Asians Need Not Exclusively Apply


One man. Two boys. Twelve kids.

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148 Responses

  1. Glyph says:

    Portraying White is Acting 101. Anybody can do that.

  2. Christopher Carr says:

    I’m actually not all that offended by this. There are plenty of Latino actors or multiracial actors who could portray members of various races. If you have a musical that takes place in China, it makes sense to have Chinese-appearing actors, without limiting yourself to only actors of Chinese descent.Report

    • Kazzy in reply to Christopher Carr says:

      I think a big part of the issue is that the road only seems to run one way.

      Non-Asian actors will get hired to play traditionally Asian roles, but how often do non-white actors get hired to play traditionally white roles? My friend was angered because as an Asian-American actress, her options are already limited. So when an opportunity comes up that seems to put her in a preferred position, suddenly race becomes non-essential.

      If there were no qualified Asian actors to play the roles, sure, look to people of other races. But I doubt that to be the case…Report

      • rexknobus in reply to Kazzy says:

        From a certain perspective nearly *all* non-white actors are playing traditionally white roles today — go back a few decades and you won’t find any lead roles (or even many significant secondary roles) going to persons of color. Any movie starring Denzel or Will today would have starred Charlton or Clark within living memory (at least my living memory!).

        John Ford included actual Native Americans in many of his westerns, but as far as I can remember, never in speaking roles. The actor playing speaking Native-American roles were invariably of Latin or Italian descent. Was he ahead of his time for casting the background players from the actual racial stock back in the 50’s, or was he a bigot for not giving them lines? I have no idea.

        Expanding the field slightly, there’s the play “Frankie and Johnny in the Clare de Lune,” which was about two lower-class, not particularly attractive people finding each other. On stage the roles were originated by F. Murray Abraham and Kathy Bates. The film “Frankie and Johnny” starred Al Pacino and Michelle Pfeiffer — playing two not particularly attractive people (!). It’s a good film and they do a fine job. But their casting isn’t really on the money.

        It comes down to utility. What will work? In 1950 an African American lead simply wouldn’t work in a mainstream film; now it will. The characters in Mulan are overwhelmingly Chinese, but the casting is open to *all* Asian nationalities. It’s the appearance that counts. I am completely sympathetic to your friend’s ire, but would they similarly object to a Korean playing a Chinese role? Or a Cantonese speaker playing a Mandarin speaker, etc., etc.

        If the producers do their job right, they will hire the best person for the role — however that might work out.Report

        • Kazzy in reply to rexknobus says:


          The dominance of white actors was a function of racism, not storytelling.

          Regarding the tendency towards “Pan-Asianism”, that is a bit trickier. We often have non-Italian-American actors playing Italian-American roles. Koreans might play Chinese characters. Ethnicity is different than race. But hiring a Latino who can pass as Asian when you won’t hire an Asian who can pass as white or even an Asian for a role of unspecified race, is problematic.Report

          • rexknobus in reply to Kazzy says:

            “The dominance of white actors was a function of racism, not storytelling.”

            Oh, absolutely. We had to slowly build from Woody Strode to James Edwards to finally get to Sidney Poitier in the 60s.

            In your last sentence, I think the word “won’t” is the killer. If a producer “won’t” hire an Asian for whatever reason, that’s a big problem. If a producer likes the way a white actor plays the part better than an Asian actor plays it (even if the part is Asian) and decides that the non-alignment is less important than the performance, I can at least understand it. Is it right? Hmmmm, rather a gray area…Report

            • Kazzy in reply to rexknobus says:

              That’s a good point. Different roles have different dependencies on race… or gender… or height… or weight… or looks.

              The problem, again, is that white roles tend to require white actors while PoC roles tend to only prefer PoCs, when the reality of such roles is often the opposite.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:

                Basically, if they WILL hire a white person to play Mulan but WON’T hire an Asian to play Cinderella, that is REALLY problematic, especially given that Mulan’s race/ethnicity is integral to her character in a way that Cinderella’s is not.Report

              • Jim Heffman in reply to Kazzy says:

                Note that they have not actually *said* that they wouldn’t hire a person of Asian descent to play Cinderella.

                Note, further, that if hiring a white person to play Mulan is wrong, then so is hiring a person of Asian descent to play Cinderella.Report

              • rexknobus in reply to Kazzy says:

                The race thing is difficult because it is so immediately visually apparent. It’s no problem to cast an actor of average intelligence to play Einstein. Plenty of actors playing action heroes have never seen any action. Cast Daniel Day Lewis as Malcolm X and Denzel Washington as Abraham Lincoln and I’ll buy a ticket to see both films, if only because of the interesting “stunt” casting — but put Mr. Lewis in blackface or Mr. Washington in whiteface to play the roles and I, at least, would be offended.

                One of the executive producers of “Alien” told me that when he and his partner wrote the original script, they wrote the part of Ripley for Richard Dreyfuss. Dreyfuss didn’t work out, but Sigourney Weaver did and, according to him, they didn’t change the dialog a bit.

                It’s not a very good movie, but an old action flick, “Remo Williams – The Adventure Begins,” had an absolutely tone-perfect and award-caliber performance by Joel Grey as an Asian martial artist. I can certainly imagine Bruce or Jet or even Toshiro in the role, but they wouldn’t have done it any better.

                Similarly, Linda Hunt as the male, black (in the book anyway), Chinese dwarf, Billy Kwan, in “In The Year of Living Dangerously.”

                And there’s always Ossie Davis as JFK in “Bubba Ho-Tep” 😉

                I guess for me there’s some real gray area in here, with a preference toward: “You want Chinese? Cast Chinese!” But it’s only a preference.Report

              • Barry in reply to Kazzy says:

                “The problem, again, is that white roles tend to require white actors while PoC roles tend to only prefer PoCs, when the reality of such roles is often the opposite.”

