Extraordinary Measures: Another Case of Yellowface in Hollywood

When I first saw the movie poster for Extraordinary Measures, starring Brendan Fraser and Harrison Ford, I had no idea what it was about. I guessed Harrison Ford played some kind of heroic character, but beyond that, I had no idea. Nor did I really care — the movie poster looked “eh.”

Then I read this article on racebending.com and found out that Harrison Ford’s character, a doctor who finds a cure for Pompe disease, is actually based on an Asian doctor, Dr. Yuan-Tsong Chen. Here is a portion of Roger Ebert’s review of the movie:

Dr. Robert Stonehill doesn’t exist in real life. The Pompe cure was developed by and his colleagues while he was at Duke University. He is now director of the Institute of Biomedical Science in Taiwan. Harrison Ford, as this film’s executive producer, perhaps saw Stonehill as a plum role for himself; a rewrite was necessary because he couldn’t very well play Dr. Chen. The real Chen, a Taiwan University graduate, worked his way up at Duke from a residency to professor and chief of medical genetics at the Duke University Medical Center. He has been mentioned as a Nobel candidate.

I know this isn’t the first time a Caucasian actor was hired to play a role based on an Asian or Asian American — far from it. But that doesn’t make it any more bearable each time it happens. I’ve always had respect for Harrison Ford as an actor, but I wonder if the movie — which opened to just $7 million this weekend, for 7th place — would’ve been better had an unknown Asian actor been cast. I understand the studio probably wanted a famous actor to carry the role. Yet, if you look at previous unknowns like Gabourey Sidibe in Precious and Carey Mulligan in An Education, you know this is the year of the breakout star.

I don’t know about you, but I believe America is more than ready for Asian Americans starring in non-martial arts films. Even if Hollywood isn’t.

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About Linda

Linda Chan lives in New York City. She is interested in all issues Asian, particularly Asians in media and entertainment. She watches what some would consider an unhealthy amount of TV and blogs her sometimes snarky thoughts here: http://lindastv.blogspot.com.
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