Small roles for small-eyed Asians

Even the rare Asian roles in Hollywood movies are not getting played by Asians.

Praise Yeo

Published: 6 May 2016, 5:52 PM

On Apr 4, the list of actors cast in the upcoming movie adaptation of Jenny Han’s To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before was announced. Despite the fact that the main character of the book was clearly depicted as an Asian, the selected lead actress was a Caucasian.


The cover of To all the boys I’ve loved before.
Photo credits: eBay


Hollywood has been known to feature Asians only in secondary roles. It is thus no surprise that the decision to cast a Caucasian to play one of the rare Asian main characters was met with strong backlash and debate online.

What’s going on?

The issue was picked up by Jenny’s fans who supported her protest and calls for a re-selection of the cast. They used the Twitter hashtag #whitewashedout, part of an already-ongoing campaign about the lack of Asian Americans in mainstream Hollywood media.


This diagram was circulating on social media under the #whitewashedout tag.
Photo credits: USC Annenberg


Other instances the hashtag has been used include the movie Aloha, where Emma Stone was casted as a Hapa (Chinese, kānaka maoli) woman, and the upcoming Japanese anime-inspired Ghost in the Shell movie that caused an uproar on Twitter by casting Scarlett Johansson as Major Motoko Kusanagi.


Scarlett is set to play a character intended to be Japanese.
Photo credits: CDN Image


Kenneth Qiu, 23, disagreed with the casting choice. The student said: “If the Americans want their movies to break into the Asian market, they need to start giving Asians a chance. The only popular Asian I know who has successfully made it in Hollywood is Jackie Chan. Tell me that isn’t really sad.”


Many twitter users voiced out their displeasure at the “White-washing”.
Photo credits: Swapna


Although many would insist that it is not right to have a Caucasian cast in a role meant to be played by an Asian, there are some who believe that the most important aspect of casting is the quality of the performance, rather than their ethnicity.

Nathanial Lim, 20, a student, says that it does not really matter who the cast is, as long as the quality of performance is good. The movie enthusiast said: “I think in our attempts at looking out for the Asian community, we end up drawing a greater divide between the Asians and Caucasians. Why must every Asian role be acted out by an Asian?”

Jeremy Hsu from Discover Magazine also shared the same sentiments. He said: “It’s far more fascinating and relevant to consider whether Johansson has the acting skills and experience to portray a complex action heroine.”

What’s your take?

1. Do you think that characters in movies ought to be played only by the actors of the same ethnicity? Why?
2. What do you think is more important when casting, an accurate representation of ethnicity, or the quality of performance? Why?


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