                Or perhaps there are ‘roles’, and ‘PoC roles’, where the former is assumed white.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Barry says:

                Excellent point. Unless otherwise mentioned, the assumption is white.Report

              • rexknobus in reply to Kazzy says:

                Kazzy — sorry for a bit of a late response and even more sorry for the “special snowflake” swing here, but I just remembered a thing that fits into this conversation somewhat (mostly as a possible insight into a film producer’s mind).

                Years ago I wrote a feature script about one of the scout/hunters on the Lewis & Clark Corps of Discovery — a very interesting fellow named John Colter. The script got well circulated, then died, and years passed. My phone rang one night and it was a producer who had gotten hold of the script and loved it. He only had one problem: “Listen, I know this is crazy, but I’ve got Meryl Streep on option — is there any way this can be re-written to star Meryl Streep?”

                In his defense, he was pretty embarrassed to be asking — and of course she isn’t really perfect casting for a mountain man circa 1808. But he had the tools he had to work with and he felt he had to try. I don’t have much sympathy for bigotry, but the pressure of making a film profitable can take people down strange roads. (For some reason that made me think of John Wayne portraying Genghis Khan — hopefully we’ve moved a bit past that!)Report

              • KatherineMW in reply to rexknobus says:

                Well, we’ve got a white guy portraying The Mandarin in the next Iron Man film, so I’m not sure if we have moved much beyond that. But then, given that The Mandarin as invented was basically a racist caricature, maybe choosing not to cast a Chinese person in the role makes it less racist? I’m not sure.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to KatherineMW says:

                From what I understand, there were messages sent to Important Hollywood Executives from Important Chinese People that said “we would find it preferable to have The Mandarin not be Chinese.”

                Knowing what that could mean for sales, they went with a White Dude.Report

              • Alan Scott in reply to KatherineMW says:

                Also, isn’t Ben Kingsley half-Indian? There’s interesting conversation to be had about how modern comics creators deal with the existence of racist characters from the past, and the IM3 mandarin will certainly be fodder for that discussion.

                But casting Sir Ben is not just casting a white guy to play an Asian.Report

            • KatherineMW in reply to rexknobus says:

              If a producer likes the way a white actor plays the part better than an Asian actor plays it (even if the part is Asian) and decides that the non-alignment is less important than the performance, I can at least understand it. Is it right? Hmmmm, rather a gray area…

              I’m with Kazzy. The problem is that it’s rare to the point of non-existence for studios to audition non-whites for roles that are down in the casting sheet as “white”, and they are disproportionately unlikely to choose non-whites for positions where the character has an unspecified race. So turning around and saying anyone can play an Asian character just makes things worse, and makes it even harder for non-white people to get acting roles.

              I can see it being all the more frustrating when it’s for a leading role, which almost always go to white people (or to Will Smith).Report

      • Barry in reply to Kazzy says:

        There was a comment by ‘Harold’ of ‘Harold and Kumar —‘ (I’m too lazy to Google), that asian actors would show up at auditions, and be turned down with the statement that the part didn’t call for an asian actor. For roles in which ethnic/racial appearance mattered not at all.Report

        • Bob2 in reply to Barry says:

          Must tough for John Cho, being a model minority and all.

          The truth has long been that Asian men don’t get a fair shake in business unless they start their own. Executive? Forget it. Paid less than white guys because they’ll put up with it? Yup. Pigeon-holed into certain fields? Yup. Affirmative action gives a minority a college slot until it denies white people a college slot when Asians start getting accepted into the UC system at higher rates because of better grades? Yup.

          Just because you don’t hear as much stink about it doesn’t make it less real. Next time you read about how Asians or Latinos should make perfect conservative voters, perhaps this thread should come to mind.Report

    • Glyph in reply to Christopher Carr says:

      I was wondering about this too. Since a big part of drama is suspension of disbelief, most productions strive to achieve verisimilitude (loosely defined more as “close enough to what the audience would expect in this tale” rather than “conforms to actual reality”) as best they can; Denzel Washington might have done Lincoln just as well as Daniel Day Lewis, but I’m not surprised that they went with the casting they did (plus, Day Lewis “appears” American).Report

      • Glyph in reply to Glyph says:

        I should clarify my final parenthetical: “(plus, Day Lewis “appears” American)”

        By which I don’t mean that Washington DOESN’T, but by which I mean that Day-Lewis is Brit-Irish, not American.Report

  3. Burt Likko says:

    This is one of those rare instances where race is considered by most courts to be a bona fide occupational qualification. If Danny Glover had been cast in the DiCaprio role in Django Unchained that would have been a very different movie.Report

    • Kazzy in reply to Burt Likko says:

      To me, it makes perfect sense to limit casting when race/ethnicity is essential to the role. I almost used the example of Django, saying that the movie changes dramatically if Django is played by Toby McGuire.

      For many roles, race is non-essential, but we tend to treat it as such with white roles moreso than with roles involving for people of color.Report

      • Burt Likko in reply to Kazzy says:

        I’m uncomfortable with agreeing to this. I could be persuaded that casting directors and producers tend to cast white actors when a role is not race-specific.

        If Toby McGuire played Django and Danny Glover played Calvin Candie, we might have got a movie that turned out to be more disappointing than provocative.Report

        • Kazzy in reply to Burt Likko says:


          Let me ask… is “whiteness” an essential characteristic of the James Bond character? If so, why?

