Opinion

Published on May 5th, 2017 | by Jessica Ni

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Whitewashing of Asians in media

Many Asian-American movie stars have a double-identity. Are they Asian or are they American? Despite identifying themselves as Americans, growing up speaking English and getting their groceries at Costco and Ralphs, Hollywood has not yet accepted this and continuously cast Caucasians to play roles that are originally Asian and instead depict Asians stereotypically as those who speak English with an accent and can karate-chop stacks of bricks and wood boards.

In the movie “The Great Wall” directed by Zhang Yimou, Matt Damon plays a mercenary who travels east in search of black powder and instead finds himself battling monsters, helping the people of the Song Dynasty against their enemies. Damon, an international star, was a tactic by Zhang to take his production to an international level but instead of praise for his film that cost 150 million dollars, Zhang received major criticism, sparking a 35 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, a 42 percent on Metacritic, a 6.1 out of 10 on IMDb and the emergence of a sarcastic “#ThankYouMattDamon” on Twitter.

Although I do recognize the production skill in “The Great Wall,” Zhang’s casting of Damon was very disappointing. Having a white savior of the Song Dynasty was neither historically relevant or culturally appropriate. But this has not been the only incident that Asians have been the victim of Hollywood films.

“Ghost in the Shell” is also an epitome of the whitewashing of Asians. The movie adaptation of the Japanese manga named the lead character Major Mira Killian whereas in the original she was Major Motoko Kusanagi. Like “The Great Wall,” it was necessary to have a famous actress like Scarlett Johanssen who could increase the box office. Although the setting of the film took place in Tokyo like the manga, the cast was mainly white with only a few Japanese actors scattered about.

Oftentimes in Hollywood movies, Asian actors, despite whether they are Chinese, Japanese, Korean or of another descent, portray Kung-Fu masters, like Jackie Chan, Bruce Lee or Maggie Q. Despite whether they may have grown up in Asian countries of whether they speak Asian languages, most have a scene where they speak (broken) mandarin with subtitles beneath. And despite there being Judo, T’ai Chi C’uan, Kenjutsu and other forms of Asian martial arts, it seems that to Hollywood directors and screenwriters, there is only Kung-Fu and Karate.
The stereotyping of Asians in the media needs to end and as people “#OscarsSoWhite” led to the emergence more African Americans and Latinos on that stage, Asians also need a space on that red carpet where they aren’t seen in a QiPao (a traditional Chinese dress) or a kimono. As Hollywood slowly (and unwillingly) embraces diversity, instead of fitting in and accepting the stereotypes, Asians need to fight for and embrace their unique identity.

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