Since the rise of films, there has been a slow and steady growth of diversity within the industry. How much you may ask? Well, there is roughly 5% of Asian characters in top-grossing films. Growing up as an Asian-American watching many films, TV shows, and YouTube videos, I have noticed that Asians are often portrayed less significant compared to white actors. Throughout the history of Hollywood films, movies, TV shows, and social media, Asian are being whitewashed and portrayed with stereotypes, which ultimately influences their representation and perception within the industry.
Ghost in the Shell : Whitewashing Results
A great example of 21st century whitewashing in Hollywood is Ghost in the Shell, starring Scarlett Johansson who plays a Japanese character named Motoko Kusanagi, who is half human and half cyborg. The original of the name of the film stems from the Japanese manga and animation series called “Ghost in the Shell“, written by Masamune Shirow and directed and animated by Mamoru Oshii.
Johansson’s role has made fans extremely angry that they created a petition to recast the position. Keith Chow, the author of “Why Hollywood Won’t Cast Asian Actors”, explains that the screenwriter of the film, Max Landis says “‘There are no A-list female Asian celebrities right now on an international level,’ he said, admonishing viewers for ‘not understanding how the industry works'”(19). There are many A-List Asians and Asian-Americans actresses, but it seems like they’re not willing to risk it to cast an unknown name in Hollywood. To name a few A-List Asian actresses that could potentially play the role of Motoko Kusanagi are Tao Okamoto, Constance Wu, Karen Fukuhara and Priyanka Chopra. I do not need to be an expert on “how the industry works”, but whoever can bring the biggest profit and tickets sales are, without a doubt, A-Listed white actors.
But what if even the animator of Japanese’s Ghost in the Shell, Mamoru Oshii approves the casting of a white actress? The video above tells us how Oshii feels casting Johansson for the role. Does this mean there is no hope for Asians to be equally shown in Hollywood? Not necessarily. Celebrities such as Constance Wu disapproves whitewashing in Hollywood. Julia Alexander’s article titled “Scarlett Johansson finally addresses…” gives us Wu’s twitter response “It’s like way to reduce race to mere phys appearance as opposed to say culture, social experience, identity, history.” Wu’s argument is that casting roles for a specific film that has a specific culture or identity should cast a appropriate actor/actress that fits in that category.
Asian Stereotypes : Fresh Off the Boat
When Fresh Off the Boat was released with a cast of all Asians, it silenced the public with the perspective of “whitewashing” a series. This is a huge step in the TV and Hollywood industry for Asians. The story of a TV series or film can be more authentic and truthful by sticking with the main characters having a Asian cast to fill in the correct role.
Within the first episode of the show of the Asian-American family moving in, they were approached by their white neighbors and they made fun of Eddie’s “good” English, who is the eldest son of the family. The white neighbors replies by saying how “good” his English is with an Asian accent.
Throughout the series, Fresh Off the Boat does not hide any stereotypes that Asians are experiencing everyday. In each episode, there is always a scene where Asian stereotypes are illustrated and shown. Eddie Huang, the author of the book Fresh Off the Boat that created the TV show, does not seem afraid of the backlash he may receive, but embraces his culture and roots (Entertainment Tonight Interview on YouTube).
I believe the show is meant to raise awareness and publicity of Asian and how they are being perceived with stereotypes. Just like what Randall Park mentioned in the video, “see things from other perspectives”. By doing this, spectators can see how Asians are being stereotyped and hopefully recognizes the results and feel empathy towards the mistreatment. The show may help audiences that are non-Asian form a connection or understanding to what the Asian characters in the series are experiencing and facing (discrimination, prejudice, racism, etc).
The article “Fresh Off The Boat: Beyond racial stereotypes” by Alison de Souza explains the actors experiences and opinions being in the show. Souza describes the show taught the actors “about the experiences that shaped their own Asian immigrant parents” (2016). Although the show may be depicting Asian stereotypes, Constance Wu, the actress who plays the wife mentions that “a lot of things we do actually don’t follow stereotypes” (2016). It seems that the show over exaggerates on the stereotypes Asians are facing in a daily basis, but it may still hold some truth. Can Asian-Americans be comfortable in America without being stereotyped?
By having a full Asian cast within a Asian story line and plot, it makes the show more original. It does not feel the same when a white actor plays a supposedly Asian role. Shilpa Davé wrote an article titled “Racial Accents, Hollywood Casting, and Asian American Studies” about Asians Americans representation in Hollywood. He describes “casting agents tend to privilege physical difference or the visual contrast with the dominant white characters in their casting practices” (143). This creates unfair treatments to those who are non-white.