          This is a genuine question, mind you. My understanding is that it is not but I haven’t seen many Bond films.Report

          • MikeSchilling in reply to Kazzy says:

            Britishness is. Idris Elba would make an awesome Bond. Harrison Ford would be completely wrong for it, even though he was a fine Jack Ryan.Report

            • Kazzy in reply to MikeSchilling says:

              This is my sense… but how do you think that’d go over?Report

              • MikeSchilling in reply to Kazzy says:

                At first, the controversy would be the most-discussed thing about the film, but more people would see it for that reason than would refuse to see it. And if the film was actually good (script, effects, the other actors, etc.), it could be a huge success. By the second film, no one would care that he’s black anymore.

                Of course, the right-wing noise machine would wear out the P and C keys on their laptops, because nothing says affirmative action like hiring the best person available.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to MikeSchilling says:

                Very likely.

                Of course, if the movie failed because of poor writing or editing, we wouldn’t see another black Bond for 50 years.Report

              • Burt Likko in reply to Kazzy says:

                He could commiserate with George Lazenby, who was also done in by a terrible script.Report

              • I dunno. Diana Rigg managed to be wonderfully memorable, working from the same script.Report

              • MikeSchilling in reply to Burt Likko says:

                It was all in the direction.

                “Diana, say this line like you’re the most gorgeous and intelligently sexy woman in the world. Good. Now, say the next line in a way that’ll make every man in the audience want to spend the rest of his life with you.”Report

              • Heh. You could include me with all the other men in the audience. (We’d spend our evenings wearing gorgeous clothing, mixing drinks and exchanging banter instead of… other things.)Report

              • MikeSchilling in reply to Burt Likko says:

                A shocking waste, Doc.Report

              • Jim Heffman in reply to Kazzy says:

                “how do you think (a black James Bond) would go over?”

                Nobody seemed too upset by a black Felix Leiter.

                The question is how they handle the back story. If they try to pretend that he’s still an Englishman of mid-twentieth-century aristocratic background, then it’s pretty unlikely he’d be anything but white. If he’s just some dude named James Bond who works for MI5, then heck, he could be any race you like.Report

            • Glyph in reply to MikeSchilling says:

              This is sort of a digression, so I apologize, but a recent ep of The Americans did IMO a really interesting thing with race expectations, both in a meta- way and in-show.

              There is a black secondary character that is part of the network assisting the Soviet spy protagonists, and is also a (former?) lover of the female half of the duo (who are white).

              This character is given enough depth to seem like a real person with history and motivations and feelings – not just a prop – and they do a good job via dialogue/exposition in explaining how/why these two characters are connected, when it might seem surprising at first to viewers that they are.

              Then, without commenting on it explicitly, the show uses the character’s blackness as a plot point; he (and his colleagues) are able to do something right under the noses of the FBI agents who are searching for KGB agents, because “KGB/Russian” + “black” just don’t compute to the FBI. The black men on the street are completely invisible to them.

              Great show.Report

              • Burt Likko in reply to Glyph says:

                Yeah, I enjoy that character, and I really enjoy the tenuousness of the link between him and the protagonists caused by the romantic tension. It heightens the feeling that these two are working without a net on a very high wire indeed.Report

              • Glyph in reply to Burt Likko says:

                When are you going to start the recaps? 😉 Last week was BONKERS. I saw the “big” twist coming a mile away, then right after they revealed it they whiplashed me into one or two I never saw coming.

                Can’t wait for tonight.Report

              • Burt Likko in reply to Glyph says:

                I’m about a month behind the broadcast schedule. Don’t spoil it for me.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Glyph says:

                Is there any reason to think that “The Americans” is a show Zazzy won’t be interested in watching in the near future, between the anxiety, the pregnancy, and the soon-to-be-born baby.

                She liked “Homeland” but couldn’t handle either “The Wire” or “Breaking Bad”.Report

              • Burt Likko in reply to Kazzy says:

                Everyone should be watching The Americans. With the same sort of intensity they bring to their fandoms of Breaking Bad or Walking Dead.Report

              • Glyph in reply to Kazzy says:

                I’m not going to say that it doesn’t generate tension, because it does…I was SUPER tense last week. My wife wasn’t sure she could stand the tension after ep. 1, but was totally addicted by ep. 3. It is phenomenal. It’s a zillion streets ahead of Walking Dead; it’s maybe too early to say yet where it stacks up next to Breaking Bad, but early signs are promising (I highly doubt it will surpass The Wire for me, but you never know).Report

          • Burt Likko in reply to Kazzy says:

            Maybe in 1963 it was, since Bond must be someone who swims fluidly in the world of the social elite and fifty years ago, to be elite and British necessarily meant being white. I’m not at all sure that it is now.

            I do think it’s essential that James Bond be British. That doesn’t rule out the idea of a non-British actor portraying him.

            I do think it’s essential that be a handsome man. While there is obviously plenty of room in cinema for movies about woman spies, even those who use seduction as part of their tradecraft the way James Bond does, that’s a different kettle of fish entirely.Report

            • Kazzy in reply to Burt Likko says:

              So you’d be okay with Elba as Bond? Do you think Mike’s prediction would come true or would it draw no more scrutiny than the usual Bond choice (which I understand does draw more scrutiny than most casting choices)?Report

              • Burt Likko in reply to Kazzy says:

                Yeah, I think Mike is spot on and I would be very cool with Idris Elba as James Bond. I enjoy him on Luther quite a lot. And I had no problem at all with him as a Norse god in Thor. He’s 40, 41 years old now which is perfect for James Bond: a Navy veteran who attained the rank of Commander, with at least some post-military training in spycraft.

                I think my biggest challenge would be if he insisted on keeping his facial hair for the role. Bond’s always been clean-shaven.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Burt Likko says:

                Maybe we should start some sort of campaign.

