This September, I went to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, Oregon, and saw Snow in Midsummer, a play based off of an ancient Chinese operatic performance.
What was special about this show was that all of the actors in it were East Asian, and it drastically increased the character’s believability, because as the show progressed, the way the players onstage could connect and understand the traditions, cultures, and beliefs that they were portraying became more and more evident. For example, The Great Wall had Matt Damon starring in a film flooded with Chinese culture, and we all know how that turned out.
When the cultural background of the story is intimately familiar to the actors, they are able to portray their roles with an ease that is readily apparent. The actors and the audience are proud of their culture and enjoy the show immensely.
Imagine if “Crazy Rich Asians” was acted by an entirely white cast. Not only would it be disrespectful towards the cultures depicted, but it would also just be cultural appropriation at its finest. Instead, the all American-Asian cast, which included such stars as Constance Wu, from ABC’s Fresh Off the Boat, and Michelle Yeoh, from Tomorrow Never Dies, Crouching Tiger, and Hidden Dragon, among others, created an amazing film that achieved a 92 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
Through 2018, more and more ethnic groups have been increasingly represented on the big screen, in films like Black Panther and A Wrinkle in Time. “Crazy Rich Asians” is one of the most well known of these.
This increase in representation of different ethnic groups in Hollywood has added entertainment value of the films in question and bolstered the support of the films by the newly represented groups.
A key benefit of having actors of a certain group portray characters of that group is that the quality of the acting experiences a marked increase. Say for example a white male actor is attempting to play the role of an Asian man. The actor has to interpret the values of a culture he is not a part of on top of delivering a good performance. Meanwhile, if an Asian actor plays the same role, they don’t have to concentrate on such a thing, and can, therefore, concentrate more upon their acting. The audience also finds the Asian actor more convincing and believable, because there is no visual contrast between the character and the actor. Imagine a Japanese actor starring in the 2017 remake of Ghost In The Shell, would that not have improved the movie greatly?
The representation of actors from all races and creeds also causes the represented groups to feel a connection to the actors that inspire them. When the young viewers of the show see people just like them up on the big screen, or in center stage, they gain role models they can look up to and aspire to be like one day. Their representation in the entertainment industry has inspired them.
Ultimately, the increase in representation is a good start, but the journey is far from over. Hopefully, the success of movies like “Black Panther,” “Crazy Rich Asians” and “Ocean’s 8” will motivate Hollywood to produce more amazing movies with actors that stay true to their cultures.