In Search of an Asian American Lead

Actor Daniel Henney

Actor Daniel Henney

It’s no secret that Hollywood is a white mans game. This statement in and of itself isn’t so liberal, social justice warrior cry for the exclusive nature of the industry. It just is. Look at the biggest movies ever made. Avatar, The Avengers (fuck, all MCU movies), Pulp Fiction, Halloween, and 2001. White boys holding down the fort. Even the shittiest movies around are dropped down into the shit at the helm of a white man. And hell, anyone can make a shit movie. But the fact that guys like Joseph Kosinski (he made the bombs Tron: Legacy and Oblivion) or Rob Cohen (Alex Cross and The Boy Next Door) can make movies that don’t do well financially and/or are disliked by audiences can keep working is odd, isn’t it? I mean shit, Oblivion was so disliked that it is contributed with the failure of Edge of Tomorrow to make money. But he’s being given just as extravagant a budget to make a third Tron movie, his second, almost 5 years later despite Tron Legacy not being well received. And that’s just one example. It happens all the time. So the current trend is to beat the drum for women or blacks to be given more chances to work not just in front of the camera, but behind it as well. But that kinda excludes a certain group. That of the Asian American/Asian Asian group.

The fact that Asians are excluded from the popular kids table isn’t too surprising. They aren’t white men. And it’s not even a hate crime committing kind of racism. When you have an industry run by white men almost exclusively, they are gonna stick with their own kind. It’s more tribalism than racism. S’why women don’t get work. But it doesn’t really make a whole lick of sense since Asian filmmaking has been a great influence on many filmmakers. The most popular director now just dripping with Asian filmmaking techniques is Quentin Tarantino. And if you want the best example of Asian coopting is George Lucas pillaging the works of Akira Kurosawa to fuel the massive still to this day Star Wars saga. So if they don’t even accept Asians to work behind the cameras, why is it surprising that they’d keep any from leading roles?

From left to right:  Will Yun Lee, Sendhil Ramamurthy and Rick Yune. 

From left to right: Will Yun Lee, Sendhil Ramamurthy and Rick Yune. 

The lack of Asian leading roles is more complicated than just simple racism. For one, there aren’t very many English speaking Asian actors around, so when the opportunity arises for them there is a smaller pool. There’s also the problem of Asians coming from Asian countries having a harder time getting a handle on the language. That’s not bullshit racism coming in. Asians descend from and use languages derived from a different origin than white speaking countries that come from the romantic language of Latin and such. That’s why it’s easier for Europeans to cross over, for the most part. They may still carry an accent, like Christoph Waltz. But they handle it well enough. But again it comes down to the lack of diversity behind the camera leading to less opportunities for different representation to come across. And the bosses that only hire whites behind the camera will usually force the whiteness to eke into frame. Look at The Last Samurai. A movie with that title sounds like it should have an Asian lead, but it becomes a white savior movie learning from them weird not whites that Hollywood can’t understand with Tom Cruise as the last remaining Ronin.

Sometimes the US is capable of watching an Asian centric movie. It’s rare, but it can happen. The biggest of them is Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. It was a massive success, winning so many damn Awards it was almost gluttonous, and it was made by Asians with Asians in the camera frame. But really, it was a fluke. Sometimes they get through. And really, the lack of tonally Asian movies is the cultural divide. It’s the complete segregation of cultures from ages ago that makes it hard to connect. For us that is, Asians eat up our entertainment. It’s weird how little we will branch out. Despite the fact the movie looked and turned out to be really bad, 47 Ronin was a movie descended from Asian culture and myth and tanked completely. So bad its arguably the biggest bomb in history. And it’s not like Keanu Reeves is box office poison, as John Wick proved. It was just too Asian for audiences to even take a chance on, where crap like Transformers will get business.

The future is always bright, especially with racial barriers being broken down every day. So, there is hope. Especially when someone like Gareth Evans is making a name for himself, making completely Asian led movies. And it’s in those movies that we see the best up and coming guys to lead a movie. Let’s see Iko Uwais, totally badass and charismatic in The Raid 2, take the lead in a movie (had a supporting turn in Star Wars: The Force Awakens). And with Gareth influencing people as we speak, Asia may very well get more representation. Or they’ll just co-opt it again. Time will tell.