Hollywood Doesn't Fully Represent Asian Americans Yet

Hollywood Doesn't Fully Represent Asian Americans Yet

The current movement is undoubtedly worth the praise it's earned. It's been just two years, after all, since Scarlett Johanssen was controversially cast as the Japanese character Motoko Kusanagi in the live-action Ghost in the Shell. Calls of whitewashing have doggedNetflix's adaptation of Death Note, Marvel's Doctor Strange, and Aloha, in which Emma Stone plays a quarter-Chinese and quarter-Hawaiian character. That disappointing standard makes it all the more groundbreaking for Asian roles to actually go to Asian actors.

But while the current wave of movies makes the necessary first steps of representation, we must interrogate whose stories are being told. Judging by the roster of what's hitting theaters, Hollywood—and the people talking about its successes—seem stuck in the problematic loop of conflating "Asian" with "East Asian," boiling down the "Asian American experience" to one phrase that doesn't actually suit all. At best, it's proof that progress is slow; maybe, in a few years, Southeast Asians might have a Farewellmoment, too. At worst, however, it reinforces boundaries around whose representation matters, and alienates people who are already cast aside within the "Asian" category.

At its core, the current breakdown of Asian American film representation falls short because it doesn't quite line up with what Asian America actually looks like. The stories and the people in them skew mostly East Asian—but what about everyone else? In the big picture, prioritizing the East Asian narrative in terms of Asian American representation pushes South and Southeast Asians out of the conversation, groups whose ownership of the term "Asian" is already unfairly contested.

These problems are compounded when it comes to mixed-race Asians, but especially to Black Asians, who feel the brunt of both erasure and anti-Blackness. With a Black father and a Filipina mother, actress Asia Jackson is an advocate for Black Asian representation and a critic of the colorism that can pervade Asian communities.

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