It is a well-established notion that in the past, many acting roles that have certain connections to Asian culture would be assigned to white actors.
Almost all of the time, this portrayal would be stereotypical, such as the usage of “yellowface.” One example would be the “7 Faces of Dr. Lao (1964),” with Tony Randall acting as Dr. Lao, a mystical and mysterious visitor from the east in the small town of Abalone, Arizona. This movie received an honorary Oscar for the makeup crew’s efforts in the “transformation” of a white actor into an Asian character. Since then, a great deal of progress has been made, and these practices are no longer critically well received.
While I would agree with the fact that Asian-American representation in the entertainment industry was quite underwhelming in the past, I would disagree that this is an ongoing issue. In the past decade, there has been a steady increase in leading roles being cast by Asian-Americans. For instance, Steven Yeun played Glenn Rhee in The Walking Dead, Ki Hong Lee played Minho in Maze Runner, Sung Kang played Han in The Fast and the Furious franchise, Donnie Yen played Chirrut Îmwe and Jiang Wen played Baze Malbus in Star Wars: Rogue One, just to name a few. With many prominent figures in the entertainment industry, it attracts young actors to also take on the challenge.
Amanda Hess, a journalist for the New York Times, wrote that “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.”
What Hess means is that Asian-American actors are gaining the power to challenge, what she calls the “whitewashing,” which is when white actors play Asian characters. The fact that the community of Asian-American actors are able to challenge these controversial practices that have occurred in the past further demonstrates the increase in prominence and respect for many of those actors in the entertainment industry.
Furthermore, the opposing side explains that normally, Asian actors simply just were cast as background characters, rather than playing the roles influential to any story. Yet, this trend cannot be immediately pinned to ethnicity. Many current Asian-American actors have recently entered the industry, especially in the last decade. The decision to cast these actors in minor roles could possibly be for diversity, but it is more likely and more reasonably to be accredited to lack of experience. Simply comparing Asian-American actors, many of which are new to the entertainment industry, to those notable white actors who have already acted in leading roles for multi-million productions and have decades of experience, then proceeding to believe that these decisions to cast Asians in background roles and the whites in leading roles is due to race is a misconception.
While this has been a prevalent issue in that past, the tipping point has already been reached.