                Again, I’m not Bond expert. Growing up with Pierce Brosnan didn’t help. Craig made me interested and I’ve seen a couple of those. I’m generally more interested in the “gritty” versions of things, making the modern renditions of super hero movies and Craig’s Bond more appealing. Elba would have me in hard.Report

              • Burt Likko in reply to Kazzy says:

                My only issue with that is that I’m totally sold on Daniel Craig as James Bond. Until Craig either gets too old to pull it off (*cough Roger Moore cough*) or decides to give it up, there’s no reason to change.Report

              • Craig is, humbly submitted, the Best Bond Ever.

                I have seen every single Bond film, many several times. I agree wholeheartedly that the actor must be British, but could easily be black. (See also a recent casting choice for another long-time Bond character.)Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Burt Likko says:

                As I said, Craig, combined with the new direction in story telling/movie making made me interested in Bond. I didn’t see Skyfall, but I wanted to… a first for me with a Bond film.

                I don’t think Craig needs to be replaced. If/when they do, I would hope that Ilba would be at the top of the list.Report

              • Glyph in reply to Burt Likko says:

                I like Idris Elba a lot but am not sure how well he’d do as Bond. Not for his color, but for his size – isn’t he a pretty big guy, or does he just seem that way to me because his characters are often so imposing (I wouldn’t tangle with Stringer or Luther)?

                I know Bond is supposed to be really good-looking, but other than that description I picture him of average (if obviously very fit) build; someone as tall/big as Elba would draw attention in most every crowd, which is maybe bad for a spy.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Glyph says:

                Elba is 5 inches taller than Craig but only 1 inch taller than Connery. His build, seems to me, closer to that of Craig than that of Connery; then again, those actors played Bond in very different time periods, when the “ideals” of manhood were somewhat different. Elba might be larger than is the norm for Bond. But committed actors have shown a great ability to alter their bodies for film roles, e.g., Tom Hardy as Bane or Christian Bale for his role in “The Fighter”.

                What am I saying? I’m supposed to just accuse you of thinking all brothers are big and scary, right?Report

              • MikeSchilling in reply to Kazzy says:

                Dude is scary.

                “Where the fuck is M? Huh? James! JAMES! LOOK AT ME! LOOK AT ME! WHERE THE FUCK IS M?!”Report

              • Glyph in reply to Kazzy says:

                Both the roles I know him best for (Stringer and Luther) ARE kind of big and scary guys (prone to violence or intimidation, one a criminal drug lord and one a “cop with issues”). So this could be a function of typecasting in my mind. When I think of the guy, he seems really tall/broad-shouldered.

                I didn’t see all of Thor (got bored & turned it off) and he didn’t have a huge role in Prometheus (but now that I think of it he seemed pretty normal-sized there).

                DUDE. I just checked IMDB to see if I had seen any of his other work, and found out he had a bit part (“pizza delivery man”) in 1994 on the TV show “Space Precinct”, which was a go-to punchline for me and a college buddy of mine:


                If he can handle Space Precinct, he can handle Bond.Report

              • Glyph in reply to Kazzy says:

                Huh, Space Precinct was created by Gerry Anderson of Thunderbirds/Space 1999 fame.

                The more you know…Report

              • Kim in reply to Kazzy says:

                A slouch’ll get you four inches, easy. And then you’ve got the shock of him standing straight up.

                Also, I tend to think a black guy could pull off a bit more of “sliding through with nobody noticing” which would be kinda cool. (Dressed to the nines, but still being passed other people’s empty glasses).Report

              • MikeSchilling in reply to Glyph says:

                Yeah, we couldn’t have anything implausible in a Bond movie …

                Some Googling reveals that Elba is the same 6’2″ as Sean Connery, an inch taller than Roger Moore. (Craig is only 5’10”.) His weight is given as between 200 and 215. So, not too far out of the ordinary.Report

              • Will Truman in reply to Kazzy says:

                The last time I heard a recommendation for a black James Bond was when Roger Moore endorsed Cuba Gooding Jr. Which I thought was just a terrible fit. I was never sure how much of that had to do with race, though. I hear Elba and I think “Hey! That could work!”

                So I am in a whitey-guilty sort of way glad that my resistance to Gooding was legit.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Will Truman says:

                You don’t hate ALL black guys… just Cuba Gooding, Jr.Report

              • MikeSchilling in reply to Will Truman says:

                “Next I’ll suggest Woody Allen, to make sure they never have any Jewish Bonds.”Report

          • Burt Likko in reply to Kazzy says:

            I think a better issue, and one that gets at Nob’s original gripe — is there an Asian actor who would make a good James Bond? Even if the actor personally is not British/Scottish.Report

            • Kazzy in reply to Burt Likko says:

              Nob? Did you assume he wrote this post? Or just mistype?Report

              • Burt Likko in reply to Kazzy says:

                No, I was being lazy and assumed he wrote it. My apologies to both of you.

                Same question though — is there an Asian actor out there who’d be good as Bond? No one comes immediately to my mind.Report

              • Tony Leung circa “In the Mood for Love.”Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Burt Likko says:

                No need to apologize. I’m tempted to explore why that was your assumption but don’t need to put you on blast for something that did not upset me.

                To your point, again, I’m not a Bond expert but if we’ll forgive them a lack of a British accent (or a passably faked one), Daniel Dae Kim or John Cho immediately leap to mind. Kim did an accent in “Lost”, though as someone who was born in South Korean and immigrated here as a young child, it is possible that was less of a stretch for him. It may even be that his unaccented speech is adopted. And that may have everything or nothing to do with his ability to pull off a British accent.Report

              • Burt Likko in reply to Kazzy says:

                I’m tempted to explore why that was your assumption…

                I recall that Nob’s written movingly in the past about anti-Asian prejudices.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Burt Likko says:

                This isn’t the first time I was mistaken for an Asian man.

