One of the best parts growing up for me, was going to the movies. But one thing has always discouraged me when I look at the silver screen: there is rarely anyone that looks like me.
It was rare that I saw a Hispanic woman in a positive, lead role. And the ones I did see I admired whole heartedly. I never realized my desire to see a Hispanic woman on the big screen until I realized how little so many minorities are represented.
So slowly I removed myself from seeing the abundance of movies as I did when I was younger. Instead, I took to enjoying and admiring young entrepreneurs in my every-day life and online.
When one of my favorite Youtubers, Anna Akana, won the 2016 ISA Impact Award for APA Heritage Month I was ecstatic. This woman has accomplished so much and overcome even more. I was eager to watch her speech and was brought almost to tears.
You see, even though Anna and I are not the same race, we share the same issue. We did not grow up with heroines that looked like us. In her acceptance speech she highlighted Asians in entertainment and the discrimination they, and she, faces.
As she beings, Anna recollects the day she saw someone that looked just like her. “…the person on my TV was Margaret Cho,” she said. “…It was the very first time I had ever seen an Asian woman do stand up and before that, the only Asian female face I had ever seen on TV was, of course, Lucy Liu.”
It hit hard because it is true. It is so hard to see true representatives in Hollywood entertainment when you have high profile actors being made to fit ethnic roles or for lines to be inserted to explain a white actor or actress playing a role that should have been given to a native.
I will not bash these actors and actresses. They did their job. But ultimately, it is a shame that producers, casting directors, and writers would seek out an actor that ethnically, does not fit the role. Or worse, as Anna explains:
“…last year I booked the lead role in a feature film with a major studio,” Anna started, moving on to her own experience. “I auditioned, I did callbacks with producers, and I met with the executives of the studio at the company. We shook hands...”
She described the utter excitement she felt at this new prospect, this new challenge, this dream of hers finally coming true. As a pretty big fan of Anna, I felt excited for her. I have watched her for years as she practiced and honed her talent in front of millions of subscribers and viewers.
Then she shared the heartbreak: “A few days later my manger called me while I was on set, directing a short film and he was very confused,” her tone became much more somber to the joy she was just showing a split second ago. “He was like: ‘when you met with those executives, are you sure that you booked the lead role?’ and I was like: ‘Well yeah, we were talking about the lead character; we mentioned it by name; I had auditioned with that dialogues. Why?”
Then her manager told her the terrible news. The official paper work dictated she was now going to play the best friend and “The lead was going instead to a white woman… I asked him very quietly, I said: ‘Is it because I’m Asian?’… That was the very first time in my career that I realized that the color of my skin, might actually stand in the way of me and my dream.”
It is such a sad realization. It is heart breaking. With a world that is spewing hate against different skin colors, religions, and economic status, you would think we could look the beauty of Hollywood to take our minds away into a work of art. But unfortunately, it hasn’t quite caught up yet.
So my question isn’t just to all of us who sit idly by as roles that should go to a diverse cast, but to the directors and producers that allow our screens to be whitewashed. Again: I have no hate for the amazing white actors and actresses, but maybe it is time to step aside and allow our younger generations the privileged of seeing faces and skins that match their own.
To watch Anna’s full speech, click here.