#StarringJohnCho And #StarringConstanceWu Challenges The Invisibility Of Asian Actors In Hollywood
Over the past several days, you’ve probably seen images from the #StarringJohnCho campaign floating around Twitter, where the criminally underrated John Cho has been photoshopped into movie posters to substitute for a white actor. This is fantastic for a number of reasons, such as seeing John Cho in a suit, or John Cho looking at you over his shoulder with smoldering eyes, or John Cho looking disheveled yet supremely appealing, or John Cho in a different suit.
But the campaign is about much more than imagining how much better existing movies would be if John Cho stood in for White Guy Actor #57234. It’s questioning the practice of never casting Asian men as leads by creating situations where he becomes the face of multimillion-dollar movies.
Here’s John Cho in Me Before You, replacing Sam Claflin as a romantic lead.
Here he is instead of Chris Evans as Captain America in The Avengers.
And — in what is my personal top pick for handsomeness — here he is as James Bond, looking much classier than Daniel Craig’s Bond ever did:
*Insert joke here about how he could be on my Secret Service any time.*
It’s a reaction against the whitewashing of Asian roles — such as the casting of Scarlet Johansson as Ghost in the Shell’s Motoko Kusanagi and Emma Stone as the part-Asian Alison Ng in Aloha — and the absence of actual Asian actors in Hollywood.
When Asians do show up on screen, the roles on offer are pretty thankless.
When Asians do show up on screen, the roles on offer are pretty thankless. Men can be sexless comic relief whose lack of conventional masculinity is played for laughs, martial artists with zero personality beyond the desire to kill, or Triad/yakuza gangsters. Women get to be sexy murder ninjas, sex workers, submissive-yet-sexy geisha types, or some unholy combination of all of these. We deserve much more. Basically, we deserve what white people get: the chance to see actors like us in a huge variety of roles, to not be confined to harmful stereotypes in the media. As the official #StarringJohnCho website puts it, we need to try and envision “what it would look like if today’s Hollywood blockbusters cast an Asian-American actor (…) as their leading man.”
It’s no coincidence that many of the re-imagined #StarringJohnCho posters are for action movies. Placing an Asian man in a role where he gets to kick ass and save the world runs directly counter to the usual narrative of the white hero battling hordes of evil Asians (Lucy or Daredevil, anyone?). In a patriarchal society, action = masculinity, which in turn = power — something Asians don’t get in our media.
“Why does it have to be a dude, though?” you may be wondering, “Where’s the initiative to move Asian women past the sexy murder geisha stereotype?” Fair question! Asked and answered: A campaign doing just that has started up in the wake of #StarringJohnCho: #StarringConstanceWu, centered around the lead actress from ABC’s groundbreaking sitcom Fresh Off the Boat. Like #StarringJohnCho, #StarringConstanceWu highlights the talent of its underrated star and pushes for the casting of Asian women in complex, challenging roles. Tweeters have imagined her in Edge of Tomorrow (alongside, you guessed it, John Cho), standing in for Emma Stone in Easy A — possibly retribution for Aloha, and endorsed by Wu herself…
…and as a Katniss Everdeen, who is nothing short of regal:
The success of these campaigns has caught the attention of the media, which is talking about “Hollywood’s whitewashing debate” as though it’s a new issue.
Listen, this has been going on since the early days of film. In 1937, Anna May Wong got passed over to play a Chinese woman for a white actress in yellowface. Sessue Hayakawa was legally unable to play a romantic lead against a white woman in any of his films. And none of us are going to forget Mickey Rooney as Mr. Yunioshi in Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
While it’s fantastic that whitewashing and the lack of Asians in Hollywood are finally being perceived as problems, this should have happened a lot sooner. Maybe then we wouldn’t need the “debate,” or campaigns imagining what media would look like if John Cho and Constance Wu got to play leads — because that would just be a reality.