“Why does it matter if it’s another white guy?”

Hollywood has an obvious history of whitewashing and disproportionate casting of straight, white, cis-gendered actors in their films, more often than not in the lead roles. We’ve mentioned Ridley Scott’s Exodus: Gods and Kings before on the blog, featuring an all-white main cast despite the show being about Egyptians in Africa, as well as the The Last Airbender movie adaptation of the animated series, where casting calls, according to Racebending.com, listed preference for Caucasian actors for the leads and people of color for the villains, supporting characters and extras, despite the original source material featuring a clear multiracial, non-Caucasian cast.

Exodus and The Last Airbender both ultimately ended up with generally unfavorable reviews, and these are the considerably more obvious examples of the stereotyped discrimination in the entertainment industry. Progress for diversity in representation and casting has been an upward trend, more especially in television though much less so in films. But really, why does it matter if the lead of your new favorite movie is another white (and probably straight, cis-gendered) guy?

Jake Gyllenhaal in ‘The Prince of Persia’.

There’s long been the argument that as long as the acting was good and race wasn’t an integral part to the character or the story, it didn’t matter who the actor was. There’s a subtler, more pervasive form of stereotyped discrimination for the actors of color in the entertainment industry, though – after all, we can’t have Will Smith and Denzel Washington playing every black lead ever.

According to a 2012 study done at USC, three-quarters of characters with speaking roles in top-grossing films were white. The same study also found that ironically, 44% of movie tickets that were purchased that year were by people of color. Oscar winner Octavia Spencer (The Help) has stated the difficulty ethnic-minority actors face in finding high-profile parts that weren’t stereotypical clichés or the same tired, typecast roles on the big screen: “There are so few roles out there…it’s not just black people. It’s Asians, it’s Hispanic people if you’re not Salma Hayek…it’s hard to get films funded. It’s a business thing, and you have to change the mindset of people around here.”

There’s another point she brings up in The Guardian article: “Little kids need to be able to turn on the TV and see real-world representations of themselves,” she said. “It’s very important. You need that representation.” Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o attributed her inspiration to become an actress to seeing Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah in The Color Purple; subsequently, Goldberg was inspired by Nichelle Nichols as Lieutenant Uhura in Star Trek.

Representation, diversity in casting and telling stories is important to accurately reflect the changes in what has become the ‘new’ mainstream American society. TV and film are fantasy, true – people often watch movies and shows to escape reality’s problems, not to look at a mirror portrayal of real life. But to the younger audience, it’s an acknowledgement of existence that is powerful, and they are the ones that will be impacted, socialized through, and shaped the most by what they see on the screen.

-Angela Shen


The ‘GBF’ and ‘Token Minority Friend’ Trend

Will and Grace, Sex and the City, and more recently Girls have displayed a seemingly harmless pop culture trend: the presence of the Gay Best Friend, risen in part because of an increasingly accepting society and expanding visibility for gay men – but the trend is also representative of more than just another stereotype reducing the multi-faceted identities of individuals down to a ‘type’. It reflects on previous similar minority tropes that have trended into popularity (such as the Sassy Black Woman) where it seems the TV network is testing the waters for new levels of acceptable portrayals of these groups. The 2014 movie G.B.F. highlights the bizarre associations of the trope through a group of girls’ pursuit of the idealized Gay Best Friend (seen in the video below) where by the end, realize how reductive these stereotypes are no matter how well-meaning they may be; it’s ultimately a criticism on the idealized, illogical depictions of gay men in pop culture and media as the style gurus, throwing sass and shade when needed, and existing only to comfort or complement their female friends.

Moze Halperin in Flavorwire sums up this ‘GBF’ phenomenon best: “Gay villainy had been a major cinematic trope long before gay people were given the luxury of getting to throw constructive shade at their girlfriends’ spaghetti straps. Villainy was funneled into the less offensive category of pure sass.” Like the ‘token minority friend’ trope faced by many minority characters on television who are there to fulfill some invisible diversity quota, creating characters not solely represented by their race, sexuality, or any one defining feature is hard. So how do we get out of the trap of these destructive trends that really do more harm than good?

