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Racism in Hollywood is not just a black and white issue

Systemic injustice, whether about race, gender or any other division of at-risk minority groups, is real. More than any other minority groups, blacks in America are particularly and severely targeted but this does not give them the right to monopolize racism in America as a black-white divide.

At the controversy-filled 88th Oscars, where no black artists were nominated for any of the major awards for a second consecutive year, comedian and host Chris Rock brilliantly toasted the “white” Academy with edgy racial jokes in his opening monologue that resonated throughout the entire evening, which ended with Public Enemy’s Fight the Power blasting from the speakers.

It was a great way to address an issue much more important than finally recognizing Leonardo DiCaprio’s theatrical abilities, but it would have been perfect had Rock not monopolized racism for the blacks and threw Asians under the bus with a classic Hollywood stereotype that Asians are nerds.

Rock depicted the lack of black artists in Hollywood in a vignette which featured black artists digitally inserted into this year’s Oscars nominees to give the films diversity. The vignette ended with Jeff Daniels and Kristen Wiig debating whether NASA should spend $2,500 white dollars to recover a black astronaut from space, Rock – substituted for Matt Damon, in the role of Mark Watney in The Martian. Yet, the fact is The Martian was quite racially diverse. Rock conveniently forgot that two of the film’s protagonists, the NASA Mars Mission director and the aero-dynamist that devised the plan to save Watney, were portrayed by black actors Chiwetel Ejiofor and Donald Glover respectively.

“Asian” roles were also featured in Ridley Scott’s blockbuster. There was a part was written for a character named Mindy Park, a mission control specialist with a distinctive Korean name, but the role was given to white actress McKenzie Davis. Of course, there was also the mandatory shoehorning of the Chinese Space Agency into the plot to save the day, thereby guaranteeing the film’s success at mainland box offices.

Perhaps, Chinese and Asians do not need to fight for diversity in Hollywood like black people do. As Stephen Colbert pointed out, we can buy it.

Try naming more than five Hollywood films with a leading Asian who is not a martial artist — they may all star John Cho. Contrast that with the amount of times Asians have been cast as nerds or when Asian actors have been desexualized.

There are rare examples, like in The Fast and the Furious franchise when Sung Kang’s role, Han, seduced the character played by Gal Gadot. But this is the exception rather than the norm. It took Taiwanese-American director Justin Lin, who has said, on record, that Hollywood needs to stop stereotyping Asians as bad guys who hang around Chinatown to break the negative stereotype.

justin lin

Justin Lin on the set of Fast and Furious. Photo: Wikicommons.

Mainland investment in Hollywood and the increasing numbers of mainland movie goers should put pressure on Hollywood executives to end the Asian stereotype. But systemic racism does not go away simply because Hollywood executives think it is no longer profitable to make fun of Asian people.

The mass media create these false stereotypes which influence the general society to reinforce these labels in real life. Chinese and Asian Americans are regularly perceived as people with a poor temperament who lack leadership. This leads to reduced upward mobility and glass ceilings, with most people of Asian-ethnicities making much less than their Caucasian counterparts.

Racism in Hollywood is not just a black and white issue