The whitewashing controversy that plagued recent releases like “Ghost in the Shell,” “The Great Wall,” and 2015’s “Aloha,” is merely one symptom of the racism many Asian American actors face in Hollywood, The Guardian reported in a thorough survey of working Asian American actors. Most said they were very rarely considered for leading roles, and often asked to play offensive caricatures.
Yale School of Drama graduate Pun Bandhu, who is Thai American, has a healthy roster of doctors, lawyers, and scientists on his IMDB page. “We’re the information givers. We’re the geeks. We’re the prostitutes,” he said. “We’re so sick and tired of seeing ourselves in those roles.”
As with sexism, the problem is often apparent in the casting breakdowns. One called for an Asian American actor to be “focused while he composes his drawing…Makes you wonder what kind of life he had back in Asia.” Another seeking a woman specified: “Asian. Petite. Slim. Fragile.” Many actors recalled humiliating experiences in the audition room. Atsuko Okatsuka, a Japanese standup comedian and actor, recalled one such audition for a “Japanese schoolgirl” character. “I had to squeal a lot and speak in a very high-pitched cadence in Japanese. And giggle,” she said.
Indian American actor Vinny Chhibber, recalls being called in for “terrorist #1” or “socially incompetent emasculated Asian stereotype with an accent.” It is impossible to say whether whitewashing is a symptom or the cause of the larger problem, but racism is very much alive and well in Hollywood.