The Plight of the Asian Male Actor.

Upon having a recent discussion with my brother-in-law, an aspiring actor in Calgary as one of his many hobbies, I have found he presents an interesting point when discussing the limited roles available for oriental males: they are typecast into roles of either the nerdy math geek or the chop-sockey hero or the evil Fu Man Chu villain; all of which never did get the girl in the end.  Sure, they get to kick some ass and save the world but none have yet to be cast as a lead making off into the sunset with Angelina Jolie.  In fact, there are few scenes in movies where Asian males are having an on-screen romance with someone of their own ethnic group! 

Arguments are that Hollywood typecasts Asian males in roles people are used to seeing Asian men in such as a waiter in a restaurant or a martial artist or a nerdy office clerk.  In real life though, is it irony that upon walking into any hospital in North America, most of the doctors and surgeons are comprised of Asian males; but, in Hollywood, Grey' Anatomy and ER, the top two most well-known hospital-themed television shows, there are no male Asian  doctors to be seen.  In the movie 21, based on the non-fiction novel Bringing Down the House, the main characters in the book, based upon the real-life MIT Blackjack Team were mostly Asian;  where in the film, only two were Asian in minor roles.  When is the last time anyone has saw a love scene involving Jackie Chan or John Cho or Chow Yun Fat or Masi Oka?  Its difficult enough to picture any of these guys in a role that doesn't involve beating people up or doing someone's taxes.

Granted, Hollywood has a problem with under-representing all minorities considering this day and age when minorities comprise of up to a third of the population in North America.  But, even Black actors have lead roles as doctors in Grey's Anatomy; and, there is much more variety in roles for African Americans than than the hip-hop pimp drug dealer; leadership from the likes of Morgan Freeman and Denzel Washington.  Even Asian women have better representation in Lucy Liu and Sandra Oh.  The Asian males that do succeed in the film industry are not even full Asian.  Case in point, Keanu Reeves, who looks racially ambiguous and easily passes off as whatever other race he is.

So what is it about the Asian male actor then?  Is the American market not ready for the Asian male lead? Is it Hollywood's fault?  Does Hollywood think western society is not ready for the Asian lead male?  Or is Hollywood waiting for the right guy to show up?

Jeff Adachi's documentary,  The Slanted Screen: Asian American Men in Film and Television, states a long history of Hollywood catering to America's xenophobia of Asian males as "Chinese men were villain-ized" and "racist images were often used to justify oppressive laws, such as the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and incarceration of Japanese Americans in WWII."  Asian women has faired better due to the stereotypical image of the 'geisha' or submissive asian girl fantasy for dominant white males.  It is very hard for any of us to see Asian males playing the cowboy or the romantics they are still "outsiders" in Hollywood.  They have a long way to go in changing the image Hollywood has etched in western society's minds.  

My brother-in-law states it may have to do with our generation of Asian-born in North America have been so integrated and accepted into modern white society, we rarely see ourselves as not being part of the larger group much less seeing ourselves as Asian.  It's rare do we nod at other Asians we do not know walking by on the street or "support our boy" by going to every movie an Asian stars in, no matter how badly rated,  like our African-American/ Canadian counterparts often do.  Our generation doesn't feel a common purpose, a sense of solidarity due to past oppression because Asians have amalgamated so well into the system, into the professions, into business.  

I do agree with him, but, there's more to it than that or the Hollywood conspiracy of keeping Asian males off the radar because its just good business. 

I have found that Asians complain about the lack of representation in media but they rarely step forward and put up the resources, the time, or the money the film industry needs to change the image of the Asian male actor.  Asians don't invest in film-making or art schools; they invest in computers companies or oil businesses; Asians go to school to be doctors or lawyers or accountants, not actors or artists or film-makers.  They opt with the less risky career choices; the choice that makes lots of money: a practicality taught to us since we were little by our Chinese immigrated parents.  Only the select few rebellious types going against the wishes of our traditional parents do actually take the risk and venture out and become the actor or artist or the guy behind the camera.  

As a former artist who chose the easier road of job stability and a weekly pay cheque,  I should know. 

No comments: