With a new year comes new movies, such as the much-anticipated entries “Avengers: Endgame” and the live-action remake of “The Lion King.” But while the entertainment industry benefits from new and exciting movies that could potentially break box office records, there is a dark, overlooked effect of such popular movies.
Films premiering in 2019 such as “Pokémon: Detective Pikachu” and “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” could hurt Asian-American actors. Pokémon and Godzilla are two of the most well-known symbols from Asia. When one thinks of Asian entertainment, Pokémon and Godzilla inevitably pop up. So why, then, do these movies not contain majority-Asian casts? “Pokémon: Detective Pikachu” features one Asian actor, Ken Watanabe, in its main cast. He also stars in “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” alongside fellow Asian actress Ziyi Zhang.
Why does Hollywood not realize that hiring Asian-American actors to portray characters from their culture is important to their cultural identity? Asian representation in media in 2018 was celebrated, but 2019 does not present the same situation.
This past August was a hot month for the film industry, not because of a new Marvel movie or “Star Wars” remake, but because of the colossal leap in Asian minority representation in movies.
As one of the most anticipated movies of the year, “Crazy Rich Asians” shattered box office expectations when it premiered in August, and has since grossed more than $238 million worldwide. This movie is the first major Hollywood film since “The Joy Luck Club” from 1993 to feature a primarily Asian-American cast. That was 25 years ago!
Additionally, Netflix’s teen rom-com “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” features Lana Condor as the Korean-American lead. “To All the Boys” is now one of Netflix’s most watched original movies.
Let’s not forget about the less popular but just as influential film “Searching,” which was directed by Indian-American Aneesh Chaganty and features Korean-American John Cho as the lead actor. “Searching” is already deemed a revolutionary movie because of its unconventional narrative; it is told through the lens of a computer camera.
Of course, despite being trailblazers for Asian-American representation, these movies faced extensive roadblocks on their way to becoming successful. Studio executives tried to cast white actors to play the main characters in both “Crazy Rich Asians” and “To All the Boys.” Despite both movies being based on books with Asian characters, producers still tried to make them about white people. Hollywood has a long history of whitewashing Asian and other minority characters. However, after the success of these movies, it’s obvious that diversity works.
Most movies with Asian characters usually only include one Asian but, in the case of all three of these movies, there is more than one Asian character, and they all play substantial lead roles. Additionally, instead of being the nerdy Asian student or karate master, the characters are portrayed as regular human beings. “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” is a romance that just happens to be about a Korean-American teenager. Similarly, “Searching” is about an Asian father searching for his missing daughter.
This normalized representation of Asian-Americans is important for young viewers so they don’t view themselves as an “other.” When young audiences see themselves on the big screen, they shouldn’t feel different but, rather, appreciated.
Let the Asian August of 2018 be the first step in a long journey to better Asian-American representation. It should serve as a reminder that regardless of race or culture, there is no limit when trying to achieve one’s goals.
The success of Asian-American movies in 2018 is evidence enough that Hollywood must correctly and appropriately represent Asian-Americans in movies. As an Asian-American, seeing only one main Asian actor in the main cast of “Pokémon: Detective Pikachu” and only two in “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” is disappointing. Hopefully, Hollywood can learn from Asian August and make that occur all year around.
Tracy Do is a senior at La Salle High School.