Luckily, the platform for new voices, especially on TV, is growing. LGBTQ media activist Cathy Renna says, “The LGBT community could very easily — and increasingly is — be better represented in our culture in two ways: more diversity and more depth.” The same can be applied to ethnic minorities. Remembering that there is no ‘one’ way or ‘correct’ way to represent or define one race, culture, or identity, in whatever trend  pop culture or the media have deemed to be ‘socially acceptable’ or trending at the time, is important. We’ve gone through the Sassy Black Friend, the Strong, Independent Woman, the Gay Best Friend (and more), using these stereotypes with good intentions but with seriously reductive misrepresentations, check-marking inclusions into popular shows like Modern Family, while there is so much more to these characters than the one way they’ve been traditionally represented or their stories told.

Show us the humorless, fashion-ignorant queer men, the heroine whose strength isn’t chalked up to her masculine traits and lack of emotions, the minorities of all identities who don’t come from well-adjusted families or histories. Entertainment doesn’t have to mirror reality, but it has significant power in changing and influencing the perspectives of what is accepted and visible, and it doesn’t have to set any sort of agenda to do so – it just has to be honest.

-Angela Shen

They All Look The Same: Stereotypes and Generalizations of Asians

My whole life I’ve grown up hearing many stereotypes surrounding Asians, including  “All Asians look the same.” This of course is not true, we are not all the same. However, Asians (specifically east and some southeast Asian groups) are constantly generalized and bunched together as one, especially in media. This isn’t just a problem with Asians, basically it seems anything outside of America is mashed up together into broad categories without actual representation of the true diversity. Other group generalizations include Latinos, Africans, and Middle Easterners. It is not uncommon to see Vietnamese actors playing Chinese characters, Chinese actors playing Japanese characters, the list goes on and on. I can’t seem to think of one particular example in media that addressed diversity accurately and specifically.

Photo: ABC

Randall Park, is an example of an actor that has played many different Asian roles. Park is of South Korean descent but has played other characters including Chinese and Japanese. In one of his recent roles he plays a Taiwanese character Louis Huang on Fresh off the Boat. While I agree that Fresh off the Boat is a great step in shedding light about the lack of Asians in media, I’m not as excited as I could be. Fresh Off the Boat is far from avoiding stereotypes, and being on ABC, a family-friendly network, avoids a lot of extremely complex issues about the darker side of life struggles in general. The show is about Asians and the struggles to adapt to a new predominately white population. What I want to see is a show not necessarily focused on race or adapting to a dominate society. Where are the Asian lead characters in popular shows like Friends, CSI or How I Met Your Mother?

The babble discusses 5 stereotypes it thinks Fresh off the Boat is able to wipe out: Asians dress like nerds, we’re smart and nerdy, we have no social skills, we have thick accents, or that we have “weird Asian” names. I’ve watched a few episodes myself, but I feel you can see those stereotypes at least once if you pay close attention. The show also plays on white stereotypes constantly.

Is this generalization and stereotyping of ethic groups a result of media influence? If the media portrayed these groups better would we be more culturally aware of the world? Although I would say it’s not a direct influence, and there is no easy answer, I do think there is some influence in perception of Asians because of the stereotypical minor characters Asian actors play. In a publication by Qin Zhang, Asian Americans Beyond the Model Minority Stereotype: The Nerdy and the Left Out, Asian stereotypes and the cultivation theory is examined. According to cultivation theory, constant exposure of media will slowly and eventually affect consumers in some way. Zhang’s findings showed some relationship between media, how people perceive Asians and how it affects interaction.

Photo: IC Asian American Alliance

Whatever the reason for the perception of Asians, it’s a problem. Such stereotypes create high standards that groups feel they need to achieve. I think pressure to meet expectations of stereotypes needs to disappear.