                And now I’m just honored that you would consider what I’ve written here as approaching “moving”. I would more likely go with “whining”.Report

              • Nob Akimoto in reply to Burt Likko says:

                It’s probably because you mentioned something about being my hair doppleganger after a LeagueCast.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Burt Likko says:

                Not only were we hair doppelgängers, but we had similar taste in hair-containment devices.

                Alas, the locks are gone. And like might Samson, I am but a shell of my former self. Stay strong, brother.Report

              • Nob Akimoto in reply to Burt Likko says:

                I’m back to wearing a hairband after haircuts and I have stopped speaking again on account of haircuts wanting a piece of my household budget.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Burt Likko says:

                I’ll say this…

                I’m not attracted to men and I’m generally not as attracted to East Asian women as I am women of other races*, but if I woke up tomorrow looking like Daniel Dae Kim, I wouldn’t have any complaints.

                * My “type” is generally darker complexioned… your typical Mediterranean or Latina look, though other women fit the bill (like Mila Kunis, who is Russian). This makes Zazzy, pale and auburn haired, a bit of an outlier. Though now I turn my head at every redhead I see. Go figure.Report

          • Patrick Cahalan in reply to Kazzy says:

            Adrian Lester would make a good Bond.Report

      • Pierre Corneille in reply to Kazzy says:

        ” almost used the example of Django, saying that the movie changes dramatically if Django is played by Toby McGuire.”

        I’ve never seen the movie (and probably won’t), but from what I know about it, even if race were not an issue, I find it hard for Toby McGuire to be Django in any scenario.Report

    • Barry in reply to Burt Likko says:

      “If Danny Glover had been cast in the DiCaprio role in Django Unchained that would have been a very different movie.”

      Nobody would have cheered then when that character got killed?

      (note, I have no idea if that character got killed; I’m assuming that he was the bad guy in a violent western that he wasn’t headed to riding off into the sunset with the schoolmarm)Report

  4. BlaiseP says:

    If Asians want to defeat stereotyping, the best approach would be to produce their own films. For those of you who read manga, ask yourselves, “why are all these characters so European-seeming?” I’ve never gotten a straight answer to that one…..Report

      • BlaiseP in reply to Chris says:

        Interesting. I’ve been around Japanese culture long enough to know they appropriate anything they like in anyone else’s culture and make it their own. terebi == television, arubaito == Arbeit, from German, pan from Portuguese, hence panko == bread-little, bread crumbs. Reinkouto == raincoat.

        As for blonde hair, plenty of Japanese girls dye their hair blonde I suppose. I’ve seen that, too. But it’s not as if manga doesn’t represent Asians: my gold standard in these things, Miyazaki manages this well enough, even if the eyes are rounded, so what, only Westerners make a big deal of the epicanthial fold. Ukiyo-e did show the difference.

        My opinion differs from Matt Thorn. Historically, Asian representations of the face were profoundly different from what manga’s become. It has taken on Western overtones, whatever Thorn may say about it.Report

        • Kim in reply to BlaiseP says:

          yes, and deliberately so. But that’s not saying that they’re representing europeans. They aren’t, and even the 5 year olds think the manga characters are Japanese (or chinese or korean if that’s what you’re reading).Report

        • Bob2 in reply to BlaiseP says:

          I’d say this depends largely on what you read. I’ve read a very large amount of it over the years, and I’d have to say that the Western overtones that exist overall are not as strong as people make them out to be as a whole. Maybe for stuff like Sailor Moon, but the vast majority of manga that has Japanese characters tend to be very explicit that they are Japanese. I’d say Matt Thorn has a very large point in his favor in that the favored style of manga art has long been towards big eyes. Osamu Tezuka’s work, nothing new, could be seen as white character if you so chose. Same thing goes for stuff like Speed Racer, Battle of the Planets, Macross, etc.

          Similarly, even with Studio Ghibli films like Grave of the Fireflies, if I told most people these two weren’t Asian, they might believe me:
          Oh, and if anyone hasn’t seen this film, it’s probably one of the best war films ever made.Report

          • Kim in reply to Bob2 says:

            Tezuka got some of his drawing style from Disney. He’s explicit on that.

            /everyone’s/ aware that the Americans don’t cheer for the person running in last place. The japanese do.Report

      • Nob Akimoto in reply to Chris says:

        Yeah, Thorn has it right.Report

    • Roger in reply to BlaiseP says:

      They are producing their own films. Half the movies I watch on Netflix are Asian movies with subtitles.

      I still can’t believe “The Good, The Bad and The Weird” wasn’t a standout hit in the US. One of the best westerns of our generation, and hardly anyone has seen it.Report

      • Bob2 in reply to Roger says:

        Kazzy is really talking about Asian-Americans though.

        The Departed was a remake of Infernal Affairs….which actually wasn’t as good as Infernal Affairs. People here don’t want to read subtitles or see bad dubs it would seem, so they just remake Asian horror films and drams.

        Tyler Perry had trouble getting financing for his movies iirc, even after he became famous, so I guess Atlanta is his homebase for films now instead of Hollywood. Correct me if I’m wrong. This is off the top of my headReport

        • Kazzy in reply to Bob2 says:

          I don’t know enough about various East Asian entertainment models to comment on them. I have read criticism by Asians of some of these forms for their tendency towards representing the characters with more stereotypically white features. This has spilled more broadly into some of these cultures with plastic surgery being undertaken to achieve similar looks. I don’t know what is the chicken and what is the egg, but I know it is a controversial issue, and I won’t pretend to know what to make of it or what should be done about it, if anything.Report

          • Will Truman in reply to Kazzy says:

            It’s certainly true that anime characters come across as more anglo than Asian at times. I’ve seen less live-action stuff. But I wouldn’t doubt it.Report

          • Bob2 in reply to Kazzy says:

            America’s biggest export is still culture, though to quite some extent, it’s also the British Empire’s influence.
            It’s already standard for Korean women to get eyelid surgery and it’s so much part of the culture that I don’t think there’s really much to be said about it at this point.
            Be like Mike turned into:

            The Asian movie industry’s long existed in Japan and China, with Korean and Indian movies making leaps and bounds in the last couple decades in terms of quality, but I would say that a lot of the Indian and Korean action films are derivative from Western action films. This, of course, isn’t a problem since Kurosawa films have historically been based on things like King Lear or been borrowed to make The Magnificent Seven. There’s going to be leaking of culture back and forth. Manga and anime, in particular, have taken over large segments of American youth. The kids know a bit more about Japan than they once did (however distorted it may be).Report

            • Nob Akimoto in reply to Bob2 says:

              Manga and anime, in particular, have taken over large segments of American youth. The kids know a bit more about Japan than they once did (however distorted it may be).

