The following article was first published by the American Thinker on May 19, 2016.
#StarringJohnCho Brings Color to Black-and-White Racial Politics of Hollywood
The advocacy for affirmative action in Hollywood has gained a new champion: #StarringJohnCho. The online social movement, inspired by the omission of Asian Americans from the #OscarsSoWhite controversy earlier this year, calls for casting Korean-American actor John Cho in all movies. By imagining Cho as iconic heroes – such as James Bond, Captain America, and Ethan Hunt of Mission Impossible – in adroitly photoshopped film posters, #StarringJohnCho provides humorous and shareable content that simultaneously signals moral outrage and self-virtue at the click of a button.
The project is positioned as an intervention to the black/ white racial binary that dominates Hollywood identity politics. In effect, it endeavors to highlight the “lack of diversity in the lack of diversity,” as Washington Post writer Jessica Contrera observed, and call out the media establishment for awarding coveted lead roles to American men of European extraction. It may seem absurd to claim that leftist Hollywood systemically discriminates against Asian Americans, but accepting it legitimizes the allegation and paves the way for instating greater racial quotas. At present, the Screen Actors Guild incentivizes 50% of speaking roles to Asian/ Pacific Islander and South Asian actors, even though the group represented 4.8% of the US population in 2010. Evidently, leftism knows no bounds. Thus it becomes essential to confront the faulty assumptions of a cause like #StarringJohnCho and expose its illiberal agenda.
The July 2014 census classified 77% of the US population as “white alone” with 2.5% belonging to “two or more races,” including white. In accordance with the demographic data, 73% of the characters were white in the top 100 films of 2014. Leftists, however, find such proportional representation offensive. The controversy is premised on the politically correct notion that we now live in a post-white society. Therefore, the continued dominance of white actors must signify sinister bigotry and widespread discrimination. The vision of America as a multi-racial and genderless mélange without families and borders is a recurring leftist wet dream. In truth, as Richard Alba demonstrates, the argument that whites will become a minority in the near future is false.
Despite allegations by the left that racial prejudice still pervades American film, in reality, the portrayal of Asian characters has come a long way since Mickey Rooney’s stereotypical performance as I.Y. Yunioshi in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1960). Quite simply, no cinematic racial injustice ensued when Emma Stone was cast as part-Asian Alison Ng in Aloha (2015), or when Benedict Cumberbatch portrayed the fantastic Indian arch-villain Khan Noonien Singh in Star Trek Into Darkness (2010). Similarly, racebending the Greek character Elektra Natchios into an Asian portrayed by French-Vietnamese actress Elodie Yung in the Netflix series Daredevil (2015-) does not amount to a repudiation of the white ninja trope. Instead, the above illustrate the free exercise of creative license. Contending that every facet of American sociocultural discourse reveals impulses of racism has become the tired mantra of those who fetishize identity politics.
To understand what constitutes institutional racism, we must look elsewhere – to India, where society continues to be organized around a caste-based hierarchy. As those belonging to the higher castes tend to be lighter-skinned, dark complexion is viewed as unattractive and inferior. Prevailing racist beliefs drive the nation’s multi-billion dollar skin-lightening industry, as depicted in this Ponds White Beauty fairness cream commercial featuring Priyanka Chopra.
Not surprisingly, discrimination based on skin color is commonplace in Bollywood. For example, when Indian American Nina Davuluri was crowned Miss America 2014, the Indian media unabashedly declared that she would never have won the Miss India competition because she was too dark-skinned.
In stark contrast, Asian Americans and Asians have achieved tremendous success in American show business. The following are the estimated net worth of a few celebrities as reported online: Aziz Ansari ($8 million), John Cho ($16 million), Jamie Chung ($4 million), Mindy Kaling ($15 million), Daniel Dae-Kim ($20 million), Padma Lakshmi ($20 million), Lucy Liu ($16 million), Olivia Munn ($5 million), Kal Penn ($15 million), Freida Pinto ($8 million), and Ken Watanabe ($20 million). Clearly then, a cause like #StarringJohnCho only pretends to rally against the specter of imagined racial inequity. In reality, it is fact-free hashtag activism in service of expanding affirmative action in Hollywood.