“HERE’S an understatement: It isn’t easy being an Asian-American actor in Hollywood. Despite some progress made on the small screen — thanks, “Fresh Off the Boat”! — a majority of roles that are offered to Asian-Americans are limited to stereotypes that wouldn’t look out of place in an ’80s John Hughes comedy.
This problem is even worse when roles that originated as Asian characters end up going to white actors. Unfortunately, these casting decisions are not a relic of Hollywood’s past, like Mickey Rooney’s portrayal of I. Y. Yunioshi in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” but continue right up to the present.
Last week Disney and Marvel Studios released the trailer for “Doctor Strange,” an adaptation of the Marvel comic. After exhausting every “white man finds enlightenment in the Orient” trope in less than two minutes, the trailer presentsTilda Swinton as the Ancient One, a Tibetan male mystic in the comics. Though her casting was no secret, there was something unsettling about the sight of Ms. Swinton’s clean-shaven head and “mystical” Asian garments. It recalled jarring memories of David Carradine from “Kung Fu,” the 1970s television series that, coincidentally, was itself a whitewashed version of a Bruce Lee concept.
A few days later, DreamWorks and Paramount provided a glimpse of Scarlett Johansson as the cyborg Motoko Kusanagi in their adaptation of the Japanese anime classic “Ghost in the Shell.” The image coincided with reports that producers considered using digital tools to make Ms. Johansson look more Asian — basically, yellowface for the digital age.
This one-two punch of white actors playing Asian characters showed how invisible Asian-Americans continue to be in Hollywood. (Not to be left out of the whitewashing news, Lionsgate also revealed the first images of Elizabeth Banks as Rita Repulsa, another originally Asian character, in its gritty “Power Rangers” reboot.)…”