-Elena Sayasen

North Korea keeps a tight rein on media

The movie Iterview is the story about a well-known reporter interviewing the North Korean’s dictator, Jung Eun Kim, in attempts to assassin him. Even though Interview is just a movie, the North Korean government overreacted to the movie’s release around the world. Furthermore, North Korea threatened the movie production. Why was North Korea so sensitive to a movie?

In a normal society, lots of mass media such as a daily show with Jon Stewart and a SNL (Saturday Night Live) makes jokes about politicians and celebrities. However, the politicians and celebrities don’t react seriously because they know it’s just a satire. A reason why the North Korean government was so sensitive about the movie because might have stirred the North Korean citizens, leading to rebellion or uproar.

According to the BBC’s post, the North Korean government controls the media very tightly. All the radio and TV shows must be checked and registered by the government before being televised. Also, North Korea only films the story about how great the Kim’s family is. Because of such an restriction, North Korean citizens are only exposed to the media that the government produces or checks. Also, North Korea controls the internet tightly. Only a few amounts of people have access to internet upon the government’s approval.

According to the North Korean media, Jung-Eun Kim shot the gun and drove his own car when he was three years old. Also, he rode a horse when he was six years old. He can play any instruments. For the North Korean citizens, Jung Eun Kim is the only “God,” the savior of North Koreans.

Since the majority of North Koreans has never been exposed to the reality, the North Korean government worries about the unpredictable outcome when all North Koreans would find out the truth the media. This is the reason the North Korean government ardently attempted to block the premiere of Interview.

I still remember the day when Jung-Il Kim, the former dictator of North Korea, passed away. All the North Korean were crying and wailing loudly at the death of their “God.” North Korea must stop manipulating the media and set the North Koreans free from it’s tight restrictions. North Koreans have the same human rights and freedome like any other ordinary people in the world. Even though the North Korean media still tries to indoctrinate people by manipulating the media and truth by, North Korean will eventually recognize the truth. I hope that day would come soon that North Koreans regain their natural human rights. I hope that the day comes soon so people in North Korea stop suffered right away.

#teamavatar: aang ain’t white!

When Avatar: The Last Airbender aired, it felt like the first time I had seen a predominately non-white cast outside of Japanese animation. Much of Avatar is inspired by Asia (mostly Korea, Japan and China) and the Inuits, and also exemplifies different styles of Chinese martial arts for each of the four elements. As an American animation, it was exciting to see so many characters of colors.

As Teah Abdullah states, “Not only did the cartoon have representation I could identify with, but it is also a great series where the characters are not based on stereotypes” – and I agree for the most part. The representation was what drew me to the series as well.  However, Abdullah then compares herself with Aang and his lack of Asian stereotypes (glasses and small eyes). However, Aang’s larger eyes is partly due to his age. Younger characters have rounder faces and larger eyes. In addition, stereotypes are what helps an audience recognize what demographic the character is similar to.

Glancing at the character designs for the cast of Avatar, it’s clear that a majority of the cast have a darker skin tone and hair color due to an Asian-influenced character design. This is where M. Night Shyamalan’s film adaptation, The Last Airbender (2010), misses the ball.

In an interview with io9, Shyamalan mentioned that the greatest thing about anime is its ambiguity – that the characters are an intentional mix of all features.  Which is where my agreement with Shyamalan ends. While the ambiguity is great, once again, stereotypes help develop character designs that then point towards specific ethnicities. Additionally, there are elements within the Avatar universe that help express its ethnic background.

Southern_Water_Tribe 62a2c16d20ef561c9fd3b6d6bd989289

For example, Katara and Sokka (both live action casts are white). The siblings live in the Southern Water Tribe at the South Pole – which resembles Earth’s artic regions. As a result, the Water Tribes largely resemble Inuit culture especially in the clothing and the igloos. So when Shyamalan uses ambiguity as a reason to cast any ethnicity for each of the tribes, I can’t help but wonder if he chose to ignore the cultural signs within the animation series.

