Amanda Hess 「Asian-American Actors Are Fighting for Visibility. They Will Not Be Ignored.」

Posted on May 25, 2016
Daniel Dae Kim, Constance Wu & BD Wong. Credit Todd Heisler/The New York Times

When Constance Wu landed the part of Jessica Huang, the Chinese-American matriarch on the ABC sitcom 「Fresh Off The Boat」, she didn’t realize just how significant the role would turn out to be. As she developed her part, Ms. Wu heard the same dismal fact repeated over and over again: It had been 20 years since a show featuring a predominantly Asian-American cast had aired on television. ABC’s previous offering, the 1994 Margaret Cho vehicle 「All-American Girl」, was canceled after one season.

“I wasn’t really conscious of it until I booked the role,” Ms. Wu said. “I was focused on the task at hand, which was paying my rent.”

The show, which was just renewed for a third season, has granted Ms. Wu a steady job and a new perspective. “It changed me,” Ms. Wu said. After doing a lot of research, she shifted her focus “from self-interest to Asian-American interests.”

In the past year, Ms. Wu and a number of other Asian-American actors have emerged as fierce advocates for their own visibility – and frank critics of their industry. The issue has crystallized in a word – “whitewashing” – that calls out Hollywood for taking Asian roles and stories and filling them with white actors.

On Facebook, Ms. Wu ticked off a list of recent films guilty of the practice and said, “I could go on, and that’s a crying shame, y’all.” On Twitter, she bit back against Hollywood producers who believe their “lead must be white” and advised the creators of lily-white content to “CARE MORE.” Another tip: “An easy way to avoid tokenism? Have more than one” character of color, she tweeted in March. “Not so hard.”

It’s never been easy for an Asian-American actor to get work in Hollywood, let alone take a stand against the people who run the place. But the recent expansion of Asian-American roles on television has paradoxically ushered in a new generation of actors with just enough star power and job security to speak more freely about Hollywood’s larger failures.

And their heightened profile, along with an imaginative, on-the-ground social media army, has managed to push the issue of Asian-American representation – long relegated to the back burner – into the current heated debate about Hollywood’s monotone vision of the world.

“The harsh reality of being an actor is that it’s hard to make a living, and that puts actors of color in a very difficult position,” said Daniel Dae Kim, who stars in 「Hawaii Five-0」 on CBS and is currently appearing in 「The King and I」 on Broadway.

Mr. Kim has wielded his Twitter account to point to dire statistics and boost Asian-American creators. Last year, he posted a cheeky tribute to “the only Asian face” he could find in the entire 「Lord of the Rings」 series, a woman who “appears for a glorious three seconds.”

Other actors lending their voices include Kumail Nanjiani of 「Silicon Valley」, Ming-Na Wen of 「Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.」 and Aziz Ansari, who in his show, 「Master Of None」, plays an Indian-American actor trying to make his mark.

They join longtime actors and activists like BD Wong of 「Gotham」; Margaret Cho, who has taken her tart comedic commentary to Twitter; and George Takei, who has leveraged his 「Star Trek」 fame into a social media juggernaut.

“There’s an age-old stereotypical notion that Asian-American people don’t speak up,” Mr. Wong said. But “we’re really getting into people’s faces about it.”

This past year has proved to be a particularly fraught period for Asian-American representation in movies. Last May, Sony released 「Aloha」, a film set in Hawaii that was packed with white actors, including the green-eyed, blond-haired Emma Stone as a quarter-Chinese, quarter-Native Hawaiian fighter pilot named Allison Ng.

In September, it was revealed that in the planned adaptation of the Japanese manga series 「Death Note」, the hero, a boy with dark powers named Light Yagami, would be renamed simply Light and played by the white actor Nat Wolff. In 「The Martian」, released in October, the white actress Mackenzie Davis stepped into the role of the NASA employee Mindy Park, who was conceived in the novel as Korean-American.

The list goes on. In December, set photographs from the coming 「Absolutely Fabulous」 film showed the Scottish actress Janette Tough dressed as an over-the-top Asian character. Last month, Marvel Studios released a trailer for 「Doctor Strange」, in which a character that had originated in comic books as a Tibetan monk was reimagined as a Celtic mystic played by Tilda Swinton.

And in the live-action American film adaptation of the manga series 「Ghost In The Shell」, scheduled for next year, the lead character, Major Motoko Kusanagi, will be called Major and played by Scarlett Johansson in a black bob.

