Asian-American Actors Take a Stand and Readers Respond


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From left, Daniel Dae Kim, Constance Wu and BD Wong.

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Todd Heisler/The New York Times

Last week, we published an article about Asian-American actors fighting for diversity in Hollywood. Hundreds of readers from the United States and around the world responded by submitting comments. Here are some of the most thoughtful — and provocative. The comments have been edited for space and clarity.

‘Asians Are Still Fairly Invisible’

Readers discussed how the lack of Asian-Americans in Hollywood had affected their lives and careers.

Joanna from New York recalled taking her two mixed-race children to see the film adaptation of “The Martian” after reading the book: “I was excited to take my kids to see the movie. Unfortunately, I was more than a little disappointed that an obviously Korean Mindy Park in the book was looking as white and blond as she did.”

Carol from Victoria, British Columbia, a fourth-generation North American of Japanese descent, recalled growing up in the 1950s without images of Asians in the media “other than some white guy with something painful shoved up his eyes, playing in old Charlie Chan films.” She continued: “Now I am in my 60s and am disappointed to see how little has basically changed over the years. Asians are still fairly invisible.”

Tammy from New Jersey, an Asian-American actress, said she felt at times excluded from roles because she was not bilingual: “In many roles that exist for Asian actors, you are primarily there to ‘play Asian’ by speaking a foreign language, or you must have an accent.” She added: “My favorite auditions are roles that don’t specify the character’s race, and when I book the job I know it’s because I simply brought something to the role that was needed.”

Stephanie Seto from Toronto spoke of difficulties pursuing acting and performing as a child: “I had talent but I never felt confident enough to try out for lead roles because they were always typecast. If you think being an American-Chinese person in the entertainment world is difficult, multiply that by 100 as a Canadian.”

‘This Is a Business, Not a Social Experiment’

Readers also debated the issue of “whitewashing” — that is, when white actors are tapped to play Asian roles.

Voila from New York, who identifies as Asian-American, said: “Seriously, can we stop with the whining already? We are (mostly) raised to focus on academics, and so even the kids who are born gifted in the arts or sports grow up believing those are hobbies and not professions. So obviously we go underrepresented. You want to complain to someone — take it up with your parents and grandparents.”

Subash Thapa from Albany, Australia, wrote: “As an Asian myself, I think it’s pretty stupid labeling Hollywood as racist because we don’t see enough minorities in lead roles. Hollywood can be accused of pushing the stereotypes, but it has been doing so against all cultures and countries.”

Alan from Los Angeles said: “If you can get Scarlett Johansson to star in your movie, you’ll change your character from Asian, rather than cast a far lesser-known actress. This is a business, not a social experiment.”

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‘Why Can’t We All Just Be Americans?’

Other readers argued that race shouldn’t be a topic that divides Americans.

Brad from Texas wrote: “Why can’t we all just be Americans and have some solidarity in that? One of the reasons for so much discord and anger in this country is because of race. If people would stop insisting they are ‘Asian-American’ or ‘African-American’ and just be American, it would go a long way toward getting rid of these issues.”

‘Now That’s Real Progress’

Others were happy with the strides that Asian-American actors have made — even if they thought they could go even further.

Jo Sheena from New York City wrote: “I find it strange that Aziz Ansari complains about the visibility of Asian actors when his character on ‘Master of None’ exclusively dated/lusted after white women. Why didn’t he use his own show to highlight some beautiful Asian actresses in Hollywood?”

Diana from Germany wrote: “Sandra Oh was cast in the hit TV series ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ as a doctor, not as an Asian character. Now that’s real progress: When North Americans who happen to look Asian are not confined to ethnic roles or the villain in action films, but play real people.”

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