But how does that explain the whitewashing and how the Fire Nation is Indian? According to Maryann Erigha’s peer-reviewed journal, the lack of diversity in media producers often results in underrepresentation of diversity on-screen. That is, there is a link between behind-the-scenes racial and cultural diversity and on-screen action. Often times, the “employment of women and racial/ethnic minorities behind-the-scenes positively impacted their quality of on-screen images”.

From Shyamalan’s casting we can see the behind-the-scenes affecting on-screen images (ie. the Fire Nation as Indian and background characters in the Water Tribe appearing to be Inuit) to a fault. The clear diversity and ethnic origins of each tribe is clearly ignored despite many signs within the character and set designs. As a result, it’s no wonder the film was a complete flop. The highlight of the animation series was its diverse cast, and the lack of was largely responsible for the negativity towards the film (amongst other things).

– Alison Chiu

Prime Time for a Female Superhero

What do The Hunger Games, Divergent and Game of Thrones have in common? Strong female leads. That’s right. Katniss Everdeen, Beatrice Prior and Danerys Targaryen are all girls who kick ass… and they all happen to be incredibly popular as well. Which is why I’m confused when Marvel is apparently “too busy” for a Black Widow film, and I’m excited for the releases of Supergirl (coming Fall 2015) and Wonder Woman (2017). As Geoff Johns puts it, “We’re so overdue for a female-centric superhero show that’s really good” – which makes the productions of Supergirl and Wonder Woman even more significant.

Supergirl follows the story of Kara Zor-El, Clark Kent’s cousin, and how she becomes a superhero. One of the aspects of the trailer that I enjoy is the fact that Kara is someone trying to understand herself. While she possesses knowledge of her superpowers (which are the same as Superman’s), she struggles with actually being comfortable with herself.

According to the trailer, Kara has tried to live a ‘normal’ life and is now finally being able to embrace her heritage. Like Katniss, Beatrice and Danerys, they were able to become who they are through experience and seeing these struggles on screen is incredibly powerful. Each of their stories makes them relatable and enable them to become strong female characters girls can look up to.

That said, the conversation between Kara and her boss, Cat Grant about the use of ‘girl’ in ‘Supergirl’ has me curious. Although I agree with Caitlin Kelly in her opinion article that it’s refreshing to see ‘girl’ not used to undermine or infantilize a woman, some of Grant’s word choice in her speech are odd.

Kara Danvers: “Shouldn’t she be called Super… woman?”

Cat Grant: “What do you think is so bad about ‘girl’? I’m a girl. And your boss, and powerful, and rich, and hot, and smart. So if you perceive ‘Supergirl’ as anything less than excellent, isn’t the real problem you?”

While there isn’t anything wrong with ‘girl’, the usage of ‘hot’ is strange since I would usually use ‘girl’ to describe a younger age group (like someone in elementary or middle school). At the same time, the questions Cat Grant presents are interesting. I don’t think there’s anything bad about being a ‘girl’, and I believe there is some power to calling Kara’s secret identity ‘Supergirl’.

Either way, with women as leads in entertainment being a minority, it’s great to finally see a female superhero take center stage on prime time television. Hopefully the show will survive its first season because I believe Supergirl is someone for (especially) young girls to look up to. Although she possesses superpowers, Kara still faces normal problems like personal acceptance and becoming comfortable with herself.

–  Alison Chiu

Sports Clubs Scout Asian Players Only for the Media

Unlike the previous era, modern professional sports clubs are operated complicatedly as they want their team to perform their highest as well as to increase profitable growth. Many sports clubs are using sports marketing such as advertisement for generating great profits.

According to the Journal of Advertising Research by John Burnett, sport marketing is an increasingly visible and fat-growing segment in the cluttered marketplace. For example, corporations in US spent $23.52 billion on sports marketing in 1990 and the amount of spending is still growing until nowadays. Sport marketing is not only limited in the United States but also worldwide. Especially, Asia market is a very attractive to target because Asia incubates a huge potential to increase profitable growth due to huge population. Therefore, many professional sports clubs are trying to capture the Asia market by using social media programs.