Studios say that their films are diverse. “Like other Marvel films, several characters in 「Doctor Strange」 are significant departures from the source material, not limited by race, gender or ethnicity,” the Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige said in a statement. Ms. Swinton will play a character that was originally male, and Chiwetel Ejiofor a character that was originally white. Paramount and DreamWorks, the studios behind 「Ghost in the Shell」, said that the film reflects “a diverse array of cultures and countries.”

But many Asian-American actors aren’t convinced. “It’s all so plainly outlandish,” Mr. Takei said. “It’s getting to the point where it’s almost laughable.”

The Academy Awards telecast in February added insult to injury. The show dwelled on the diversity complaints aired through #OscarsSoWhite, yet blithely mocked Asian-Americans with punch lines that banked on Asian stereotypes. The host, Chris Rock, brought three Asian-American children onstage to serve as a sight gag in a joke made at their expense.

“I have never seen the Asian-American community get so organized so quickly,” said Janet Yang, a producer who serves as a liaison between Hollywood and Chinese studios. She added, “It was the final straw.”

Within days, Ms. Yang and 24 other Academy members, including the actress Sandra Oh, the director Ang Lee and Mr. Takei, signed a letter to the academy taking it to task for the telecast’s offensive jokes. The academy’s terse reply only stoked the flames. Mr. Takei called it “a bland, corporate response.”

Online, even more Asian-American actors and activists have spoken out with raw, unapologetic anger.

Ms. Wen castigated 「Ghost in the Shell,” tweeting about “whitewashing” and throwing in a dismissive emoji. Mr. Takei went off on 「Doctor Strange” on his Facebook page: “Hollywood has been casting white actors in Asian roles for decades now, and we can’t keep pretending there isn’t something deeper at work here.”

Mr. Nanjiani jumped on Twitter to call out the red carpet photographer who told him, “Smile, you’re in America now.” (“I know when someone is racist, the fault is theirs and not yours,” he wrote. “But, in the moment, it makes you feel flattened, reduced and bullied.”) And Ms. Cho helped start a hashtag campaign, #whitewashedOUT.

“It’s intense,” Ms. Cho posted at the height of the action. “It’s that we have been invisible for so long we don’t even know what we can do.”

Meanwhile, television shows – competing for fresh content and audiences as the number of scripted series has increased dramatically in recent years – have helped expand the boundaries of what was once thought possible. Asian-Americans increasingly play leads and love interests and star in multiple family sitcoms.

Following 「Fresh Off The Boat」, ABC debuted the sitcom 「Dr. Ken」, featuring an Asian-American family led by the show’s creator, Ken Jeong, plus the drama 「Quantico」 starring the Bollywood actress Priyanka Chopra. On CW’s 「Crazy Ex-Girlfriend」, Rachel Bloom, as the title character, pines after the hunky Vincent Rodriguez III, who is Filipino-American. They join such mold-breakers as Mindy Kaling, creator and star of 「The Mindy Project」, and Lucy Liu, who plays a reimagined Dr. Watson in 「Elementary」.

These shows help, but the issue is pervasive, including on TV. “The mainstream Hollywood thinking still seems to be that movies and stories about straight white people are universal, and that anyone else is more niche,” Mr. Ansari wrote in an email. “It’s just not true. I’ve been watching characters with middle-age white-guy problems since I was a small Indian boy.”

In films, a few roles have transcended stereotypes: Mr. Takei in the first 「Star Trek」 installments, Ms. Liu in the 「Charlie’s Angels」 features, and John Cho and Kal Penn in the stoner hit 「Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle」 and its sequels. And more are in development: a film adaptation of Kevin Kwan’s novel『Crazy Rich Asians』is underway, and the Vietnamese-American actress Kelly Marie Tran will play a major role in the next 「Star Wars」 installment.

But mostly, Asian-Americans are invisible. Though they make up 5.4 percent of the United States population, more than half of film, television and streaming properties feature zero named or speaking Asian characters, a February report from the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California found. Only 1.4 percent of lead characters in a sample of studio films released in 2014 were Asian.

For Asian-American actors, the dearth of opportunities compounds itself. “An Asian person who is competing against white people, for an audience of white people, has to train for that opportunity like it’s the Olympics,” Ms. Wu said. “An incredibly talented Asian actor might be considered for a leading role maybe once or twice in a lifetime. That’s a highly pressured situation.”

