With the outrage that has been sparked this past year with #OscarSoWhite and the lack of diversity in Hollywood. We would hope that studios would realize their mistakes and welcome ethnic actors with open arms. However, there is something about the word diversity that people do not readily associate with in Hollywood. As an Asian American actor, ex-dancer, and writer, my over half-a-decade in this industry has taught me that the word “diversity” generally only meant black and/or hispanic, and Asian Americans are not really included in that definition. It’s a sad truth to realize when you have such hopes that you would be able to represent your race in the Hollywood industry, yet you never really have the chance to because the roles are so lacking that you’re left wondering why.
The #OscarsSoWhite movement has prompted many reports and studies that cite the whitewashing of diverse characters in Hollywood. From HBO host John Oliver’s recent coverage on Last Week Tonight showing the history of whitewashing to study after study after study illustrating what roles were given to which races. From Oliver’s segment you can clearly see that Asian characters have been the most whitewashed race out of all the ethnic groups in Hollywood history, and further studies currently show that only 1.3% of roles in television and film are given to Asians. Marvel and Netflix had an amazing opportunity to include the Asian race in making its newest addition to the Marvel/Netflix roster, Iron Fist, Asian American. After all, what harm could it have done? If the argument is that Rand was written white, well know this: Asian culture has been appropriated in the long history of America and Hollywood.
What is wrong with giving back to a community that has had so much taken from it? It’s not like there aren’t enough roles for white actors/actresses. But when was the last time you saw an Asian actor lead in a movie? A romantic lead? A heroic lead or even a dramatic lead? None, so making Iron Fist Asian American would have done what to America? Lead Marvel and Netflix into depravity? Will there be riots in the streets? Will non-Asians start boycotting Chinese food? No, nothing would happen. Because while it might not seem like such a big deal to non-Asians that Iron Fist wasn’t casted Asian American, it is kind of a big deal to Asian Americans who seek to be represented on screen.
How do we inspire future generations of Asian kids to pursue the arts when it is our culture to seek financial security? How do they wish to become more when they don’t see themselves on television and film? I only chose this path to be an actor because I saw Bruce Lee as a child and said to myself “…I can be that too.”, as it did to many black, hispanic and white kids who grew up to learn martial arts. That is why Iron Fist being cast as an Asian American was so important to us as a people – to know that the industry that we love in some way would say, “Hey we hear you, and your voice matters too!” It has nothing to do with racism, it’s about being included in the industry.
If white actors have portrayed Asian Characters in the past (John Wayne, Marlon Brando, etc.), why can’t an Asian American therefore portray ONE white character? Is it THAT big of a deal? I think not, but I leave that to your digression.