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The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

'A voice for the voiceless'
Kiley O’Brien ’25, Assistant Features Editor • July 18, 2024
Fit to be king
Lilli Dellheim '25 M.A., Special to the Hawk • July 13, 2024

Asian experiences can not be whitewashed

Asian experiences can not be whitewashed

A call for more diverse representation in TV and film

In recent years, records have been shattered and precedents have been redefined by different types of minoritized groups in the film and television world.

Women are accepting more leadership positions as directors and producers, members of the LGTBQ community are finding their voices both on screen and behind the scenes and people of various ethnic and racial backgrounds are nabbing up prestigious Academy Awards left and right.

This influx of representation holds promise for a more inclusive future in media, but this amount of representation is not a platform but rather a spectrum. Unfortunately on the low end of the representation spectrum, are Asians and Asian-Americans.

One factor that contributes to this lack of representation is the habit of “whitewashing”.

“Whitewashing” is a term used when white actors are cast in roles that are historically non-white roles or scripted non-white characters. Not only does this steal proper representation from these non-white racial groups but also misrepresents the actual experiences of these people.

A 2017 study by the University of Southern California showed Asian-Americans represented only one percent of all leading Hollywood roles.

Some recent disturbing examples of whitewashing are Emma Stone playing a woman of both Hawaiian and Chinese descent in the movie “Aloha”, Scarlett Johansson being cast as someone with Japanese heritage in the film “Ghost in the Shell” and Natalie Portman in the movie “Annihilation” where she played a woman of Asian heritage. All of these roles could have gone to Asian actresses who would not have had to “act” Asian.

Another problem with the representation of Asians and Asian-Americans in media is that characters are often associated with or centered around Asian stereotypes.

We need more Asian lead roles, we need more Asian academy awards winners, and we need all young aspiring Asian actors to see moments like Oh’s and know that there is a place for them on stage too.

Asian actors may find it difficult to find auditions, and when they do find auditions they are often cast as secondary and stereotypical roles, rather than the leads.

According to the Guardian, “Asian men said they were often relegated to roles as tech nerds, assistants, doctors – sometimes highly emasculated, desexualized characters. Asian women, meanwhile, are regularly up for parts as masseuses and sex workers or characters described as submissive, fragile or quiet.”

Not being cast or even considered for lead roles is bad, but being cast as a secondary character whose purpose it is to portray  culturally offensive stereotypes is downright disrespectful.

Obviously, the film and TV industry is not a perfect entity, and it would be easy to just say, “that’s showbiz, baby” and go on with our days. But what would that change? Who would that help?

If something is glaringly wrong, people have a duty to change it, and that is precisely what happened in 2018. Asian actors have taken Hollywood by storm this past year.

It became the year for stand-out Asian performances starting with the critically acclaimed movie “Crazy Rich Asians” which contained an entirely Asian cast.

Not only was there an entirely Asian cast, this movie addressed Asian issues, such as social class and collectivism head on. This provided a tremendous opportunity for authentic Asian representation on the silver screen.

The public has responded exceedingly well to the film as it has also scooped up multiple awards including Critic’s Choice award for Best Comedy and Hollywood Films Award for Breakthrough Ensemble.

Another pivotal moment from this past year was Sandra Oh at the 76th Golden Globe Awards.

Oh was not only one of the hosts but also the winner for Best Actress in a TV series, making her the only Asian actress to win multiple Golden Globes.

At the conclusion of her acceptance speech, she bowed to her parents and told them she loved them in Korean. This entire moment is a testament to the redefinition of a precedent for how representation should look in Hollywood.

We need more Asian lead roles, we need more Asian academy awards winners, and we need all young aspiring Asian actors to see moments like Oh’s and know that there is a place for them on stage too.

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