The Hollywood Reporter published an interview yesterday with four Japanese American actresses to talk about Ghost In The Shell. Keiko Agena, Traci Kato-Kiriyama, Atsuko Okatsuka, and Ai Yoshihara participated in a robust discussion about the depiction of Japanese culture in the movie, their experiences working in Hollywood and the opportunities for Asian actors, and why the excuses for not hiring Asian actors are bullsh-t. It’s an engrossing, illuminating read. If you have the time today, I highly recommend.
At one point during the discussion, the women were asked about reaction in Japan to white-wash casting. This was Ai Yoshihara’s response:
“People in Japan worship white people.”
It reminded me of Constance Wu’s Twitter post from last year when she criticised Matt Damon’s role in The Great Wall, writing that:
“(People of colour)’s choices can be based on unconscious bias too.”
The worship and the unconscious bias are one of the consequences of telling one kind of story featuring the same kind of people. I was born in Canada. I went to school in Canada. Growing up I was often the only Asian person in the classroom. The people around me, the people I learned about, the people I read about, the people I saw on TV and in movies, none of them looked like me. So when I daydreamed, I daydreamed in white. As white. If there was one benefit of my parents’ divorce though, it was that during the time they were apart (over 10 years, before getting back together) I spent half the year in Hong Kong, immersed in Hong Kong entertainment culture, obsessed with Cantopop stars and Cantonese soap operas. That’s when I first started watching Andy Lau and Tony Leung Chiu Wai and Maggie Cheung and Barbara Yung and my love, Leslie Cheung, and so many others. In my case, slowly, over time, it helped to challenge the unconscious bias that I had been developing in a pro-white culture and to eventually take pride in my own. Which means I was fortunate. It was a privilege many do not get to enjoy.
As mentioned in the THR conversation, those who try to justify white-wash casting frequently rationalise the practice by insisting that if Asian nationals are fine with white-washing then it means they’re OK. But that doesn’t explain why they’re not curious in return. Don’t they want to know about other stories? Why does it only go one way?
Yours in gossip,