The Hollywood Multi-Ethnic Dilemna

Bob Odenkirk, RJ Mitte, Aaron Paul, Bryan Cranston, Dean Norris, Anna Gunn, Vince GilliganIn yesterday’s post called ‘Truth, Justice, and the American Male Way” I wrote about the severe lack of minority representation in Hollywood as seen in the majority of the Hall H panels at Comic-Con. While small progress has been made for minorities, women, and gays in film, it still is incredibly unbalanced in film and TV. Comic-Con nor Hall H is to blame for this- rather they serve as a magnifying glass for the modus operandi of Hollywood since it’s inception. It’s been an exclusive ‘good ole boys’ club with membership for a minority to be tricky and allusive. Two of my main complaints from yesterday’s posts: First, the lack of a big budgeted female superhero franchise. With all the talent, leadership, and resources, the best we can come up with is Catwoman and Electra?!? My second big complaint is the complete lack of Asian American leading men in Hollywood. Latinos, African Americans, and others sporadically spike in popularity, but we have yet to see a leading Asian male that isn’t a martial artists. It’s all a little maddening. So what is the solution?

The opportunity has never been more ripe for change- but how will we proceed? Becoming a true multi-ethnic Hollywood culture will not come easy and will involve a lot of pain and sacrifice. However, a lot of people both Caucasian and minority don’t see it that way. On first thought, it seems the solution just involves creating a few more key roles then everyone wins right? Well, I don’t think so. Check out this diagram below:

Equality

This picture is of three kids trying to watch a baseball game over a fence. In the spirit of ‘equality’ they have all been given the same box to stand on. However, the problem is that they are all not at the same starting point. The tallest kid has much more of an advantage and in many cases doesn’t even need an extra box to enjoy the game. For the kid on the far right, the extra box does next to nothing since he is too short to peer over the fence. This is the best way to describe what has happened in Hollywood in recent years. Yes, there has been advancement but it has largely been in the spirit of equality. The western mindset is everyone gets a fair shot and may the best man (literally) win. While the sentiment is well meaning, a simple box is not going to overcome generations of discrimination that has influenced and shaped our culture- especially in Hollywood. So just giving minorities the same chances as their Caucasian counter parts won’t be enough to overcome the deficit in the Hall H panel line up. So if equality is not the answer, what is?

Justice

In above diagram, the boxes have been reallocated. This time, the tallest kid has given his to the shortest kid, allowing him to finally see over the fence. The action has shifted from one of ‘equality’ to one of ‘justice’. The mindset is one of sacrifice in order for another to overcome their natural barriers. If I were to push the illustration further, the act of justice would result in the taller kid not being able to see over the fence at all. This is where the rubber meets the road. I have no doubt that Hollywood is more willing than ever to adopt a mindset of equality, but are they really ready and willing to take a stance of justice for the sake of minorities, women, gays, or the handicapped? Sadly, I fear they are not.

AP78101060200_0_r940x635I hope you can see now that while equality sounds like the ideal goal, it still falls way short of what is needed to diversify Hollywood. The token black/female/gay character in an otherwise large homogenous cast won’t be enough to pioneer change. A new culture of leading men and women will only come through sacrifice and pain. It is intentionally saying no to one thing in order to say yes to another- or in other words, justice. Hollywood is not so good at self sacrifice just in case you were wondering. However, money talks. Where ever the money is, Hollywood will be standing up and paying attention. This means supporting the properties that at least point us in the right direction. Last week at Comic-Con, I went to the Entertainment Weekly’s Brave New Warriors panel in Ballroom 20. Several leading men of our most popular shows (Doctor Who, Game of Thrones, Teen Wolf, Grimm, and The Walking Dead) were their to represent. I was most encouraged by the fanfare that Steven Yeun (Glenn on TWD) received. His role on the show has become significant, not because he’s a martial artist, computer nerd, or can do the Tokyo drift. He’s just a genuine hero that happens to be Asian. In fact, it’s refreshing to see that Michonne, the African American, is the one carrying the samurai sword! Glenn may not be the leading man in TWD but at least he has been given a shot to prove that he can carry the weight of a substantial part in a wildly successful show. The powers that be, could have easily demanded more ‘audience friendly’ casting, but thanks to Robert Kirkman’s vision, Glenn has become a fan favorite.

