Op-Ed: We want more than just Asian-inherent roles

The wins have been piling up for Team Asians in Hollywood but when are the real victories coming?

Over the last month alone, we saw Asians crush it on screens. Ali Wong and Randall Park made us simultaneously laugh and cringe on Always Be My Maybe. Awkwafina and The Farewell greeted audiences with an endearing story of family that brought tears and rave reviews. And earlier this week, Canada’s own Simu Liu was tapped as Marvel’s first ever Asian superhero, set to star as kungfu master Shang-Chi. 

The ripple effect from Crazy Rich Asians has not gone unnoticed — and that’s not including more examples from T.V., music, theatre, and other creative platforms.

But, and let’s set aside our Asian modesty for a second, we should be demanding even more. 

Like an entitled child who was just told to put away their iPhone at dinner, we should be kicking and screaming — letting everyone know that we aren’t content.

As we continue to see Asians step into lead roles and tell their stories on the big screen, we applaud and nod in approval. However, that shouldn’t be enough — because what we want to see are Asians in roles not specifically written for an Asian. 

The Man in the High Castle actor Lee Shorten put it best in a previous interview with Cold Tea Collective.

“Right now for the most part, if you’re an Asian, you’re playing an Asian character and their Asian-ness is inherent to the storyline and the reason they exist,” Lee said. “I’d like us to be at the place where it doesn’t matter. We’re just playing a character who is incidentally Asian.”

Photo credit: Cold Tea Collective

It’s obvious — to most — that an Asian superhero should be played by an Asian. Or that Mulan has to be played by a female Asian actor. Those are given. Then there’s the stereotypes, casting Asian martial artists specifically in fighting roles or slapping glasses on an Asian kid to portray that nerdy sidekick. 

Asians don’t have to just play a role indicative of their race, or be limited because of it. 

What about James Bond (albeit the newest 007 is a good change of pace)? What about a new lead protagonist in the Fast and Furious franchise (#JusticeForHan)? Will the upcoming Lord of the Rings series on Amazon feature Asians in leading roles, or will Saturday Night Live finally hire an Asian cast member?

Right now, the momentum is there. Entertainment is trending the right way for representation — and we understand it’s not a switch that gets flipped overnight. There are those who have ran into barriers along the way, and many in the industry are currently working hard to get themselves and the future of Asians to the point of full opportunity.

Keep supporting the great work that is continually being written, produced, directed, performed, and presented by Asians. That definitely helps.

But we should take a page out of those Asian aunties who bring tupperware to a buffet — get our fill and more.

Embrace this hunger mentality for more Asians in entertainment, as an audience and as supporters of representation. Not to mention a push for true Asian representation to include the full breadth of Asian diversity, a sentiment also shared by Vice.

In a recent behind the scenes segment on the Daily Show, Trevor Noah touched on representation, and spoke particularly about Scarlett Johansson and her comments claiming she should be able to play anything she wants in a film, whether it be an animal … or a tree.

“For so long, Hollywood and the people who have defined storytelling in America, have defined it as stories to be told for and by white people,” Noah told his audience. “Someone like [Johansson] sometimes doesn’t understand … is you have the luxury of all of these roles AND the roles that these other people won’t ever be considered for. But the Japanese woman, she probably can only play the Japanese roles. That’s what people are trying to say.

“We take for granted how much representation means for human beings.”

Save some roles for Asians please, ScarJo.

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