So some are stepping behind the camera. In addition to actors creating their own shows, like Ms. Kaling, Mr. Jeong and Mr. Ansari, Mr. Kim of 「Hawaii Five-0」 has started his own production company, 3AD, “to help tell the stories of the underrepresented,” he said. Asian-American and other minority actors, he added, are “tired of waiting to be hired for the roles Hollywood creates for us.”

Audiences, too, are catching up. “There was a time when this conversation was completely foreign to people,” Mr. Wong said. Now young participants “are already fully versed in the issues and able to discuss them with great passion.”

Ellen Oh, a writer for young adults who devised the #whitewashedOUT hashtag, credited a generational shift. “For a long time, Asians have been defined by the immigrant experience, but now second- and third-generation Asian-Americans are finding their own voices,” Ms. Oh said.

They’re also employing a new vocabulary. “The term ‘whitewashing’ is new, and it’s extremely useful,” Mr. Wong said. In contrast to “yellowface,” which protested the practice of white actors using makeup and prosthetics to play Asians, “whitewashing” gives voice to the near-absence of prominent roles.

And the Internet has allowed people to imagine a parallel universe where Asian-Americans dominate the screen. Earlier this month, disappointed fans of the 「Ghost in the Shell」 franchise took a publicity still of Ms. Johansson in the lead role and Photoshopped in the face of Rinko Kikuchi, the Japanese star of 「Pacific Rim」.

Recently the hashtag #StarringJohnCho went viral, reimagining the Korean-American star as the lead of rom-coms and action flicks. Though Mr. Cho has followed up the 「Harold and Kumar」 films with a role in the 「Star Trek」 franchise, he hasn’t been afforded the luminous leads offered to white actors with similar starts, like Seth Rogen after 「Knocked Up」 or Chris Pratt post-「Guardians of the Galaxy」.

“As I was Photoshopping John Cho’s face on top of Tom Cruise’s in the 「Mission Impossible」 poster, my friends and I started chuckling a little bit, like, ‘How crazy would that be?’” said William Yu, the 25-year-old who created the hashtag. “Then I caught myself. Why should it be crazy?”

The campaign was followed by #StarringConstanceWu, which Photoshopped the actress into posters for films starring Emily Blunt, Drew Barrymore and, ahem, Emma Stone.

The activist outpouring is “a tidal wave,” said Keith Chow, the founder of The Nerds of Color, a website of geek culture criticism that has served as home base for several online campaigns.

It has swept up some members of white Hollywood in its wake. Ms. Stone has acknowledged that her 「Aloha」 role made her the “butt of many jokes.” And this month, the director of 「Doctor Strange」, Scott Derrickson, tweeted, “Raw anger/hurt from Asian-Americans over Hollywood whitewashing, stereotyping & erasure of Asians in cinema. I am listening and learning.”

Whether that translates into change onscreen is an open question. “Everyone seems to be becoming slowly aware of how overwhelmingly white everything is,” Mr. Ansari said. “It’s almost like the whole system is slowly being shamed into diversity, but it’s moving at a snail’s pace.” He added: “Just look at the movie posters you see. It’s all white people.”

Amanda Hess 「亚裔演员对好莱坞“洗白”文化发出挑战」

在最初拿到美国广播公司(ABC)情景剧《初来乍到》(Fresh Off the Boat)里的华裔女家长杰西卡·黄(Jessica Huang)这个角色时,吴恬敏(Constance Wu)并没有意识到它竟然会这么重要。在扮演这个角色的过程中,她一次又一次地听人提起这么一个惨淡的事实:美国电视上已经有20年没出现过一部由多名亚裔美国人主演的电视剧。ABC上一次推出这样的剧目,即1994年由赵牡丹(Margaret Cho)主演的《典型美国女孩》(All-American Girl),只播了一季就被取消了。







“做演员要面临一个残酷的现实,就是很难以此谋生,这种现实令有色人种演员的处境尤其艰难,”参演过CBS电视剧《夏威夷特勤组》(Hawaii Five-0)的金大贤(Daniel Dae Kim)说道。他目前正在参演百老汇剧目《国王与我》(The King and I)。