Do It Yourself : Wong Fu Productions
Let’s be honest, becoming a Hollywood director and filmmaker is extremely difficult. If agents are not willing to cast you, why not do it yourself? Why not have the freedom to express your own opinions without feeling restricted or mistreated? Would it be great if you became success with your own group of best friends and make whatever you want? Wong Fu Productions is a popular YouTube channel with nearly 3 million subscribers, and it all started with 3 Asian guys in college. Wong Fu Productions is a Asian American YouTube channel that was created in 2007. The channel was started by Philip, Wesley, and Teddy, who become great friends after graduation and started their YouTube career moving to Los Angeles.
The videos they make raises public awareness to demonstrate that yes, Asians are capable of becoming a director, producer, writer, editor, actor, etc. They inspire many upcoming Asian filmmakers and content creators to believe they have the same opportunities to become successful without the use of Hollywood tactics. Wong Fu Productions has became so popular that they partnered up with YouTube Red series.
Wong Fu Production has remade a American TV show with their Asian twist. This is interesting because we (the audience) rarely gets to see this happen. By replacing the characters and story with Asians gives the audience a chance to see how a particular TV show or film would turn out, rather than being played by a mainstream white character. It gives a new perspective for spectators to watch and enjoy, even without having a popular white actor in the role.
Chow discusses the reasons why Hollywood prefers a white actors over Asian actors. He says “white actors playing Asian characters showed how invisible Asian-Americans continue to be in Hollywood” (19). The reason for this may be because of the lack of box office for Asian American actors and being treated unfairly when casting for roles. Although this may be true, Chow points out a astonishing result by mentioning films with diverse leads receives higher results in box office numbers. Chow explains filmmakers insist casting minorities because “movies with minorities in lead roles are gambles”. They are all wrong, and Chow proves his point by mentioning the Fast and Furious franchise has “Over seven movies it has grossed nearly $4 billion worldwide”. By giving the opportunities for minorities, such as Asians, helps raises publicity and shows the potential that Asians are able capable to be in Hollywood standards.
In the big scheme of TV shows, films, movies, and social media, Asians are depicted less valuable than white actors. The pattern of whitewashing roles has a long way to be resolved, but there is hope for upcoming Asian filmmakers, editors, actors, etc. Although Asians are met with stereotypes, they should embrace and use it as an advantage to become successful. There is always an alternative route to reach success and recognition, as Wong Fu Productions has done it without the standards and/or tactics of Hollywood. With the rise of the internet and technology becoming more accessible, it has created more opportunities than ever before for minorities to be recognized.
- The first significant learning experience was watching the Tedtalk video on “Beware Online ‘Filter Bubbles’”. Before watching this video, I knew the internet had some sort of system to compile all of your interests and then feeds you back similar material. After watching the video, I have learned that invisible editing of the web is real and realized it has already happened on my Facebook and YouTube. Eli Pariser surprises me with the amazing fact that google looks at 57 different signals to filter when browsing on the web. After learning all of these methods, I will consume my media knowing that everything I do and see on the internet is because I am self-filtering myself.
- The second learning experience was watching the video on “Astroturf and manipulation of media messages”. Sharyl Attkisson made me realized that even google cannot be safe for verifying information, let alone doctors and “trusted” results. Any information being fed to me can all be fake because companies are being “paid” to advertise the product a certain way. With the rise of the technology and internet, there is no authentic and real way of figuring out the “truth” without thinking “is this real or fake”? Before watching the video, I knew that a lot of information on the web can be fake and paid, but I did not know to this extent it would be that bad that even doctors are being paid to prescribe you medication. The next time I browse the internet for answers, I will become more aware and skeptical.
Alexander, Julia. “Scarlett Johansson finally addresses Ghost in the Shell whitewashing controversy.” 9 Feb. 2017. Retrieved from: https://www.polygon.com/2017/2/9/14559866/ghost-in-the-shell-scarlett-johansson-whitewashing
Chow, Keith. “Why Hollywood Won’t Cast Asian Actors.” New York Times, 23 Apr. 2016, p. A19(L). Retrieved from: http://go.galegroup.com.proxy.lib.pdx.edu/ps/i.do?&id=GALE%7CA450349313&v=2.1&u=s1185784&it=r&p=ITOF&sw=w&authCount=1
Davé, Shilpa. “Racial Accents, Hollywood Casting, and Asian American Studies”. 56.3. (2017). 142-147. Print.
Naifcy, Hamid. “Situating Accented Cinema”. Princeton University Press. 11-39. Retreived from: http://www.wcas.northwestern.edu/projects/globalization/secure/articles/naficy.htm
Souza, Alison. “Fresh Off The Boat: Beyond racial stereotypes”. 13 June. 2016. Retrivied from: http://www.straitstimes.com/lifestyle/entertainment/beyond-racial-stereotypes