Over the past year or so, there’s been a growing increase of Hollywood films and major television shows using Asian celebrities from their Asian homeland. From Rain in Ninja Assassin,Jackie Chan in The Karate Kid, Charice in Glee, and now Jay Chou in The Green Hornet, one has to wonder whether the usage of so many imported Asian stars is hurting the bountiful amount of Asian American actors who are already working.
It can be argued that the lack of Asian American actors in Hollywood films is preventing the mainstream media from differentiating the subtle yet distinctive difference between Asians and Asian Americans. There are already a lot of talented actors here in America that can be used, so why must Hollywood use Asian actors from outside the area?
The answer: business. As long as Hollywood is using Asian actors PERIOD, it’s better than not using them at all (ie. The Last Airbender, Prince of Persia: Sands of Time, and the upcoming Genghis Khan). Hollywood is all about making a profit, and by using notable Asian actors who are already a success in their respective regions, Hollywood can rake in more revenue when these films are released overseas. We, as Americans, have yet to come to the point to fully recognize the difference between Asians and Asian Americans. Until that day comes, I would rather see an Asian actor being used than not. I would rather see Jay Chou play Kato than have Will Smith or a non-Asian play Kato.
Ten or twenty years ago, we wouldn’t even see Asian actors play notable roles of importance in Hollywood. The road has been long and winding as we had to deal with roles that were stereotypical and offensive to the extreme, and others where Asians weren’t used at all for Asian roles. While the road is still not without obstacles and dead ends, we are seeing changes happen. I think it is important we recognize the progress that we have made, rather than only point out everything that is neglected or missing. Although we are by no means done with progress to our fullest potential, it is crucial that we think positively and creatively. This is by no means knocking protests over particular movies (as Aly Morita have done for The Karate Kid and Racebending for The Last Airbender) as these protests bring crucial awareness to the issues at hand, whether people agree with it or not.
I got this feeling of excitement and hope as I watched The Green Hornet trailer and read the interviews with director Michel Gondry and star Seth Rogen. I admired how they are treating the character of Kato seriously and how they acknowledge that he is the real superhero between the duo. I love how they are making him a fleshed out character with actual importance, rather than a sidekick or an afterthought.
With that and Ken Watanabe in talks to direct a film about the 442nd regiment, these positive examples are things that we must cherish and use as reminders that we must continue to work hard, hustle hard, and to never, ever give up.