The Status of Asians in Hollywood

To start this entry off, let’s be absolutely clear in saying that being an actor in Hollywood is EXTREMELY DIFFICULT, regardless of one’s race, gender, or sexual preference. I want to get this off before we go into what I’m about to say next. So far, so good?

Okay good. Let’s begin.

All of this blurb I’m about to say comes from being an Asian American Studies major, in other words, I will ALWAYS be conscious of ethnic/minority representation, especially when it comes to the media and entertainment industry. And thus, speaking solely from an Asian American perspective, it is almost impossible to find an Asian actor/actress be the main lead in a mainstream Hollywood film (that doesn’t involve martial arts, Asian gangsters, or Asian elements) that one can similarly find with black actors in films like About Last Night. I mean, let’s face it, it’s also difficult to count more than 5 examples currently of primetime television shows where an Asian actor plays the main lead. And when I say “main lead”, I don’t mean the supporting ethnic series regular ensemble member but the main lead that is the face of the show. More often than not, you will find Asian actors working in masses if the film deals with North Koreans invading or there’s a Chinatown/Koreatown/some Asian-centric episode in a procedural crime drama.

And just sometimes, even with an Asian setting, it’s still difficult to cast Asians in lead roles (look no further than The Last Airbender, Prince of Persia: The Sands Of Time, and the Akira live-action adaptation that’s still in limbo).

What also makes this problematic is that most Asian American films aren’t even up to snuff to be even considered good films as most lack structure in storytelling or at worst, competent editing skills to put the whole film together. That and the community is so small and self-centered that honest constructive criticism seem to be shunned upon as nearly everyone there rather be told how amazing their films were. Even if the content is good with a universal topic (that isn’t solely about Asian American issues or culture), the support and distribution for these films are almost non-existent as most mainstream distributors are unwilling to back a film with an Asian main lead that isn’t doing kung fu kicks or involved in a fantastical Asian landscape. The likelihood that a mainstream film with an Asian cast with such a story will see mainstream distribution like About Last Night or Think Like A Man is EXTREMELY slim for the time being.

In addition to all of this, it’s usually a given that it’s easier than normal to book a co-star as an Asian actor (or really, any non-white actor) but it is a lot more difficult to get a guest star or series regular (UNLESS the role was originally intended to be played by an Asian actor).

On the bright side to ALL of this, I will say that there is no better time to be an Asian actor than now. Although they may not be the main leads, I’m proud to see many Asian actors being series regulars on a ton of network & cable shows, directors like Justin Lin killing it in the box office, Daniel Dae Kim getting a studio deal with CBS to create content, and yes, even all the Asian YouTubers who put content out there weekly. And if all goes well, we may have the return of an all Asian American family on primetime with Fresh Off The Boat, a pilot that ABC has recently just put to order.

It’s hard being an Asian American actor. But really, it’s just hard being an actor in general. So as much as I want to deny it, I’ll probably analyze the status of Asians in Hollywood for the rest of my life, thanks to my academic background, I am more than aware that I need to just focus on being GOOD and consistently putting myself out there.

So here’s to not giving a f***.

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