              The thing that surprised me when TAing Japanese language courses was the fact that a lot of the kids knew more about Japanese pop culture than I did.Report

              • Bob2 in reply to Nob Akimoto says:

                It gets a bit lost to older people how much culture has changed for the under 30’s. Whenever they talk about how younger folks should be able to save money like they did, it’s because they assume a similar experience despite conditions being completely unalike. Likewise, I don’t think a lot of older folks have truly grasped how the digital age and Youtube have introduced Asian pop culture to American kids.
                I’ve watched more Gaki no Tsukai on Youtube than is likely rational.Report

              • Kim in reply to Nob Akimoto says:

                ROFL. This is a Good Thing to be surprised about ;-!
                Far better than the American English teacher in Japan, who was asked (repeatedly!) (by parents!) “Why havent you slept with my kid yet? Is she not pretty enough for you?”Report

      • Kim in reply to Roger says:

        +100 That movie was fucking awesome! With Chickens!Report

        • Bob2 in reply to Kim says:

          It’s so much better than The Departed. Pacing, action, acting…everything.

          I’m on record as disliking The Departed and The Ring. The remakes lose too much of the originals. I’m really annoyed now that Spike Lee has filmed a remake of Old Boy…and Charlize Theron is going to be in for the Sympathy for Lady Vengeance remake.


  5. Kolohe says:

    Well, the good news is that we are past the days of David Carradine hanging around the casting calls for ostensibly Asian characters.Report

  6. Jim Heffman says:

    It’s interesting that you assume “can portray Asian” automatically means “white person in yellowface”.

    And that you just gloss over the issue of “all Asian nationalities”, which is equally racist. “Japanese? Korean? Whatever. All you Asian people look the same.”Report

    • Kazzy in reply to Jim Heffman says:

      You are really reaching, Jim. Race and ethnicity are not the same thing. I addressed Pan-Asianism, but hiring a Korean person to play a Chinese role is more akin to hiring an Italian-American to play an Irish-American.

      And where did I say “white person in yellowface”? The issue is that the initial call for auditions indicated that non-Asians would be considered for roles that are explicitly and necessarily Asian. If you want to cry reverse-racism or claim some other form of faux-victimhood, please do it elsewhere and without your own accusations of racism.Report

      • Jim Heffman in reply to Kazzy says:

        “hiring a Korean person to play a Chinese role is more akin to hiring an Italian-American to play an Irish-American.”

        Actually it’s more akin to hiring an Irishman to play a Brit.

        “The issue is that the initial call for auditions indicated that non-Asians would be considered for roles that are explicitly and necessarily Asian. ”

        So if someone thinks a white person looks “sufficiently Asian” to play Mulan, that’s bad.

        But when the actual actress only has to “look Asian” to play Mulan because all Asians look the same, that’s okay.

        …I mean, that’s your argument, right?Report

        • Kazzy in reply to Jim Heffman says:

          “Actually it’s more akin to hiring an Irishman to play a Brit.”

          How do you figure?

          “So if someone thinks a white person looks “sufficiently Asian” to play Mulan, that’s bad.

          But when the actual actress only has to “look Asian” to play Mulan because all Asians look the same, that’s okay.”

          It is not just about the appearance of the actor. In large part, the objection is that actors of color can’t even get roles when auditioning for characters of their actual race. My friend accepts being passed over for Cinderella in favor of a white girl, but getting passed over for Mulan? You can’t understand where the outrage would come from?

          You also demonstrate a fundamental misunderstanding of race and ethnicity, which are not one in the same.Report

    • Kim in reply to Jim Heffman says:

      Momoa can play black, though he’s actually part Samoan. Some races have a bit more play than others.Report

  7. Tod Kelly says:

    Out of curiosity Kaz, how did you feel when the producers of Thor decided to cast Idris Elba to play the Norse god and Heimdallr? Or for that matter, when Will Smith played James West?

    It seems to me that acting is one of those things that Hollywood should strive to take more seriously. One of the great things about independent films of the non-B variety is that they tend to look for quality actors that can convey the artistic messages the director wishes them to convey, as opposed to simply looking like something they’re supposed to look like.Report

    • Kazzy in reply to Tod Kelly says:

      I don’t know enough about either story or movie to really comment. If casting an actor of a different race in a role dramatically changes the story such that the story ceases to be, it should be avoided. Django needed to be played by a black man and Leo’s character (I don’t know the name) needed to be played by a white man. I don’t know enough about the Thor mythology to comment on Elba, outside of knowing he is a fantastic actor (who would be my first choice for Bond but, well, I think we’d be having a similar conversation at that point).

      If race is not central to the character and an actor can bring more via his/her talent than is lost via the racebending, I wouldn’t really object.

