14, 2016, from, http://www.usatoday.com/story/life/entertainthis/2016/11/07/doctor-strange-whitewashing-ancient-one-tilda-swinton-fan-critical-reaction/93416130/

Doctor Strange. Directed by Scott Derrickson. Produced by Kevin Feige. November 4, 2016.


The Walking Dead. Executive Producers Frank Darabont, Gale Anne Hurd ,David

Alpert, Robert Kirkman, Charles H. Eglee, Glen Mazzara, Scott M. Gimple, Greg

Nicotero, and Tom Luse. Produced by Jolly Dalle, Caleb Womble, Paul Gadd,

Heather Bellson. October 31, 2010 – Present. Television Series.


2 thoughts on “Whitewashing Asians in the Film Industry

  1. Hi Eileen,

    I think you make very interesting points for why major production companies choose not to cast Asians in major film roles. Instead of simply saying that’s its some form of racism I liked how you brought up practical reasons. For example, since there are not many well-known Asian actors, how can any be cast as leading characters. Overall your post felt very cohesive and was very enjoyable to read!

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