Two recent twitter hashtags are highlighting the lack of diversity on screen in Hollywood, particularly of Asian-American actors and actresses in high profile roles.
#StarringJohnCho, a social media project created by 25-year-old William Yu, photoshops posters of well-known movies starring white actors with Korean-American actor, John Cho, playing the lead instead.
John Cho is known for his work in the Harold & Kumar films and the recent J.J. Abrams Star Trek remakes.
Another hashtag, #StarringConstanceWu, seeks to highlight the prevalence of white female leads by modifying posters of popular movies with images of Constance Wu, star of the ABC comedy series, Fresh Off the Boat.
The two social media movements were ignited by February’s Academy Awards, where all of the nominees for lead and supporting actors and actresses were white. The #OscarsSoWhite debate instigated research into the lack of diversity on the silver screen.
Only 1% of lead roles in Hollywood films go to Asian actors and actresses, according to the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, along with only 5% of all speaking roles.
In addition to the few roles that are offered to Asian-American performers, white actors, nonetheless, often play Asian characters. This whitewashing had been happening for decades, most infamously in Mickey Rooney’s toxic Japanese caricature of I.Y. Yunioshi in 1961’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
On his website, William Yu cites Scarlett Johansson’s casting as Motoko Kusanagiin the upcoming Japanese narrative Ghost in the Shell, Emma Stone’s recent role in Aloha as Alison Ng, and Jim Sturgess’s starring as Jeff Ma in 21 as examples of whitewashing in the past decade.
John Cho hasn’t yet publicly addressed the social movement beyond retweeting some of the photoshopped posters and sending a heart emoji to @starringjohncho. He has addressed racism in his professional life in the past through a Reddit session, saying:
“I experienced racism, and in my professional life, I try to take roles (and have always tried to take roles) that don’t fall within the parameters of any Asian stereotype. And so to me, hopefully, that’s a positive thing I can put into popular culture and so maybe in some bizarrely tiny way that helps people not think of Asians in one particular way.”
Constance Wu has applauded a poster featuring her instead of Emma Stone in Easy A. She has discussed whitewashing in the past as well, commenting in a panel that, “A lot of people’s visions of who they think looks like their hero is rooted in systemic racism.”
According to a recent study on diversity in media by the UCLA Bunche Center, films that have more women and minority actors have higher earnings and social media traffic. “Why doesn’t Hollywood cast lead actors to reflect this fact?” asks William Yu.