Asian American

Why this Asian American never pursued acting.

Grace Rowe’s video message to Asian Americans reminded me why I never pursued acting after high school. She pleas for AAs to get into acting and she’s witty about it, too. I liked the video. But even in high school, I knew I wasn’t the right color for Hollywood or NYC theatre. I knew that I had to be utterly stunning and talented and I knew I was just the class clown.

I was also aware that I would have to literally face endless rejection and I didn’t feel like I had the confidence or the EGO to endure that. So, I was practical. I wasn’t the good dreamer like my other Asian and half-Asian friends who went off to university to major in theatre and then on to the Big Apple to pursue acting.

If my high school years had been peppered with Asian Americans in television, film and music, then perhaps I would have dared, “Why not?” But late 80s and early 90s entertainment was nothing like the revolutionary and original Star Trek where minorities were part of a team exploring space rather than wince-worthy stereotypes.

Because even though I chose not to pursue acting, I stayed in touch with those who did. And nowadays I’m familiar with frustrating phenomena like yellowface and Asian actors, like the great Anna May Wong, getting passed up for Asian roles by Caucasian actors. (If you want to read a hilarious, but heartbreaking story go here.)

One person in particular who I stayed in touch with after high school was my friend, Lena. She’s half Japanese and half British. I thought for sure she would make it in NYC because she’s pretty and passionate about the craft.

When I asked her why she was having a hard time finding work, she confessed that when she did get work, it was ironically, for Asian acting bits. It would seem that theatre wanted their Asians to be hidden behind a whiter fan. Of course, here in Thailand (and much of the rest of Asia), halfsies, hapas and those with mixed Caucasian blood, do very well in entertainment and advertising. And please let’s not get into skin color because I’m waiting for much of Asia to embrace Asians with darker skin on TV, too.

To be honest, I was simply going to post the video on Facebook and write a couple of sentences about not pursuing acting, but since I have theatre friends I didn’t want to receive any, “Oh, but you should have…” well-meaning comments. I still don’t think I should have. I could dance, but I couldn’t sing. I could make people laugh, but I always forgot my lines.

What I should be doing is writing and more writing, and maybe I’ll get the chance to write something for Asian Americans instead.

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30 thoughts on “Why this Asian American never pursued acting.

  1. JATD!!!! I looooove JATD!!! I almost became a part of it when I worked at a tertiary school, and I was actually the one communicating with the Really Useful Group (Andrew Lloyd Webber’s company) for us to get the rights to perform it. That didn’t come into fruition due to internal problems.

    When I was actually studying, I honestly envied those who had the guts to even try to act onstage. I had to be contented with classroom group presentations. I did get a high grade for our final Literature class project that required us to present short skits based on any of the short stories we read. Mainly, I was just often the designated scriptwriter, but this time, somebody else wrote the script and I only acted. I still kind of envy thespians, but I am also contented being a part of the audience.

    I like that “yellowface” link you gave me, very informative. I didn’t know there was a movie of The Good Earth! That’s one of my favorite books. When they mentioned Caucasian actors playing Asian characters, yes, Yul Brynner came to mind immediately. Oh, they did mention Rob Schneider (not sure if you know him) as one of those who get Asian roles when he’s white. But he is actually half-Filipino, though, he doesn’t look it. He has produced various movies (usually alongside Adam Sandler) and often casts the same actor-friends. One is this lady who gets either bit roles or roles as extra. That’s actually his Filipino mom in real life. Doesn’t make his movies great, but sometimes good for a few laughs.

    The “getting passed up for Asian roles by Caucasian actors” reminds me of the big casting controversies back when Lea Salonga (remember her?) was eighteen, played Kim onstage for Miss Saigon and won her Tony (and also Olivier).

    My take on the issue is, when it comes to movies, they really should cast the right look because movies are supposed to be realistic. It’s even supposed to be larger than life, right? Meanwhile, theatre really takes talent. I think that unless a decision is made based on racist grounds, it really shouldn’t matter who acts which character as long as s/he can deliver well. In movies, it is easier to get actors who look the part. But in theatre, you can’t look the part but not know how to act the part. It’s a whole different ballgame.

    “Of course, here in Thailand (and much of the rest of Asia), halfsies, hapas and those with mixed Caucasian blood, do very well in entertainment and advertising. And please let’s not get into skin color because I’m waiting for much of Asia to embrace Asians with darker skin on TV, too.”

    You must be talking about the Philippines… 😉 But yes, it is sadly so embarrassingly true…

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hahhahaha. Why am I not surprised you know and love JATD? And of course I know Rob Schneider! I feel like once you start to watch a show or get to know actors, you find out these things. At least for an AA like me.

      Yeah, I’m not sure why casting ethnicities as they truly are is such a big deal for Hollywood. For a creative industry they are incredibly conservative and I think that is becoming more well-known.

      But Fresh Off the Boat is a good series and a good start for AAs. I hope the show is successful.

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      1. I am kind of a trivia freak at times. So ever since I began watching shows and could read, I always read the names flashed at the start and then the end-credits. I memorized the theme songs as well. I liked learning about actors and characters when I was younger. I’ve “mellowed down” now, though. Lots of movies, shows, actors and characters I have no idea about.

