With constant white-washing and lack of representation on-screen, we keep returning to the same echoing question: where are all the Asian-American actors in our movies and TV shows? Or perhaps a more fine-tuned point: why can't they ever be the lead character, the hero, the romantic interest?
Daniel Dae Kim, a Korean-American actor who has played roles in films such as Lost, Crash, and Hawaii Five-O, says he has yet to play a romantic lead, a long-time dream for him. Despite the fact that there is no direct evidence that casting white actors is a more profitable choice than casting Asian-American ones, most studios will shy away from taking such a risk due to preconceived stereotypes. Systemic racism is all-too evident in castings alone, a prejudiced mindset explained by Kim as "institutionalized thinking...[They] have it in their minds that it cannot be that way."
The issue isn't only that there is a severe dearth of Asian-American players at the Hollywood table -- it's that even those who are allowed to slip into the rigid power structure of the movie industry are seldom permitted to be anything other than secondary characters. As Pun Bandhu, a Thai American actor who has been playing in a large range of TV shows and movies for the past 15 years, succinctly captures, “We’re the information givers. We’re the geeks. We’re the prostitutes. We’re so sick and tired of seeing ourselves in those roles.”
Between the emasculation and desexualization of male Asian characters and the fetishization of submissive, quiet, or sexual female Asian characters, how can these characters grow in depth and breadth? And if these characters themselves can't grow in the diversity of their contributions to the plot of the show, how can the Asian-Americans occasionally casted to fill their shoes further develop the narrative of Asian-Americans in the film industry as well as in media and culture? The lack of representation and misrepresentation of Asian-Americans as one-dimensional characters or offensive tropes with blatantly inaccurate or comical accents only allows for an extremely restricted pool of roles for Asian-American actors aspiring for more. In order to have these actors play the roles they so desire and deserve, and for them to then positively impact Asian-American viewers, we need to diversify the roles themselves -- create characters with depth, who live and breathe off the page or the screen, not secondary characters whose sole purpose is to provide comic relief through an 'Asian' accent.