Hollywood: Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

Hollywood: Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

Amanda Teano

Most people remember the movie “Aloha” for being that one movie where the very white Emma Stone played the character Allison Ng—a character who is a quarter Chinese and a quarter Hawaiian. Whitewashing in Hollywood was a relevant topic in recent years, and if you pay enough attention, you’ll notice TV networks and movies pushing for more and more inclusion of people of color in the main casts. But alongside that triumph, there is a loss.

So, congratulations to all the casting directors out there in La La Land for making progress. However, if you think that you can trick us by hiring actors of, say, Chinese, Japanese and Vietnamese descent to play a Korean family, you are sorely mistaken.

People of color have been featured in mainstream media less than white people—that’s a known fact. So when they are featured, they deserve to be featured with the correct ethnic representation. Getting non-white representation is a feat on its own, but when it is accomplished, it should be done right.

For instance, the television show One Day at a Time follows the lives of members of a Cuban family in America. However, the actors and actresses who portray these characters are of different Latinx descent. According to IMDb, Elena, the main character, is played by Isabella Gomez—a Colombian actress. Elena’s grandmother, Lydia Riera, is played by Puerto Rican actress Rita Moreno. Other Puerto Rican actors, Justina Machado and Marcel Ruiz (Elena’s mother and brother, respectively) round out the cast.

The issue does not lie in the fact that these actors all have different Latinx identities, but the fact that none of them are Cuban.

In the ABC sitcom, Fresh Off the Boat, the audience laughs along with the adventures of a Taiwanese family who relocate to Orlando, Florida. However, Randall Park, a Korean actor, plays the part of Louis Huang, the father of the family. There are other two members of the family—Hudson Yang and Constance Wu— who are both Taiwanese, which perfectly match the story of the Huang family.

There’s a sense of empowerment that a viewer feels when seeing people who are like them on the screen.

Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist essays point out why women of color need representation in television and movies: “For Hispanic and Latina women, Indian women, Middle Eastern women, Asian women, their absence in popular culture is even more pronounced, their need for relief just as palpable and desperate.”

By all means, this is not a call out to stop casting actors of color and make a difficult and complex casting process to deter stories about people with different racial backgrounds; there will always be a need for more and more representation for people of color on mainstream media.


But this is asking producers and casting directors to step it up a notch: cast the correct actor or actress to the role they are supposed to play. It may be easy to cast people according to their looks, but it further perpetuates ideas such as saying that all Asians look the same. The statement is obviously false, but when you don’t have the correct ethnicities represented on the television, people cannot learn and know any better.


Producers and casting directors have so many resources to find new and old actors of color. Many aspiring actors and actresses come from diverse backgrounds, so choosing another actor who is the wrong ethnicity is taking away from actors trying to break into  the industry. Just because people have been pigeonholing actors into ‘Asian’ or ‘Latinx’ or ‘Middle Eastern’ for the past how many years does not mean it is right.


To be sure, Hollywood is a business. They play to get money, and movie production companies and television networks need to bring in the dollars and create buzz around their works. One could argue that Park was cast in Fresh Off the Boat because fans of his past work helped drive up ratings for the show. There’s an answer to the argument that there may not be profitable, well known Taiwanese actor that could’ve replaced Park, but it’s circular.


As Keith Chow from The Washington Post put it, “If Asian-Americans — and other minority actors more broadly — are not even allowed to be in a movie, how can they build the necessary box office clout in the first place?”


Unknown talents thrive in the shadows of Hollywood. If producers care about a project enough, they should care about the authenticity of the characters they’re throwing up on the screens and know that their audiences are evolving and paying attention to the minute details of the content their watching.


Especially when a main cast of color is the central storyline of a show, audiences of color will be drawn in to support them. Who wouldn’t want to see themselves on the television or in the cinemas? Gay says, “We want to see more complex, nuanced depictions of what it really means to be whoever we or were or hope to be.” When an audience can identify with the characters and actors, a following is made.


And when talent is recognized, then the worthy actors will become fresh faces in Hollywood, and help jump start their careers as well as bring more diversity to the screens.


So, Hollywood, you’re taking two steps forward, but one step back. You’re making the slow and steady progress to the finish line — and knowing that ethnicities are not interchangeable is the next step. (Take it one day at a time.)