其他演员们也纷纷发声,比如出演《硅谷》(Silicon Valley)的库梅尔·南贾尼(Kumail Nanjiani)和出演《神盾局特工》(Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.)的温明娜(Ming-Na Wen)。还有阿兹·安萨里(Aziz Ansari),他在《无为大师》(Master of None)中饰演一个努力出名的印度裔美国演员。

在他们之前,早已有众多演员与活动人士在做这样的努力,包括《哥谭》(Gotham)中饰演角色的黄荣亮(BD Wong)、把自己犀利幽默的评论转向Twitter的赵牡丹,以及利用自己出演《星际旅行》(Star Trek)所获得的名气,为自己赢得众多社交媒体拥趸的武井穗乡(George Takei)。


过去的一年成为亚裔美国人银幕形象的困难时期。去年5月,索尼公司发行了《阿罗哈》(Aloha),影片发生在夏威夷,但片中全是白人演员,金发碧眼的艾玛·斯通(Emma Stone)饰演一个有四分之一中国血统、四分之一夏威夷土著血统的战斗机飞行员,名叫艾莉森·吴(Allison Ng)。

9月,人们得知,计划中改编自日本漫画《死亡笔记》(Death Note)的电影也将由白人出演。故事主人公是一个拥有黑暗力量的男孩,名叫夜神月(Light Yagami),片中将由白人演员纳特·沃尔夫(Nat Wolff)饰演,名字也简化成了Light。在10月上映的《火星救援》(The Martian)中,白人演员麦肯兹·戴维斯(Mackenzie Davis)饰演的NASA工作人员明迪·朴(Mindy Park)在小说原著中本是一个韩裔美国人。

这个名单还可以继续开下去。12月,《荒唐阿姨大电影》(Absolutely Fabulous)的剧照中,苏格兰女演员珍妮特·塔夫(Janette Tough)打扮成了一个形象夸张的亚洲角色。上个月,漫威影业发布了《奇异博士》(Doctor Strange)的预告片,片中,漫画原著里的藏人僧侣被改成了一个凯尔特神秘人物,由蒂尔达·斯温顿(Tilda Swinton)饰演。

另一部由日本漫画《攻壳机动队》(Ghost in the Shell)改编的真人动作电影将于明年上映,主角草薙素子少校(Major Motoko Kusanagi)将由顶着黑色波波头的斯嘉丽·约翰逊(Scarlett Johansson)饰演,在片中仅被称为“少校”。

电影公司声称它们的电影是多元的。“就像其他漫威电影一样,《奇异博士》里的若干角色和原著有了很大不同,不限于种族、性别或民族,”漫威影业总裁凯文·菲格( Kevin Feige)在一份声明中说。斯温顿要饰演的角色原本是男性,而切瓦特·艾乔福(Chiwetel Ejiofor)将饰演一个原本是白人的角色。《攻壳机动队》背后的派拉蒙电影(Paramount)和梦工厂动画(DreamWorks)则说,该片反映了“多种文化与国家的组合”。


今年2月,奥斯卡奖颁奖礼的电视直播更是在伤口上撒盐。人们用“#奥斯卡太白了”(#OscarsSoWhite)这个标签来抱怨奥斯卡缺乏多样化,颁奖礼也就此大做文章,然而它却漫不经心地用基于亚裔刻板印象的笑话来嘲弄亚裔美国人。主持人克里斯·洛克(Chris Rock)带着三个亚裔美国儿童走上舞台,让他们充当视觉笑点。而且他们就是取笑的对象。

“我从没有见过亚裔美国人群体这么团结地组织起来,而且这么快,”充当好莱坞与中国制片厂之间联系人的电影制作人杨燕子(Janet Yang)说。她补充,“那是最后一根稻草。”

几天之内,杨燕子与包括演员吴珊卓( Sandra Oh)、导演李安和武井在内的其他24位电影学院成员签署了一封致电影学院的公开信,对电视直播中冒犯亚裔的笑话提出严正批评。电影学院简短的回复只是激起了人们的怒火。武井说它是“无动于衷的企业式回应”。