      And I would find the entire practice of racebending less objectionable if it didn’t so often work against actors of color.Report

    • MikeSchilling in reply to Tod Kelly says:

      What bothers me is how Othello is almost always a black guy, even though that role should be played by someone whose ancestry is from North Africa.Report

    • rexknobus in reply to Tod Kelly says:

      Tod – for what it’s worth, I’m a great Idris Elba fan, but when he appeared on screen in “Thor” I had a half second of “Cool! Idris!”, then a half second of “Wait a minute! A black Norse god?”, followed immediately by a whole lot of “Cool! Idris!” I honestly think that the producers probably took that sort of reaction into consideration, figuring that most of their audience would only feel a slight hiccup, and then would be pleased with the choice.

      Cast a white guy like, say, Woody Allen or Jonah Hill as Heimdall and the “hiccup” would become much larger — insurmountable.

      A similar hiccup when I first saw a preview with Will Smith playing West. Not because of anything relating to the TV show, but because I knew that the character as portrayed by Smith couldn’t have appeared in the real West. Of course, neither could a 100 foot tall steam-driven spider. Minor hiccup, and then on with the show…Report

  8. Roger says:

    Reminds me of Connery’s interpretation of a Japanese man in “You Only Live Twice.” He squinted, hunched over and acted obsequiosly. Other than that, it was a great movie.Report

  9. NewDealer says:

    Something I know about: Theatre!

    This sort of stuff is really controversial and a perennial hot-topic in theatre. Unsurprisingly there is a big divide in how this kind of stuff is handled by big corporate companies like Disney and small non-profit theatres.

    Race-blind casting can go either way. I have seen productions of plays where an African-American man played a 19th century British fop and dandy and an African-American woman played a 19th century British noble woman while the rest of the cast was white. I thought he was enjoyable and worked well with the rest of the cast. In the play, the characters are supposed to be white and the director merely casted the best actors who auditioned. I don’t think the production was making a purposeful comment. However there are other productions where this kind of casting would be political and to make a commentary on race.

    Notes like Disney’s are always controversial. There was a whole scandal a bit ago about white-washing with the Last Airbender and Warner Brothers cancelled live-action Akira.

    I suppose my personal ethics are that you can cast a person of color in a traditionally white role but doing it the other way is a very problematic, unethical, and immoral kettle of fish. When casting requires an ethnic minority, you should cast in that ethnicity. Asian characters should be played by Asian actors.Report

    • Kazzy in reply to NewDealer says:

      Thanks for weighing in, ND. I remember the controversy over “Last Airbender”, which is where I believe the phrase “Racebending” came from. There was similar frustration with the casting for “Hunger Games”… the races might not have been as explicit, but a missed opportunity for young actors of color was missed.

      There is the risk of anochronistic issues when dealing with historical periods. I think it ultimately depends on how important the setting is. If the play deals with 18th century life and race relations, than inaccurate portrayals of race will undermine it. If it is simply a love story set in a given time period but is really a love story more than anything, you probably have more flexibility.

      Thanks for sharing your insider perspective.Report

      • NewDealer in reply to Kazzy says:

        I should add that these sort of things depend on the play and company.

        Shakespeare and other classical author’s tend to be open season for race-blind casting. I don’t think anyone would bat an eye if Rozencrantz was Asian and Ophelia was Latina in a production of Hamlet.

        Beyond that it tends to be a resource issue: University/Grad School and productions at small and lower budgeted theatres tend to be cool with race-blind casting but possibly because of budget resources and other logistical issues. Larger companies with bigger budgets/endowments might have issues with casting an Asian actress as Nina in Chekov’s The Seagull if the rest of the cast is white.Report

      • Pub Editor in reply to Kazzy says:

        I’m genuinely confused. Which cast members in HG did people say were mis-cast?Report

        • Kazzy in reply to Pub Editor says:

          I didn’t read the book nor see the movie, but excerpted sections indicated that Katniss and other characters were of darker, more olive-toned complexion, had dark hair, and I believe the phrase “almond shaped eyes”. These gave a number of folks, particularly reads of color, the impression that these were characters of color… they might have been bi-racial, Middle Eastern, Native American, Asian, or North African. Now, the book didn’t explicitly say any of that, but the arguments were (and the excerpts I saw supported that interpretation) that the characters were described in ways that distanced themselves from typical representations, something that excited many readers of colors about a story with PoC protagonists. When the casting was revealed, with Katniss going to a blonde haired white girl who would achieve the look via hair dye, it was met with frustration and disappointment. It didn’t garner the outrage that other casting decisions did, but folks saw an opportunity for talented young actors of color to ride HG to stardom only to ultimately be left on the sidelines again.

          I can dig up some links, if you’d like to see better accounts of it. I don’t know how much pub the response got, but I picked up on it in a few places, albeit ones generally dedicated to race and/or pop culture.Report

          • Bob2 in reply to Kazzy says:

            This is particularly funny because Hunger Games casting criticism went both ways.
            Some white people went insane over how Rue’s actress was a black girl because they assumed she was white, despite the book describing her as darker skinned. I’d say the Hunger Games did a good job casting, though in other movies like The Last Airbender, I’m rather annoyed that they made the villains darker skinned and the heroes white.
            You’d think M Night Shyamalan’s career would be dead by now.Report

            • Kazzy in reply to Bob2 says:

              The vibe I got, having been otherwise completely tone deaf on either work of fiction, is that Airbender was an outrage while HG was more of a frustration/disappointment.

              I’m curious… did you hear about the objections to Rue’s casting but not to Katniss or other characters? If so, that is interesting, and shows that white folks are protective of the race of characters they identify with, too.

              (And, ftr, I am white. Not sure if you knew that and want to be careful that I don’t indicate otherwise.)Report

              • Bob2 in reply to Kazzy says:

                I never heard about the objections to Katniss’s casting because the Internet deigned to show me hilarious Facebook screenshots of white girls going totally insane at Rue being black, which is honestly a lot funnier than sober discussions of disappointment that Katniss wasn’t slightly darker in skin tone.