I have always welcomed about how the European Football clubs seek to expand worldwide. In 2004, Manchester United, one of the best football clubs in the European League, bought a Chinese player named, Dong Fangzhou. The news about recruiting brought a huge joy to China because Dong Fangzhou was the first Asian player who joined the England Premier League. Therefore, Chinese companies invested in the team and Chinese started to support the Manchester United by buying the club’s products. However, people could only see Dong in the magazines, advertisements, or during the world tour friendly games. As report by MailOnline, Dong made only 2 senior appearances during 4 years and released by the club.

We couldn't see a Japanese football player, Inamoto, on the field often.

Inamoto couldn’t had chance to play on the field.

a South Korea Striker, Chu Young Park, on the advertisement which was targeted South Korean people

a South Korea Striker, Chu Young Park, on the advertisement which targeted South Korean people

Interestingly, a similar cases occurred with, Chu Young Park, a Korean striker and Inamoto Junichi, a Japanese midfielder when they joined the Arsenal football team. Like Dong, they didn’t have enough time to play and they were just exploited as a figurehead through the media.

Through these examples, it is very clear that the European Football clubs are cajoling the Asian people. Through the media, Asian players are seemed to be taking an important role on the field. Yet, they are only “bench warmers” behind the lens. Asian people need to stop fooled at media marketing strategies.

Bond, Black Bond: Reactions to Idris Elba Rumors as the Next James Bond

Photo Courtesy of: Getty Images

The entertainment media industry is an unpredictable one, that’s why many content makers tend to stick with things they find familiar and previously successful rather than attempting new and unheard of plots and story lines. Sticking to what’s familiar often results in cross-production, take the James Bond Franchise. From books, comics, many movies, TV shows, and even radio, Agent 007 can be seen in all types of media. But what about changing things up a bit?

Amidst the hacking of Sony’s emails back in December 2014, an email exchange about the possibility of Idris Elba, a black man, playing James Bond in the next movie sparked a small debate.

Rush Limbaugh, an American radio show host, said that James Bond must and can only be white and Scottish and was never created to be black. In the video above Cenk Ugyer reacts by making one important statement, while Bond has always been white, he’s a fictional character, and Ugyer is right. Fictional characters aren’t real, they’re the results of creative minds, they aren’t walking among us. This means other creative minds can change fictional characters however way we want them to be changed.  From the start if James Bond had been created as black, he could have been changed at any point. The movies could have taken an originally black James Bond and white-washed the movie cast just like they always do a majority of the time (but that’s a different topic). So what’s the difference if they cast Idris Elba as Daniel Craig’s successor? There shouldn’t be a difference, but unfortunately many people think there is, just because they have a problem with the color of his skin. There are people out there that look at race over talent.

Aside from negative responses, not everyone holds racist reactions, an article from the daily dot addresses great reasons for the need of a black actor to play James Bond. Specifically addressing the need for black actors to get better roles and the fact that if Bond Girls and the villains can be portrayed by a variety of actors and actresses so can James Bond. The article also mentions when Denzel Washington, who has a impressive list of box-office successes, caused #denzelisjamesbond to trend on Twitter after he tweeted he would  take on an opportunity to play James Bond. There shouldn’t be a reason to deny him with his amount of talent, the same case for other talents including Idris Elba. The only way black actors can get bigger is if they get these big opportunities in the first place.

Idris Elba addressed the rumor stating:

“Honestly, it’s a rumor that’s really starting to eat itself, If there was ever any chance of me getting Bond, it’s gone.”

So, unfortunately, it doesn’t look like we’ll be seeing Elba as Bond, but film makers need to wake up and give black actors, and other minorities better opportunities.

-Elena Sayasen

The Missing Diversity: “White Washing” in the Movie Industry

Box Office failures are not uncommon and should always be looked at as a possible outcome of a movie, regardless of whether you have an A-list celebrity cast or a big budget. There is no guarantee for success. However, as bad as it already is to have a box office bomb, add on a controversy and it doesn’t look too good for you. This is the case for Aloha directed by Cameron Crowe. The movie received much criticism on their choice of casting.

