Face of Asians in Hollywood

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By Kathleen Kim ’23

In the past two years, Constance Wu’s prominence skyrocketed from being Jessica Huang on the TV show “Fresh Off the Boat” to Rachel Chu of the wildly successful “Crazy Rich Asians”– shattering glass ceiling after glass ceiling. As the first Asian woman to be nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Actress in 45 years and to be named one of Time’s 100 Most Influential People in 2017, Wu has broken more boundaries than most faces in Hollywood can say. While many dotingly dub her as the “face of Asian Hollywood,” this title, however, only serves to reduce Wu’s groundbreaking achievements.

2019 has been a prominent year of Asian representation in Hollywood. Ever since the smash hit of “Crazy Rich Asians,” more and more Asian faces have been appearing in the Hollywood scene such as “The Farewell,” starring an all-Asian cast and “Always Be My Maybe,” starring an Asian couple as its romantic leads. Wu, along with everyone else involved in the success of “Crazy Rich Asians,” should take credit for sparking this diversity boom in Hollywood and proving that diversity sells. 

At the same time, this success should not make Wu the “face of Asian Hollywood.” The fact that there is a “face for Asian Hollywood” suggests that there are enough Asian actors to call it its own Hollywood, and that Wu is the sole triumph over this very small selection of actors– to put Wu in this position would only reduce her work to a meaningless, soon forgettable achievement in America’s Hollywood. Not only does this title diminish Wu’s triumphant efforts as an actress, but it also insults her greater mission of bringing change to Hollywood. Wu has been very outspoken about Asian representation in American media. “We need to have a picture of Asian Americans,” Wu once said in a TIMES interview. “We have a unique experience that has myriad opportunities for storytelling, if other people are willing to tell those stories.”

These stories are crucial towards the goal of greater diversity and storytelling. Hollywood in the past, however, has been notoriously known for whitewashing, using white actors such as Scarlett Johanson and Emma Stone to portray characters originally of Asian descent. The action of whitewashing reduces both the amount of Asian actors’ opportunities on screen as well as Asian validity in America media and beyond. Furthermore, roles offered to Asian actors were often limited to non-speaking roles or stereotypical caricatures that are often insulting to the Asian community such as the Asian nerd good at math and hacking or the foreign Asian gangster. Wu is one of very, very few Asian actors who have received larger roles that avoid Asian stereotypes. 

While this is a very good step in the right direction for Asian representation, Hollywood is still problematic in terms of which Asian actor gets these rare roles. For the most part, it seems as if Hollywood is only willing to give such roles to Asian actors like Wu who have already “made it” — Asian actors who have persevered through white Hollywood and proved themselves to be successful actors that will draw in big money. And the amount of actors on this list is extremely, ridiculously short. 

In today’s TV shows and movies, it is difficult to name a lot of Asian actors who play a significant role. Many Asian characters are played by the same actors and actresses and this list of talent can arguably be counted using only two hands.

Ultimately, Hollywood is reluctant to bring in new Asian faces onto the big screen. All that the title of the “face of Asian Hollywood” does is give Hollywood an excuse to stop new Asian actors’ careers before they can even start. While Constance Wu does deserve much recognition for her outspoken voice in the Asian community and for catalyzing a movement for more diversity on screen, this title only reduces her accomplishments and is an insult to her greater mission.

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