Movies like ‘Ghost in the Shell’ and TV series ‘Iron Fist’ have come under controversy for casting white actors in roles suited for ethnic nationalities. However, there have also been recent projects where Asian actors have landed mainstream roles, helping break typical casting stereotypes like the Asian martial arts expert and Indian computer programmer. The following actors have gone on to deliver excellent portrayals of roles that demand layered personalities from being a romantic heart-throb to a humanoid robot.
Lee Ki Hong
This 30-year-old Korean-American won the hearts of teenage girls world over while playing the athletic, suave Minho in the ‘Maze Runner’ movie franchise. He is currently filming the third movie in the series, ‘Maze Runner: The Death Cure’, which is set for release early next year. Lee showcased his acting versatility in Netflix’s comedy series ‘Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’, playing the part of Vietnamese immigrant Dong Nguyen—a role that couldn’t have been more in contrast with that of Minho. Lee’s success in these two roles has helped show that ethnic actors can also be trusted to play a variety of roles, instead of shoehorning them in stereotypical bit parts.
This popular Korean-American actress won a huge teenage fan base thanks to her on-point portrayal of fans of high-school student Kira in fantasy drama Teen Wolf. Cho joined the show in its third season, and nailed the role of a fearless and skilled fighter with the ability to absorb electricity. Despite critical acclaim, her association with the show ended after Kira’s storyline was wrapped up in the end of the show’s fifth season. However, her character was embraced by TV viewers as a role model for not just women but also ethnic minorities.
Known for his excellent portrayal of the bumbling stoner dude Harold in the ‘Harold and Kumar’ movie series, John Cho is one of the first Asian actors to raise the issue of the symbolic annihilation of Asians in popular media (symbolic annihilation is a term used to describe the unjust under-representation of a group of people in TV or film). Cho also refused to do an Asian accent in ‘Big Fat Liar’ stating that he didn’t want people thinking it was okay to laugh at someone’s accent, a stance he has maintained in all his movies till date.
This British-Chinese model-turned-actress has received raved reviews for her portrayal the robot Synth in sci-fi series Humans. The show was recently renewed for a third season, much to the delight of fans. Chan has also starred in the first movie of soon-to-be-hit franchise ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’, in which she played Madame Ya Zhou—the president of the Chinese Ministry of Magic. It was refreshing to see a woman being selected for such a role, and since rumours are that one of the ‘Fantastic Beasts’ movie is set to be shot in China, we can hope Chan’s performance will empower and inspire Asian women who watch the movie.
As movie and TV fans slowly warm up to seeing actors of different ethnicities play roles that break racial stereotypes, Hollywood and global cinema in general should slowly open the casting floodgates to a range of actors who would have otherwise been restrained to bit parts on account of their race and colour. Truly, we are moving into a golden age of TV and cinema, and the world is coming together to participate.