Emma Stone plays Alison Ng in the movie “Aloha” Image: Columbia Pictures

This article from Huffington Post analyzes the key points of the movies central themes, and the movie’s representation. Big name stars, a love story, and beautiful scenery, it sounds like the perfect movie, there’s one problem however, the movie is an example of an extremely “white-washed” representation. It is a movie about Hawaii, without any Hawaiians, an inaccurate representation. In addition to there being no Hawaiian actors, Emma Stone was given the role of a quarter-Chinese, quarter-Hawaiian character. The director responded by saying Stone’s character was meant to not look Hawaiian or Asian. Prior to the release there was a buzz of reactions on social media. It is not just the movie Aloha that is guilty of white washing movies. Unfortunately, white washing is all too common, and definitely not the first time it has happened.

Image: 20th Century Fox

Another example of white-washing includes the 2014 movie Exodus: Gods and Kings. The four white lead actors played rich, upper class royal Egyptians, while the lower-class and degraded characters like thieves and slaves were played by black actors, representing an all too common cast list. The director of the film stated with the proposed budget of the film casting those famous white actors over lesser known non-white actors was the only option for him to get the funds to go on with the movie. Social media attempted to start a boycott for the movie, however, unlike Aloha the movie ended up making money.

So why is Hollywood so obsessed with choosing to cast white actors over non white actors? There are plenty of talented non white actors out there in today’s industry. But when it comes to lead roles it is rare to see a non white actor casted. Minorities are either portraying supporting and often degrading roles, or simply not there in the first place. There is so much diversity in America that I find it frustrating that producers are making up excuses like financial reasons as to why they don’t choose to take advantage of the diversity in the society.  The true image of America isn’t portrayed as it should be in media. When a minority is represented in the media some people see it as a huge step in Hollywood, but, it shouldn’t be seen that way because statistically media still has a long way to go in representation.

-Elena Sayasen

Is Goku in Dragonball White?

Dragonball is one of the most famous Japanese Cartoons in the world. Especially, most children in Asia only watched this cartoon as they grew up as a child. Dragonball became popular among Asian children and it has had portrayed courage to them because there were only few super-hero character exist in Asia. Thus, Goku, a protagonist in Dragonball, became a here figure to Asian children as it is presented with Avengers of Marvel in recent days.

In 2008, Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation announced that they would be making a non-animated version of Dragonball called Dragonball Evoution. People in Asia were excited about the film and wondered who will be taking a roll as a Goku. Later, people got shocked and upset to hear that Goku will be played by a white actor, not an asian actor. Even though there was a controversy between production crew and Dragonball fans, Film crew proceeded as planned. As a result, Dragonball Evolution was flopped and bombed at the Box office. One of main reasons was that the movie totally ignored the original characteristics of characters.

The original Japanese cartoon Dragonball

The original Japanese cartoon Dragonball

The movie Dragonball

The movie Dragonball

According to the Huffington Post, the “white washing” situation has already begun in 1930s. “White washing” does not set the limit to Asian but also all other race besides Caucasian. Johnny Depp was cast as Tonto, the Native American sidekick in a remake of “The Lone Ranger”. Cleopatra, the last pharaoh of ancient Egypt, was depicted by American actress Elizabeth Taylor in “Cleopatra” (1963).

The main cause of “White washing” in Hollywood is that they believe that the movie played by minority cannot make a high standard movie. Also, the industries don’t want to take a risk to cast other races to the main character because there is no precedent that minority race character brought high rating to the industries.

Through the CNN, Racebending.com states that “What disappoints us is that when there adaptations are reset to America, they do not reflect the diversity of the United States. Many people are of Asian decent but are also “totally American”.

As people know, Recent Hollywood movies make profit from foreign movie market. In my opinion, If movie industries stop “white washing” the characters in the film, then they can make bigger margin because foreign audiences might want to see same race actors and actress from the movie.