It isn’t easy being an Asian actor in Hollywood.
Even in 2020, it seems the best roles are reserved for caucasians while actors of colour are sent to the periphery.
I’ve been working in Hollywood for almost six years now, and it’s hard to argue against the conventional wisdom that being a minority actor in LA [Los Angeles] means you have to work twice as hard to get half the results.
That doesn’t mean that there are no opportunities; there are. It just seems like there are more opportunities if you happen to be not Asian.
I came to Hollywood dreaming of being a superhero in an era when the only Asian you saw in Hollywood movies was Spider-Man’s chubby, nerdy guy-in-chair.
Luckily, as time moved on, Marvel added more characters (Jimmy Woo played by Randall Park and an original character played by Remy Hii in Spider-Man: Far From Home) and is also creating its first Asian superhero movie after the success of Black Panther, with Simu Liu as the lead.
But it’s not without its own flaws, as the character is called Shang-Chi, which is a made-up Chinese name that doesn’t actually mean anything, and his “superpower” is being really, really good at martial arts (yes, a lot of martial arts originated in Asia, but was that the only power available for an Asian superhero?). In the comics, his father is literally Fu Manchu (though this is being changed in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to The Mandarin, played by the legendary Tony Leung).
While there are great strides forward, it is not without its problems.
Then Parasite won the Academy Award for Best Picture this Sunday.
Not only that, it won Best Original Screenplay, Best International Feature Film, Best Director, and, in doing so, became the first foreign film and first non-English language winner of the Best Picture award in the 92-year history of the Oscars.
I have had actor and non-actor friends come up to congratulate me. Many Asian friends of mine working in the industry texted me similar messages basically saying, “WE WON!”
Parasite made history by winning some of the top creative honours in the filmmaking world, while competing against the Hollywood elite, with directors such as Quentin Tarantino and Martin Scorsese, and films that included actors such as Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, and Joaquin Phoenix.
Its win show that when a good story is told well, it doesn’t matter the creed or the colour of the actor and director. Parasite was rewarded for simply being a good film.
So what could this mean for the future?
I am under no illusion that the industry will change overnight. White actors will still get more auditions than I will for the foreseeable future. But films like Parasite, Crazy Rich Asians, and Lulu Wang’s Farewell are showing Hollywood that Asian and Asian diaspora directors, actors, and industries have what it takes to compete at the highest level.
With Awkwafina winning best actress at the Golden Globes, with Boon Joon-ho winning EVERYTHING, it has been a purple patch for Asian recognition in Hollywood.
The industry may not change overnight but it IS changing and that can only be a positive.
I came to Hollywood to play an Asian superhero only to discover Asian superheroes were already claiming victory aplenty in Tinseltown.
Hopefully, with their success, we no longer have to write the phrase “cast against type” when an Asian lands a leading role.