Brenda Song is currently promoting the Hulu series Dollface and gave an interview to Teen Vogue about her career – she’s 31 years old and has been in the business almost her entire life. Most people know her, of course, as London Tipton on The Suite Life of Zack & Cody who some call the OG Crazy Rich Asian. I’m too old to know the appeal of that but I can appreciate that there’s an entire generation who grew up on the series and for them, Brenda Song is still a big deal.
Brenda’s making headlines though because of what she told Teen Vogue about Crazy Rich Asians:
“A lot of people don't know this, but I never got to read for Crazy Rich Asians, ever,” she says. A fan of the books, she asked her managers if she could get a meeting or audition for any possible part. Her managers came back to her with the message from Crazy Rich Asians that she wasn’t right for a role in their eyes.
“Their reasoning behind that, what they said was that my image was basically not Asian enough, in not so many words. It broke my heart,” she says. “I said, ‘This character is in her late to mid-20s, an Asian American, and I can't even audition for it? I've auditioned for Caucasian roles my entire career, but this specific role, you're not going to let me do it? You're going to fault me for having worked my whole life?’ I was like, ‘Where do I fit?’”
Crazy Rich Asians director Jon M Chu responded on Twitter:
🤷🏻♂️would these words ever come out of my mouth? Nope makes no sense. I feel horrible she thinks this is the reason. The fact is I love Brenda Song and am a fan. I didn’t need her to audition because I already knew who she was!— Jon M. Chu (@jonmchu) November 20, 2019
So who do you believe? Is it possible to believe both of them? Jon followed up with a tweet reminding people that there was an open casting call for Crazy Rich Asians.
One of my favorite memories of making #CrazyRichAsians was when we opened the auditions to anyone in the world with our open call. We watched hundreds &hundreds of videos from very talented people from all around the world. Made us tear up many times. https://t.co/G5e64q0zmf— Jon M. Chu (@jonmchu) November 21, 2019
I can confirm that there WAS, indeed, an open casting call because… I AUDITIONED. I’ve talked about this before on Show Your Work and also here on the site, about how badly I wanted to be part of the movie, because I love the books so much, because I cared about this project so much, this moment of being seen for Asians from across the diaspora. So I submitted an audition tape for Kitty Pong, the character I always said I wanted to play. Obviously I didn’t get the part. But the point is, I was sent the slides, a few lines of dialogue that actually ended up in the movie (it’s two scenes: the one when we first meet Kitty, when she’s on a film set and the one at Araminta and Colin’s wedding when Kitty’s dancing with Oliver), and Duana directed me and we did it on an iPhone and I’m telling you this to verify that they were in fact seeing randoms, even a f-cking random blogger from Canada.
That said, it doesn’t mean that Brenda’s read of the situation isn’t true. When her managers told her that she wasn’t right for the film, her takeaway from that was to think it was because she wasn’t Asian enough and this I understand, as many of us from different cultural and ethnic backgrounds but born and raised in the West might understand. For me personally, I often felt stuck in the in-between of being Asian growing up among whiteness but also, when I was back in Asia, being that I grew up in the West, I didn’t feel completely immersed there either. With that lens, I can relate if Brenda’s reflecting on a history of not feeling truly accepted in either space and that perspective shaping how she internalised the message from the Crazy Rich Asians team that she wasn’t right for the film. Obviously, since I haven’t spoken to her, I can’t say that that’s legitimately where she’s coming from, but that’s how I’m processing her story. Her sense of rejection was real and it all comes back to inclusion and representation and the kinds of narratives that are most available. Which, in the most Pollyanna way, is the whole point. That Crazy Rich Asians can’t be the only place to say all the things. That if there are more projects that can join Crazy Rich Asians to create a tapestry of unique and diverse experiences, the Brenda Songs out there won’t have to feel so othered.
To read more about Brenda at Teen Vogue, click here.