How Asian-American Actors Can Go Mainstream
A CALL TO ARMS! HOW THE MARTIAL ARTS FILM CAN BRING THE ASIAN AMERICAN ACTOR INTO THE MAINSTREAM
By Aldous Davidson (4/27/2016)
Recently the New York Times published an article, which you can read here, highlighting the lack of Asian American representation on screen, pinpointing racism and not economics as the driving force behind the casting decisions in our industry. So we’ve identified the problem, but what about a solution? Don’t worry, I have a plan! There is a blueprint!
In the 1990s, African Americans in Hollywood were experiencing the same issues but something changed: The 1990s were flooded with urban-centric “street/hood” movies that brought the African American actor into the mainstream. Just to name a few: Boyz n the Hood, Menace II Society, Friday, Fresh, Juice, South Central, New Jack City, Dead Presidents, CB4, Don’t Be a Menace To South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood, Set It Off, New Jersey Drive, etc. and these are just the ones that made it to the big screen. These films thrust stars such as Larenz Tate, Cuba Gooding Jr., Omar Epps, Chris Tucker, Nia Long, Morris Chestnut, into the mainstream, and at the same time, gave rappers such as Ice-T, Ice Cube and Tupac Shakur credence as actors, not just musical acts. Behind the camera, stars emerged as well. These films launched the directing careers of John Singleton, the Hughes Brothers, Mario Van Peebles, and Ernest R. Dickerson, among others. These days, the likes of Omar Epps, Cuba Gooding Jr., and Ice Cube don’t need the urban “street/hood” film to act. They are offered all sorts of roles in all sorts of settings, and the directors I named went on to direct films such as 2 Fast 2 Furious, The Book of Eli, and From Hell: none of them “street/hood”.
So what does this tell us? America wasn’t keen on accepting the African American actor and director on a large scale until they were given something they were comfortable with; something their limited, entertainment-viewing minds would accept. Maybe we as Asian American entertainers and filmmakers can learn from this.
So, I offer a challenge! A call to arms! A drastic move to spur a revolution that will do for the Asian American actor and filmmaker what the “street/hood” film did for our African American counterparts. Let’s give the American viewing public something they’re comfortable with: the Martial Arts film! For one year, let us make nothing but Martial Arts Westerns, Martial Arts Romantic Comedies, Martial Arts Sci-Fi, Martial Arts Dramas, Martial Arts Horror, Martial Arts Biography, Martial Arts Action Adventure, etc. Flood the market with hundreds and hundreds of these martial arts films, and of these hundreds, certainly a percentage will go mainstream, thus creating a large number of Asian American stars both in front of and behind the camera. Then when the year is over and our Asian American actor and directors are household names, we never make a martial arts film again. Instead, we do what Ice Cube and Cuba Gooding Jr and Omar Epps and the Hughes Brothers did: we star in films as doctors, suburban fathers, and athletes; none of whom know the first thing about karate. We start directing apocalyptic sci-fi epics and big budget action race car films, none of which contain one spinning roundhouse kick. If all goes according to plan, the transition should be effortless and in no time, America will have accepted the Asian American actor and director into the mainstream without even knowing what hit them.
Are you with me in this call to arms? It worked before. It just might be crazy enough to work again.
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