In conclusion, I know these two posts seem to stray from the Comic-Con focused articles that I usually write. I feel compelled to write on this after Comic-Con because I feel it’s my best way to promote ‘justice’ in an otherwise broken system. Change won’t occur until we evolve past equality and all demand justice for the marginalized. This means someday embracing the fact of a black Superman, Asian Batman, or a Latina Wonder Woman. Until then, it means as we consumers of everything Hall H and the rest of Comic-Con, that we need to be looking for opportunities for justice to prevail. We need to be giving minority artists, writers, actors, dancers, director, and creators more opportunity- or and extra box, then they have ever had before. Isn’t our superhero culture of Comic-Con all about justice anyways? When that day finally arrives, then we will be able to say our heroes truly stand for truth, justice, and the American way.

I hope this post has got you thinking and I would love to hear your thoughts. There were so many great comments from yesterday, let me know what you think and where we need to go.

*The equality and justice diagrams are not mine- I got them off of Google a long time ago but can’t find the creator for credit :)

16 thoughts on “The Hollywood Multi-Ethnic Dilemna

  1. Thank you for these 2 posts, Tony! I’m an Asian-Canadian female, and growing up seeing anybody of Asian descent in Hollywood seemed like such a rare find. At an early age, it was almost like accepting defeat that we’d have no one to look up to as Asians. There were the stereotypes but nothing of real great substance. That’s why when The CW’s Nikita started, and having Maggie Q in the lead role, I latched onto it and have been a complete supporter of it (not only because of this, but the show is truly great). I mean, when had we ever had an Asian-American female be the lead of a show, and not just be some supporting character with stereotypical traits? The inclusion of Albert Kim as one of the writers/producers of the show, who has given Maggie some incredible (Emmy-worthy) stuff to work with and it adds up to almost everything I could possibly want in a Hollywood entity. You’re right, there’s still a long way to go, but with characters like Nikita and Glenn, who aren’t defined by their ethnicity, at least it’s a small step in the right direction.

  2. Interesting points. Again, I’m really glad you’re tackling this topic. The thing that I wonder about though is whether it’s true that “Hollywood” (I guess as an entity) should be obligated to provide “justice” as you put it for minorities. Hollywood studios are capitalistic entities and I’m not sure it’s necessarily appropriate to expect them to bear the burden of creating justice. That’s a societal and potentially governmental responsibility. We live in a capitalist country and studios are participants. I’m not sure it’s any more right to say they need to implement what is essentially affirmative action than it would be to say that your local car dealership should sell more cars to minorities or that the local restaurant should serve minorities before Caucasians.

    Ultimately, if minorities want to be represented in Hollywood, then minorities have to get together, organize, mobilize and demand it. Audiences need to demand a diverse cast, diversity in lead roles and elimination of ridiculous stereotypes. That demand should be loud, and collective and consistent. Then too, we need more minority actors, actresses, writers, directors, etc. That talent needs to be there and ready to take the reins. And when that does happen, minority groups need to come out and really support those talents and their endeavors. It’s a circle. That’s the only way change can really happen.

    I’m not sure it’s fair to say that Hollywood is responsible for creating social justice. People are. Hollywood’s only obligation should be not to block the efforts by the people to create that justice. I think bottom line to me is that it’s on us. It’s on people like you to write these articles, raise awareness in your readers and fans, and it’s on readers/fans like me to go do something with that awareness.

    And for cryin out loud, cast an Asian actor(s) in STAR WARS!!!

    Sorry for being so long winded. Thanks for the articles Tony!

