Let’s go to the Movies: the Slow but Necessary Solution

There is a misconception in Hollywood that majority of moviegoers are white males, so when a movie is being made, white males should be the audience producers target. But, like most misconceptions, it is wrong. According to MPAA’s 2015 Theatrical Market Statistics, not only do females make majority of moviegoers BUT minority groups, Hispanics, African Americans, and Asians, on average attend the movies more frequently than Caucasians.


Despite the data, Hollywood continues to make movies that reinforce white dominance and in turn cause Asian Americans, and other minority groups, to stick to their stereotypes. Hollywood needs to keep up with the current demographics if it wishes remain relevant in its own market (and foreign markets as well: China’s box office increased 49%).

Currently, Hollywood films promote white individuals as the only group of people able to become heroes of stories, furthering white dominance. As our class read in AWUC’S Making Waves, there is no shortage of Asians or Asian Americans in California, and there is no reason Asians roles shouldn’t be cast by Asians. Yet, that continues to be the case. Don’t get me wrong, I love Scarlett Johansson as an actress but her role in 2017’s Ghost in the Shell makes no sense.


The producers do try to argue that Motoko Kusanagi’s race is “ambiguous” since she is a cyborg in the manga BUT if that is the case, why would they try to hire Lola VFX, a company known for its visual effects, to make Johansson appear more Asian.  The white washing of Asian roles enforces the idea that whites are superior and that minorities need to be saved.

This in turn leads to backlash when a minority DOES portray a major role in media.  When Asians ARE cast, they are either too Americanized for anyone to take note OR they play archetypes. The show Glee praises itself for its diversity, but in reality the plot never focuses on a character’s complex background. Similarly, the show Dr. Ken is about a very Americanized Asian family, but the show also relies on stereotypes as its source of humor. 2016’s Start Trek Beyond features John Cho as a pilot. He does not play the biggest role in the film, but the film still received a lot of controversy because his character, Sulu, is gay. In an interview, John Cho expressed excitement for being able to represent the LGBT community in the film, but he was “concerned that Asians and Asian Americans might see it as a sort of continuing feminization of Asian men”. Needless to say, there is no easy way to portray an Asian character. One can either avoid it or stick to the stereotypes. It doesn’t help that White actors and actresses are considered the norm in films; Asian Americans have no A-list celebrities, no role models or anyone to break these norms.

Let’s suppose for a while that a diverse cast does not bring profit to film producers. There are no A-list Asian celebrities, so if an Asian actor or actress was used in a film, the film would make less profit than if a white actor or actress was used. In this scenario, there really is no solution minus realizing the gravity of the situation and trying to fight it… somehow. Asians would be caught in this circle of not being able to represent themselves because they don’t bring in profit and not being able to bring in profit because they don’t represent themselves.  It’s basically Espiritus’s ending in Asian American Women and Men: Labor, Laws, and Love, in which she explains how everything intersects and everyone enforces discrimination although they may try not to or may not even mean it. Everything is a giant circle. Everything is so tightly woven together, when she asks the reader to do something about it I can’t help but wonder if she left the solution vague because she couldn’t think of one herself.

Now, let’s throw this scenario out of a window because reality is not like this. That scenario is merely what Hollywood wants us to believe so it can continue its white agenda. Surprisingly, minorities hold more power than what we typically think, in this case. In a study by the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies titled “2015 Hollywood Diversity Report: flipping the Script”, data shows that films that include a diverse cast result in higher box office numbers and higher returns of investment. Also considering that minorities make a good portion of the Hollywood market, as I explained in the beginning, minorities have an edge that they can use to their advantage. To create a change we, minorities, have to go watch the movies we think depict us well and oppose the ones that don’t. We just have to be consumers in this market. Obviously, the expected result won’t appear quickly, as the reasons Hollywood white washes characters are probably deeply rooted, but eventually money will speak and economics hopefully won’t fail us. I think that is a better and more optimistic solution than thinking everything a never ending cycle. We must realize that minorities are now the majority.

On that note, if we can lower the price of movie tickets, that’d also be pretty great.


One Comment Add yours

  1. Ying says:

    Thinking about the “change from the inside” versus “create alternative structures” argument, because whitewashing is, as you say, so deeply engrained within Hollywood’s MO, I think a way that we can expedite the process is to support films made explicitly by Asian-Americans. Last year, I remember watching Wong Fu’s new movie, Everything Before Us for the first time, and it is a productive addition to the romantic comedy genre in an “Asian-Americans are like regular people too! We also live relatable lives, fall in love, and need a little drama to keep things alive!” And as an added bonus, did it with the usual, beautiful Wong Fu aesthetic. Of course, they still have a lot to work on, in branching out of the heteronormative storyline. However, it was refreshing to see an all Asian-American team create this film supported by the larger fan community, and to see this movie become more accessible as an addition to Netflix’s selection, which, I think, is a step forward, at least in Asian-American representation – even though, of course, we can and still need to do better.


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