        First time I heard of Fresh Off the Boat, but it sounds interesting.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I always find it crazy and really sad about the lighter skin tone being an issue. I was mostly familiar with this for African Americans. Of course all the Caucasians are going to extreme measures to look darker. Sheesh people. Anyway, great post. I didn’t realize you were from Thailand. My parents had an exchange student from Bangkok. He’s such a sweet guy. It’s been 8 years and they still stay keep in touch with him. They hope to travel there some day.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Awww, how sweet. Actually, I’m living in Thailand, but I’m not from Thailand technically. My mom’s Thai, but she boarded the plane 9 months pregnant with me so I could be born in Hawaii. Yes, she’s crazy.

      And the skin tone issue is insane, you’d think by 2015 we would have gotten over already!

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  3. I have never ever ever wanted to act, so never really thought about how casting is done, but it’s a bummer that this even is an issue. I think that Asian-Americans are mistreated and misrepresented in films as it is, let alone the fact that other races are usually cast in their roles. There is a lot of change that needs to happen, and like you said about Thailand… it is everywhere in some form or another. So hopefully it will change someday.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, there is a new comedy called Fresh Off the Boat that everyone in the AA comunity is talking about because it’s the first prime time sitcom featuring AAs as the main characters to hit American airwaves in 20 years. So, hopefully they will be successful and start paving the road for other budding Asian actors.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. This is key. There’s such a lack of representation in the media of Asian Americans TO THE POINT where when there’s an Asian on screen (say, Bones or CSI) and they don’t have this exaggerated Asian accent, even I’M surprised. Or that one scene in the final Hobbit movie where there’s an Asian person. It was so surprising to see that it distracted me from the movie a bit! And it shouldn’t be like that. It should be normal to see such a diverse cast that no one notices.

    I’ve entertained the idea of acting, but also I don’t want to face the frustration of playing outdated, silly roles made for Asians (and also I’m horrible at acting for the sake of acting. I’m really good at real-life acting, like pretending I like some coworkers). Oh, and I’m terribly shy at performances. Maybe I’ll try my luck in Taiwan… they love with American-born Taiwanese go back and act 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Good point. AAs on the screen can be distracting because they are rare. It’s just silly, really. Asians should be everywhere, in hospitals, offices, universities, restaurants, I mean, really. I remember all my Hawaii peeps putting down the movie Pearl Harbor because there were hardly any Asians in it. And if anyone has read the demographics on Hawaii or been there would know that Asians are everywhere!

      *cue evil laugh*

      Let me know how the Taiwan acting career works out 😉

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  5. I teach a mixed race girl who’s making a packet modelling and advertising. KFC, Coke, Ford, Chanel, etc. are beating a path to her door.

    My application got turned down. I told Chanel that I’d be great in a dress but they just called security and threw me out. I was heartbroken, modelling – as you know – being one of my great passions.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. That’s what I told them. I said, look – I’ve got a smart arse and showed them a buttock to prove my point that it was an arse for all formal occasions. The screaming was unbelievable, and I’ll admit that the head of Chanel Asia’s grandma’s funeral might not have been the best place to try and score a modelling contract by exposing my bottocks but you have to take these opportunities.

    Unless of course you are referring to Derek my pet donkey who can stamp out God Save the Queen with his right hoof whilst playing chess with his left. If I’m honest I think he’s too smart for his own good. I found him online the other night ordering four tons of sugar cubes and using my credit cards to pay for it. I said to him, look Derek, do that again and the ability to stamp out the national anthem of her Britannic Majesty’s United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland or not, you’ll get turned into glue.

    (Okay, okay I’ll stop now…just imagine what my poor wife has to deal with).

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Good blog post, Lani. I’m the only one in my family who pursued an arts university degree in English lit. Rest of 5 siblings went for applied/hard sciences.

    I am the storyteller in my family: witness my blog…which my family occasionally get annoyed. But they know it’s me forever.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I love that. “I’m the storyteller in my family.” 🙂 Keep annoying them. I think that means you are on the right track 😉 Go art! Go Jean!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Hollywood knows and is ignoring most of the acting talent in Asian industry in Asia. So we all know it’s crap that Asian-Americans/Asian-Canadians don’t have acting talent.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Very true. Asia is how big? How many models, singers and actors do they have? Exactly. INsane. One day, we’ll be part of the mainstream narrative. Until then…

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      1. I am definitely family with Russell Peters. Thanks for the videos, they were good laughs after a full day of work!

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  9. It seems Asian actors are usually only used when the role actually calls for an Asian person. Think Hawaii-50.

    However, I think the top network show in the USA is currently The Walking Dead. Steven Yeun plays Glen, one of the three main characters. The role of Glen doesn’t “need to be” Asian. Also, Glen is married to a white woman — that’s different too.

    A question though, how come none of the zombies are Asian?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Very astute observation, Stu! I don’t watch Walking Dead, so I had no idea about Steven Yeun, so it’s good to hear that he’s casted in a “normal” role. I think this is important – we don’t always have to be a stereotype. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to find out why zombies are never Asian.

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      1. Asians are too smart to get themselves in a situation where they would get bit by a zombie and thus become a zombie. “Asians are smart” — uh oh, another stereotype!!!

        The designation “Asian” has always confused me. That could refer to anyone from Beirut to Tokyo couldn’t it?

        Liked by 1 person

      2. We are smart. We’re selective about our stereotypes 😛 Actually, everyone’s smart, but folks forget this and act stupid.

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  10. Great post. Hard enough for me to go into the arts, and my family is white. Even worse when you can’t point at someone and go, “I wanna be like her!”

    Representation matters. So much.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m glad you understand. It is a big deal. Something about just seeing someone like you on TV, theatre, magazines, etc. that really makes you feel like you’re important and part of the conversation.

      Liked by 1 person

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