                The Last Airbender was far more egregious because the movie was based on a preexisting cartoon (which is wonderful btw) where the main characters are explicitly darker skinned or Asian.

                Imo, Hollywood screen testing likely has a big part in casting white. In most instances, it sells to the targeted audience until such time that the targeted audience isn’t as white.

                That last remark by you is funny because many people assume that race/gender/sexuality on the Internet is that of the straight white male by default.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Bob2 says:

                Heh… I just realized in that middle paragraph I spoke of white people and their tendencies as if I was not a part of the group and wanted to make clear that I am quite white… and male, straight, cis-gendered, middle-class, Christian-raised, etc, etc, etc.

                It is refreshing to hear that you came to know about the objections to HG in a less-serious way. As a teacher (of much younger children, but teacher nonetheless), I’m reluctant to mock children around such topics for a host of reasons, but at least folks understood the problems with their reaction.Report

              • Alan Scott in reply to Bob2 says:

                The Last Airbender was particularly horrid because, despite the Asian & Eskimo characters from the cartoon, the casting call specifically asked for white actors. When they got called on it, they cast Dev Patel as the anti-hero. But because he was from the enemy nation, it meant that all of a sudden, all of the bad guys in the movie were Indian, while the heroes were still white.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Alan Scott says:

                I should have linked to this earlier, but the Airbender escapade motivated this group into existence:

                They do a far better job of articulating the issues here than I.Report

              • Nob Akimoto in reply to Kazzy says:

                I made the mistake of going there and seeing a piece about the fucking travesty that is the new Reaves version of 47 Ronin.

                Expect an epic rant from me about the movie when it comes closer to release.Report

              • Bob2 in reply to Kazzy says:

                Well, at least Keanu Reeves is partially Chinese right?


                *sad Keanu*Report

              • Nob Akimoto in reply to Kazzy says:

                I’d be okay with it if he were just another character.

                But the movie studio fucking changed the script to make him more important.

                That’s just fucking annoying. Can you imagine how Americans would be apoplectic if say a major Chinese movie about the Alamo added a Cantonese main character and made him the focus of the whole movie?Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:

                Were you unfamiliar with that site? Oi… if so… sorry if it inspires rage… at least you’re not alone in feeling that way…?Report

              • Nob Akimoto in reply to Kazzy says:

                I wasn’t aware of the site, and I’m glad it exists.

                But yes, it’s reminding me of a very rage inducing happening.Report

              • Patrick Cahalan in reply to Kazzy says:

                Gung Fu Alamo.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:

                I perhaps should have included a “Trigger Warning” a la Racialicious, where I originally found out about it.Report

              • Glyph in reply to Kazzy says:

                Think Keanu will say this?Report

              • Brandon Berg in reply to Kazzy says:

                That’s just fucking annoying. Can you imagine how Americans would be apoplectic if say a major Chinese movie about the Alamo added a Cantonese main character and made him the focus of the whole movie?

                Honestly? I think we’d mostly be amused.

                The Chinese government, less so. Cantonese is unpatriotic.Report

              • Mike Schilling in reply to Kazzy says:

                I don’t know. A lot of people got upset about a black Norse god because he didn’t look like the real Norse gods.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:

                As mentioned below, people are already getting upset about the idea of a black Annie.Report

              • Brandon Berg in reply to Kazzy says:

                Yeah, but that was an American movie. Foreigners get a pass on stuff like that.Report

              • Mike Schilling in reply to Kazzy says:

                As long as she doen’t have eyeballs.Report

            • NewDealer in reply to Bob2 says:

              The Hunger Games is even sadder because it shows a general lack of reading comprehension.Report

            • Murali in reply to Bob2 says:

              But the fire nation is obviously an expy of indian culture….Report

    • Jeff No-Last-Name in reply to NewDealer says:

      There was a lot of fury with the casting of “Wizard of Earth-sea”.

      [1] The book is quite explicit as to skin color of the characters and tribes.
      [2] The author was vehement that they should follow the book, but due to the way the rights were set up, had no control over casting.

      Totally stupid, very, VERY wrong casting choices.Report

    • KatherineMW in reply to NewDealer says:

      In theatre suspension of disbelief deals with casting issues, just like it does with special effects issues.

      I saw a production of Cymbelline over the summer. The main characters are an ancient English king and his daughter from a previous marriage, and his Queen and her son from a previous marriage. The queen and the princess were played by black actresses, and the king and the prince by white actresses. I spent a few minutes trying to figure out if there was any way to make the heredity on that one work, concluded there wasn’t, and let it go because they were all great actors/actresses.

      One of the anniversary productions of Les Miserables had a black Javert, and he was excellent.

      (Last Airbender was screwed up. Ideally they’d have had Sokka and Katara cast as First Nations, Aang cast as Tibetan/Himalayan, and the Fire Nation cast as Japanese, but even if they couldn’t get that exactly right, there’s absolutely no excuse for casting everyone but the Fire Nation as white.)Report

  10. Barry says:

    There’s (what’s derided as ivory tower elitist liberal femin*zi talk) a concept of ‘the Other’, vs the default, for people. It’s amazing how often it’s clear that it’s not an abstract concept, but a hard-nosed realist view of the world.Report

  11. Kazzy says:

    I wanted to take a moment to thank everyone for the fruitful and constructive conversation here. Dialogue surrounding race and ethnicity often boils over rather quickly, but I did not see that here. Thanks.

    See??? We *CAN* talk about race on the internet!Report

  12. Kazzy says:

    Quvenzhane Wallis has been chosen to star in a remake of “Annie”. Producers of the film include Will and Jada Pinkett Smith and Jay-Z.

    More info here:

    Most interesting all is the number of comments objecting to a black actor playing the role.Report