继《初来乍到》之后,ABC首播的情景喜剧《肯医生》(Dr. Ken)呈现了一个亚裔美国家庭,家长是这部剧的主创郑肯(Ken Jeong)。ABC播出的情节剧《谍网》(Quantico)中则有宝莱坞女星普里扬卡·乔普拉(Priyanka Chopra)。CW台的《疯狂前女友》(Crazy Ex-Girlfriend)中蕾切尔·布鲁姆(Rachel Bloom)饰演的前女友爱慕身材健美的文森特·罗德里格兹三世(Vincent Rodriguez III),他是个菲律宾裔美国人。同样打破旧有模式的还有《明迪烦事多》(The Mindy Project)的主创兼主演明迪·卡灵(Mindy Kaling),以及在《基本演绎法》(Elementary)中改造了华生医生形象的刘玉玲。

这些电视剧都很有帮助,但是这个问题仍然很普遍,在电视中也是如此。“好莱坞的主流想法似乎仍然觉得异性恋白人的故事才是普遍的,其他人的故事都更小众,” 安萨里在电子邮件中写道,“这并不是真的。从我还是个印度小男孩的时候,我就在看有中年白人问题的角色了。”

在电影里,有一些角色已经超越了刻板印象:比如武井先生在早期《星际飞船》中的角色、刘玉玲在《霹雳娇娃》(Charlie’s Angels)中的角色,还有约翰·赵(John Cho)和卡尔·潘(Kal Penn)在吸毒笑剧《猪头逛大街》(Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle)及其续作中的角色。更多电影还在拍摄中:比如根据凯文·关(Kevin Kwan)的小说《疯狂的亚洲富人》(Crazy Rich Asians)改编的电影正在拍摄之中,越南裔美国女演员凯莉·玛丽·陈(Kelly Marie Tran)将在下一部《星球大战》(Star Wars)中饰演重要角色。



因此,有些人开始淡出镜头。卡灵、郑肯、安萨里等人开始创作自己的剧集,《夏威夷特勤组》(Hawaii Five-0)中的丹尼尔·金开了自己的制作公司3AD,“用来讲述那些未被充分代表者的故事,”他说。亚裔美国演员和其他少数族裔演员,他补充说,“已经厌倦了等待被好莱坞雇佣,饰演那些专为我们定制的角色。”


面向年轻成年人读者的作家艾伦·吴(Ellen Oh)创造了#whitewashedOUT这个标签。她承认,这一代有所变化。“有很长一段时间,谈起亚洲人,就好像只有移民体验,但是现在,第二代和第三代亚裔美国人正在表达自己的心声,”吴说。


互联网允许人们想像一个由亚裔美国人主导银屏的平行世界。本月初,对漫画改编电影《攻壳机动队》感到失望的影迷们用Photoshop把该片一个宣传剧照中的主演约翰逊换成了日本著名演员菊地凛子,后者曾主演《环太平洋》(Pacific Rim)。

前不久,标签#StarringJohnCho在网上疯传,它是把韩裔美籍明星约翰·赵想像成爱情喜剧片和动作片的主演。虽然赵在《寻堡奇遇》(Harold and Kumar)之后在《星际迷航》(Star Trek)系列影片中获得一个角色,但和他一样事业起步良好的白人演员获得了更耀眼的角色,比如主演《一夜大肚》(Knocked Up)之后的塞斯·罗根(Seth Rogen)或主演《银河护卫队》(Guardians of the Galaxy)之后的克里斯·普拉特(Chris Pratt)。

“我把《谍中谍》(Mission Impossible)海报上汤姆·克鲁斯(Tom Cruise)的脸换成约翰·赵的脸,我和朋友们开始咯咯笑,好像在说:‘那该多疯狂啊?’”创造这个标签的25岁的威廉·俞(William Yu)说,“然后我忽然意识到,为什么那样的想法一定是疯狂的呢?”

而后又出现了#StarringConstanceWu,它是用Photoshop把女演员吴恬敏换到艾米莉·布伦特(Emily Blunt)、德鲁·巴里摩尔(Drew Barrymore)和艾玛·斯通主演的电影的海报上。

The Nerds of Color网站的创始人基思·周(Keith Chow)说,活跃分子的情绪迸发是“一股浪潮”。这个极客文化批评网站是几个在线活动的大本营。

它让好莱坞的一些白人醒悟过来。斯通承认,她在《阿罗哈》(Aloha)中饰演的角色成了“笑柄”。本月,《奇异博士》(Doctor Strange)的导演斯科特·德里克森(Scott Derrickson)在Twitter上说,“好莱坞在电影中洗白、固化、抹去亚洲人的行为给亚裔美国人带来了愤怒和创伤。我在倾听,在学习。”