ASIAN REPRESENTATION IN HOLLYWOOD
How the Asian American community is taking Hollywood by storm
By Caroline Kawabe
When I was younger, I remember looking up at the silver screen, eating my popcorn in awe of what I was watching. My mom was an avid movie lover, and even had a career in the film industry, so movies and television were a large part of my childhood.
There was just one problem: I could rarely find someone who looked like me on screen.
I am what we call a “hapa,” my dad being of Asian and Pacific Islander descent, and my mom Caucasian. While I often saw characters who emulated my mom and cousins, it was much harder to find people on - or off - screen in Hollywood who resembled my sister and me. However, as I grew up, so did Hollywood. People changed, culture changed, Hollywood changed. I gradually began seeing more movies starring actors and actresses of Asian descent; more names in the credits sounding like mine; more Asian representation walking the red carpet.
It might sound silly, but one of the first kids shows I remember seeing with prominent Asian representation was Bizaardvark. Though the show itself didn’t go on to last very long, it produced one of the biggest stars of modern music: Olivia Rodrigo. The show included Rodrigo, as well as Madison Hu, both Asian American actresses, as the two lead roles. Rodrigo also went on to star as the lead in the Disney+ series: High School Musical: The Musical: The Series. And, as you probably know, she has proceeded to do pretty well for herself in the music industry.
Regarding the big screen, I would say the first real modern love story with a predominantly Asian cast that I saw on screen was Crazy Rich Asians. It was revolutionary to see an almost fully Asian cast in such a big American blockbuster. Not only that, but the story also highlighted the female lead as a strong, independent character — steering away from the stereotypical rom-com trope.
And, of course, we cannot forget about Parasite. The South Korean film made tremendous strides for Asian representation in the film industry. Winning four of the most prestigious awards at the 92nd Academy Awards (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and Best International Feature Film), Parasite became the first non-English language film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. The film became an international success, receiving numerous accolades, some even calling it the best film of the twenty-first century.
Following these successes, movie-goers got to see the first Asian Marvel superhero get his own film. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings was another smashing success in the box office. Featuring a largely Asian American cast and starring Simu Liu as Shang-Chi, the film was praised for its exploration and representation of Asian culture. This representation in the superhero world was huge, and an inspiration across the U.S.
Fast forward to the present day, the release of the film Turning Red, was perhaps one of the most monumental days for Disney+ and Pixar Animation Studios. Domee Shi, the director, became the first female to solely direct a Pixar production. She was also the first woman to direct a short film for Pixar, with the premiere of Bao. Along with these firsts, Turning Red was only the second Pixar film to feature an Asian lead; Up being the first. The film also features a majority Asian American voice actor cast, and a great lineup of Asian production members. The four lead production positions were also occupied by women, making the film the first to feature that combination as well.
Despite the hardships, the Asian American community has made tremendous strides in the entertainment industry, and has contributed to many recent successes in the box office. I know I, for one, cannot wait to see what comes next. It’s the era of Asian representation in Hollywood. Get on board, or the ship is sailing without you!