To Hollywood: When will I be able to see an Asian actress or actor play a lead character without having to gasp for joy then wonder if it’s just a small indie film? When will I get to see characters that are complex being played by people that look like me? When will Hollywood stop Yellow-Facing characters and give the leads to someone white? When will society stop saying that Asians are not people of color rather they are white? Because I am sick of being the perpetual foreigner and yet I am forced to see white actors play Asian characters because we are considered unprofitable. Because I am a feminist that is sick and tired of white feminists using feminism to downplay issues about race. Because your excuses are painfully unaware of the wrong you are committing.
This is a topic that gets me emotional because it affects me in so many ways and I had to pause multiple times because I was getting too angry. The problem with accepting these roles is not just because you don’t fit into the “aesthetic” of the part and thus it’s a challenge of your skills. No, the problem is, you are stepping on the backs of other actors that don’t get this sort of big break in roles because they are Asian. So I will break it down for the celebrities and to those defending those celebrities on why they should probably revaluate their excuses and arguments.
The Emma Stone Excuse is that “The character was not supposed to look like her background which was a quarter Hawaiian and a quarter Chinese,” thus it was okay for a white woman to play her. So, what was the point of her character being a quarter Hawaiian and a quarter Chinese if she was not suppose to look like background. Why does the character Allison Ng state multiple times that she is a quarter Hawaiian proudly and this be a very integral part of her character when Emma Stone is 100% white. Do you see the problem here? By making a character white-passing or just white washing completely and using the heritage as a plot device, you have stated that Asians cannot look the way an Asian should look on the big screen. Because a white woman can play an Asian character better than an Asian can and can convince people that she is Asian more than an actual Asian. There are plenty of actors that could have played her, and instead of stepping aside with your successful career, you took on a role that should have not went to you. I don’t care if you did intensive research on the Hawaiian culture when you couldn’t even research the problems within your industry and the lack of representation Asians have.
The Tilda Swinton Excuse is that you don’t quite understand the reasoning for the anger and backlash from Asian people and that “It was so weird” to get this sort of reaction from a casting of a woman in a part that normally goes to a male. But this excuse has the added bonus of asking a woman of color about this and asking them to take on the responsibility of explaining the complex issues of race relations. while also asking for her to keep it private. There are many things wrong with this excuse.
First off Swinton, uses the idea of feminism and creating a role for a woman in a normally male dominated franchise was more important than casting the correct race. It is white feminism™ at it’s finest. Swinton defends the choice of making the Ancient One in Marvel’s Doctor Strange white by saying “Wanting to switch up the gender (another diversity department) and not wanting to engage with the old “Dragon lady” trope, they chose to write the character as being of (ancient) Celtic origin,” This is upsetting in so many ways because she is using the idea that we should promote feminism and that we should be celebrating this as a success. It makes me wonder if Swinton is blind to struggles an Asian actresses have because they are not only facing gender issues within Hollywood but also issues of race. And the idea of the Dragon Lady trope came from white stereotypes and how they were portrayed in previous movies because they were type casted. It is trying to sugar coat the idea of white washing one of the few Asian comic book characters by changing the gender and that’s not right.
Secondly, Swinton asked for the conversation to be private and also tries to silence the outrage and criticism that she is facing, asking for sympathy rather than try to truly understand why people were upset. She did not ask Margaret Cho to explain so she can become more aware of the situation she was in for choosing to be in the movie and actively participating in white washing. She wanted to win the argument. She wanted to get Cho to understand her point of view and how she was not the villain of representation rather the hero. She wanted to be justified for making this choice. So when Margaret Cho was made to hold up the burden of trying to educate Swinton about the race matters and then told this is a private conversation, this implies that Asian who are angry should do it in silence. That they shouldn’t be angry at Swinton who is trying to bring diversity by being a woman an a normally male role, ignoring the fact that it was an Asian man to begin with. Ignoring the fact that the Comic book universe had white washed multiple roles for the sake of not casting an Asian. Ignoring the fact that this was a race issue not a gender issue and trying to make it a gender issue, is a classic case for white feminism™.
Speaking of White Feminism™, let’s finally speak on the latest excuse that we have gotten from Hollywood. The Scarlett Johansson Excuse also known as,”having a franchise with a female protagonist driving it is such a rare opportunity” excuse or as I like to call it, complete garbage. It’s like Johansson has amnesia and forgot that she plays Black Widow in the Marvel Franchise or Lucy in Lucy, both strong female characters because this is a rare opportunity that she simply couldn’t look away from. Forgetting to possibly realize that this was a rare opportunity for an actress like Rinko Kikuchi (who is also Japanese and starred in the successful movie Pacific Rim ), to be able to play a role that is based on a Japanese character based off a Japanese Anime and it could have helped her as well as the many Asian actresses that you chose to step on the backs of. This was a rare opportunity for there to be an A-list Asian actress but instead you took that chance away. A rare opportunity that would have stopped this endless cycle of excuses saying that Asians are not profitable in movies, but when we don’t see them how are they suppose to prove you otherwise. You are helping in continuing the endless cycle of racism within Hollywood.
So, no, I will not sympathize with all the backlash you are facing for taking on a role even though you are already famous enough to get any role you would like. I will not excuse your active choice in participating in the racist problem in Hollywood. If you claim to celebrate diversity, you should have also learned to step away from the role instead of taking it. You should have done so much more if you wanted to be able to claim that you wanted to celebrate diversity and take on roles that let you extend your acting skills. You cannot act Asian and the fact that you think you can shows how little you know about the culture and the people group that are being marginalized over and over again. You are not excused. You are not innocent. And quite frankly, it’s just White Feminism™ so please don’t call yourself a feminist either.