    • All great points- and totally think we are on the same page. However, I do think it is every industry’s responsibility to change for the better of society- education, government, AND entertainment. Within the last few years, pop culture is now shaping our culture, and whether they like it or not, I think Hollywood needs to own that responsibility. For instance, Hollywood did make a distinct shift away from depicting sexual violence towards women because of how it devalued and victimized them as our equal half. I think a similar shift should be made for the sake of minorities. I don’t hang my hopes on Hollywood as an identity to save our culture- by no means. However, I do feel they play a big part in shaping perceptions about the value of any marginalized group. Thanks so much for all your great thoughts- keep them coming!

    • Good post Ron, I remember that alot of Hollywood production companies/producers/directors in response to audience pressure on their films taking on alot of violence and nudity say…”well we are only going by what’s in society anyway” etc. Well I say, American society has many cultures and variety of citizens, so why don’t they use that as an answer to why they are going to put a diverse set of actors in a film! lol. Just something to think about.

  3. Yeah that’s a great point Tony. I’m not completely in the “Hollywood’s hands are clean” camp or anything. I agree it would be nice if they took up that mantle. I guess I just don’t have much hopes for that happening (like you said). Which really leaves us with no other choice but to try to stir up awareness as a group. I love the Steven Yuen example. Look how far his character has come. He started as a borderline stereotypical Asian character and now he’s a stud and hero who gets the girl. I love that.

  4. This post got me to think more, and you are right about another good example of an Asian actor/actress who just has a role, nothing else, he is just a character who is trying to survive in The Walking Dead. This made me remember another good example of a good role that an Asian actor occupies and that is Reggie Lee in Grimm. He is just a cop, an ordinary man with no ties to any stereotype etc. This also made me think…in these two examples both actors were so good in their roles that their characters became a huge fan favorites. (Reggie’s character’s air time was expanded I believe). In both instances, the characters were not tied to their ethnicity. They didn’t play a samauri warrior or Kung Fu artist. So this goes to show that, when given the opportunity, Asian actors/actresses can become successful and play roles for a general audience.

  5. oh and I forgot Dai in Falling Skies, a great character that is so beloved that when his character “died” the fans (including me) have refused to believe he is dead. We all think he is still alive and will make a reappeance soon!

  6. Chow Yun Fat had a time where i think he could have had more American leading rolls after Replacement Killers but kept only delivering things like Anna and the King, Dragon Ball Z etc…a small roll in Pirates…It will take time for newer asian actors will be given the $/ chance to be a leading roll…someone will need to take a chance and pony up the money

    • Yea, Chow was probably the last Asian male that led is some variety of roles- although some of them were assassins, an eastern king, or a monk. Regardless he was at least leading some of those films. Thanks for commenting!

  7. I think a greater service could be done by labeling the second diagram as “Equity”. The issue is that not all people need the same treatment (equality) they need fair treatment (equity). The second picture illustrates this perfectly, in that the tallest boy doesn’t need a box, thus why should he have one? The middle male only needs a single box, and he has just that. The shortest boy, to overcome the fence, needs two and is thus provided with both.

    I think a lot is lost on the pursuit of equality, because it isn’t appropriate in all situations but is being applied to all subjects and issues. If people pursued equity, I think they’d get further.

  8. Both articles are great and I do want to add that studios/The Powers That Be on a project actually do a lot of harm at times when they whitewash casts for genre adaptions, especially when Asian (American) men are concerned (Sean William Scott in Bulletproof Monk, Justin Chatwin in DragonBall, basically everyone in the abomination that is The Last Airbender as a few examples). People are vocal about wanting diversity but there is this legacy of institutionalized racism that stubbornly persists in Hollywood (there’s also something to be said about cultural appropriation in these cases but that’s a whole other subject).

    Truly the solution is “all of the above” – we have to be more vocal in the nerd community in support of diversity; more non-white, straight, able-bodied males need to not only create but actively get it out to the public (on the flipside we need more white, straight, able-bodies males who *are* in positions to get things approved without a lot of pushback from the studio to cast non-white leads); and TPTB need to stop being petrified of “taking a chance” and understanding that the homogenous world that present to us is not an accurate reflection of the world that exists.

    i hope that all makes sense because I’ve got sick exactly 12hrs after getting home from SDCC and it’s still kicking my butt a little. lol

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